AliExpress and Taobao are to Asia what Amazon is to Europe and USA—with a market share of about 58.2% of the total online retail sales in China alone. Both are renowned online shopping platforms and are owned by the Alibaba Group Holding Limited.
The Alibaba Group is a leading eCommerce provider in Asia, offering multiple Business-to-Business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) eCommerce solutions. Regardless of your experience in the industry, you probably have come across one or both companies while shopping online.
Though owned by the same company, AliExpress and Taobao are not the same. Each of them serves a different purpose, is designed for a specific audience, and operates differently. Get to know how the two eCommerce giants compare to each other in this detailed AliExpress vs Taobao guide.
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What is AliExpress?
Launched in 2010, AliExpress is essentially a subsidiary of the Alibaba Group. The eCommerce platform is home to numerous businesses in China and other locations—such as Singapore. Businesses that use AliExpress are the ones that sell to international customers.
Unlike Taobao, the AliExpress platform is meant to connect Chinese companies with international buyers. As such, the platform is available in multiple language options, including English and 15 other languages. However, this is not to say that Aliexpress is like the mother company, Alibaba.
As opposed to Alibaba, AliExpress sells items in smaller quantities. Such aspects make AliExpress a popular eCommerce platform among drop shippers from different parts of the world. Another thing you will like about the platform is the diversity of product types and categories it has to offer.
- Allows you to start drop-shipping through the platform without having to pay your suppliers upfront.
- Products are comparatively affordable as most of them are manufactured in China. Most of the suppliers also offer free shipping, making it even more affordable for you to import products.
- AliExpress features numerous products and suppliers for any product type and industry. Such diversity allows you to choose the products and/or services that meet your requirements.
- The site is available in multiple languages, which eliminates the language barrier that exists on platforms like Taobao.
Although most AliExpress suppliers offer free international shipping, the process is awfully slow. Depending on where you are, it can take between a week and two months to have your products delivered.
Again, it is almost impossible to return products that arrive defective or do not meet your requirements. This is why you should only partner with reputable suppliers on AliExpress. Better still, you could work with reliable AliExpress sourcing agents in China.
What is Taobao?
Taobao is an eCommerce platform that was established by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group back in 2003. While AliExpress is an international “marketplace”, Taobao is specifically designed to facilitate consumer-to-consumer (C2C) online retail. This explains why the entire website is in Chinese.
Despite servicing just the local market, Taobao sells almost anything, ranging from kitchenware and cellphones to insurance and airplane tickets. The platform encourages entrepreneurs in the country to connect and sell to customers from the Greater China Region—including Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau.
Since its introduction, Taobao has been a huge success. Based on statistical findings, Taobao transactions in the third quarter of 2010 accounted for more than 75% of the online retail market in the country. Currently, the site has more than 500 million registered users and sells about 48,000 items every minute.
- Taobao offers a very wide range of product types, categories, and industries – you can find almost any products and service on this platform.
- Extremely Low Prices – as compared to the leading online eCommerce platforms, products on Taobao are exceptionally affordable. This may be attributed to different factors, right from cheap labor in China to stiff competition among Taobao suppliers.
- Offers Unique products as well – you can also find a vast array of custom products here too, such as food-shaped pillows or even rent-a-date services.
- Super sales, deals, and events – Taobao shops are known to offer huge vouchers and discounts from time to time. Take advantage of deals, sales, and events on the platform to save even more money on your purchase.
The entire Taobao website is in Chinese, making it hard to navigate for international buyers. It is possible to convert the page into your preferred language using Google translate. Even so, you may have a problem communicating with suppliers on Taobao.
This is mainly because most suppliers on this platform only speak Chinese. As a foreign buyer, the best way to buy items from Taobao would be through a qualified Taobao sourcing agent.
Main Differences Between AliExpress and Taobao
We have established that both AliExpress and Taobao are online shopping platforms and are owned by the same company. However, the two platforms are very different when it comes to design and functionality.
Discussed below are the fundamental differences between the two Chinese eCommerce platforms:
The AliExpress website supports multiple languages. It allows you to select your preferred display language from the Settings menu. In total, the site is offered in about 16 different languages, including English, Chinese, Russian, French, Turkish, and Italian.
Your preferred language will be used for keywords search and filters as well. This makes it relatively easy for drop shippers to navigate the site and make purchases. Unfortunately, Taobao is only offered in Chinese. This means that even the phrased you use for keywords search on Taobao need to be in Chinese.
To much relief, you can also carry out a photo search on Taobao instead of a keyword search. Additionally, most of the traders on Taobao only speak Chinese. Negotiating for the best terms with such traders can be a daunting task. If you do not speak Chinese, you should hire a China-based Taobao sourcing agent.
How do AliExpress vs Taobao compare with regards to product quality? Well, much of the merchandise on either site is manufactured in China. Even so, their qualities vary significantly—even for products under the same category. With Chinese products, quality is directly proportional to the cost of the item (in almost all cases).
