With some Chinese shopping websites now becoming popular all over the world, such as Alibaba.com and AliExpress.com, and many people looking for a bargain online, we investigate whether it is safe to buy stuff over the internet from a shop in China for delivery abroad...

China is the workshop of the world, more and more of the things we buy are made over there. Even if it has been designed in the UK or USA and sold here, there is a very good chance that it was made and manufactured in China. With so much of the stuff we consume made in China could we not just cut out the middleman and buy straight from China instead of from a shop in our own country?

One of the most popular places to shop from in China is Aliexpress.com, it is the consumer version of Alibaba and owned by the same people. There is an abundance of products, many at unbelievable prices, especially tech or electronics related.

For instance there is a huge range of deca-core mobile phones, for about $200 USD, mostly are Chinese brands, but if you are not brand fussy you could get a top of the range processor in your mobile for next to nothing.

Other Chinese shops that ship internationally include DealExtreme (DX.com), DHGate, and LightintheBox. But is it safe to shop with international delivery from a store in China? What to consider:

Shipping Costs

Although many items seen to be ridiculously cheap it is important to consider shipping costs, so be sure to double check that the cost includes international shipping. Many items do include this cost in the price but some don't and large items can become very expensive.

Many shops offer free shipping if you spend over a minimum amount, so look out for that.

Import Duty and VAT

Another cost to consider is customs duty and VAT. These you will have to pay if the value of the item is above a certain amount. For VAT don't spend over £15, otherwise 20% will be added by the taxman. The import duty threshold is a bit higher at £135, so try and stick below this amount to avoid customs. Be sure to add these costs into your calculations when buying, even with taxes to pay your purchase may still work out cheaper.

What are your Consumer rights when shopping from China?

The UK shopper has quite a lot of rights. As do people in the EU and the USA. Consumer law is normally governed by the country where you make your purchase, and we have reciprocal rights with the EU. But it can be a little 'wild west' if you shop in China.

Whilst many shops, such as AliExpress do have guarantees and systems in place to help ensure a safe transaction (see below), you should be aware that you won't have as many rights as if you were shopping at home.

Whilst returns maybe possible, it is worth checking who will have to pay the return postage before purchasing from China.

Good advice is to shop using your credit card, because there are certain levels of protection you can get from your card provider, these are enshrined in UK consumer law and in some other countries too. See our consumer advice for more information.

So the answer is not black and white. If you have done your research and checked the prices and are happy then go for it. If not then it might not be worth the risk, but follow the advice in this article and you should minimise the risks involved.

The following is specific to AliExpress but can be applied to most shops on the web when shopping safely from China.

How to shop safely at AliExpress

These are the things you need to know when shopping at Alibaba.com or AliExpress.com to ensure you shop safely and are not scammed. They do have processes in place to try and ensure buyer protection.

1. Returns and refunds

Returns and refunds are available. Here are your rights when you shop:

  • Money back guarantee
  • 15 day refund

If you do not receive the item you purchased you can get a full refund of your money, guaranteed. If the item that you bought differs from the pictures and description on the product listing, then you have two options. You can either return it for a full refund, or keep it and accept a partial refund.

2. Dispute resolution

As with most ecommerce stores you are expected to open a dialogue with the seller first and tell them why you are not happy. If this cannot be resolved within 15 days, they you can open a dispute ticket. If this does not work your final option is to raise it with AliExpress and they will mediate between buyer and seller to resolve the dispute.

3. How to find a reputable seller on AliExpress

No one likes having to open dispute tickets or the disappointment of returning an item you have waited so patiently