That said, poor-quality products are cheaper than higher-quality products in the same category. Taobao sellers are closer to their customers than AliExpress sellers are. Although exceptions do exist, Taobao merchants tend to offer better quality products than those on AliExpress.
Since they are in close contact with their buyers, the reputation of Taobao suppliers directly depends on the quality of products they offer. To avoid returns, disputes, and bad reviews, these traders are more likely to offer better quality. The same cannot be said for AliExpress suppliers owing to the international nature of their transactions.
Since it mainly sells to international consumers, AliExpress accepts numerous payment methods and currencies, which vary from one country to another. Here are some of the payment options you can use to buy from an AliExpress supplier:
- Major Credit and Debit Cards like MasterCard, American Express, Visa, and Maestro
- Several prepaid and virtual cards
- Bank Transfer
- Alipay Balance and Qiwi Wallet
- Western Union
- Cash payments through Syvaony, Euroset, and Russian Post
- SMS Payment (only in Russia) through Beeline, MTC, TELE2, and MegaFon
- AliExpress Pocket and Discover Cards
- Other Payment Options: DOKU, Webmoney, Sofort Banking, Pago, Mercado, and Ticket, among others.
Taobao only targets consumers in the Greater China region. This is why it does not support as many payment options as AliExpress. To begin with, Taobao does not accept PayPal and Alipay Balance payments. However, the platform offers buyers a number of options, including:
- Several Credit Cards, such as JCB, MasterCard, and Visa – though convenient, this method charges as much as 3% in transaction fees.
- Malaysian Bank payments – requires you to have an account with the Malaysia bank. It is a cheaper option, charging about 1.5% in fees per transaction.
- A Chinese bank account
- Alipay Gift Card – this method is only usable in some countries, including Singapore and Australia.
- Pay On Your Behalf – with this option, you can ask someone (preferably in China) to pay for the order on your behalf.
Since you are buying from someone you do not know and will probably never meet, you need some guarantee that you will get what you ordered. In AliExpress, this guarantee comes in the form of the AliExpress Buyer Protection program. This program requires participating sellers to only sell genuine products.
If a seller violates this requirement, the seller will be required to compensate the buyer up to two times the purchase value (including shipping costs). Escrow is another thing that makes AliExpress safer for buyers. With this arrangement, your payment will be held in Escrow until you verify that the products you received are up to your requirements.
Taobao does not have such stringent measures to curb its buyers from loss. Even so, most sellers on the platform—particularly the Crown-rated sellers—are reliable. You can also seek a refund on Taobao if the products do not meet your requirements.
Some of the scenarios when a buyer qualifies for a refund on Taobao include:
➢A mutual agreement with the seller to refund your money
➢ If you ordered the wrong item(s)
➢ If your desired product size or style is out of stock
➢ When the supplier fails to deliver your product(s) on time
AliExpress ships products to almost all parts of the world—mainly through standard shipping, ePacket, China Post, FedEx, and DHL. It does not ship within China. The platform natively offers multiple shipping options. You can choose any method depending on your budget, location, and your preferred delivery date.
Depending on your location and shipping method, AliExpress deliveries take between 20 and 30 days. It can be less—7 to 20 days—with ePacket and Express deliveries. Taobao, on the other hand, supports both mainland and international shipping.
Taobao also has a specialized warehouse—much like the Amazon Fulfillment Centers. For international shipments, Taobao sellers are often required to ship from this warehouse. International shipping cost on Taobao is comparatively high, and not ideal if you are just importing a few items.
Refund Processing Time
Refunds on AliExpress take a bit longer to finalize—between five and 10 days on average. Although Taobao only has standard buyer protection policies in place, refunds take a few days to process. On average, you will get your refund from a Taobao seller in about 2 days.
The AliExpress eCommerce platform features a more comprehensive Despite System. Designed to protect both the buyer and the seller, this system addresses such issues as refunds, returns, and requests via a Ticket system.
With Taobao, Customer support is only available through a phone call. You can talk to a customer care representative at Taobao during office hours, Monday to Sunday.
AliExpress and Taobao—some of the popular online marketplaces for drop-shippers and individual buyers alike—are both subsidiaries of the Alibaba Group. Each of these eCommerce platforms has a unique set of pros and cons.
The right choice when it comes to AliExpress vs Taobao mainly depends on your preferences and shopping needs. Taobao offers a more diverse choice of products at lower price points, as compared to AliExpress. If you need to order items in bulk and have peace of mind while at it, AliExpress is the way to go.
In this regard, ordering from AliExpress is less risky thanks to their comprehensive buyer protection policies. While prices for individual items are lower on Taobao, ordering in bulk is cheaper on AliExpress. If you are a dropship or eCommerce shop owner and need to buy just a few items, you should choose Taobao.
In addition to the lower per-item prices, Taobao offers you genuine products from Chinese manufacturers, faster shipping, and more control over the entire process. However, if the item is priced below $5, you should buy from AliExpress—buying it from Taobao would be just too expensive.
In either case, working with the best Drop-shipping agents will give you peace of mind and keep you on top of the ordering process.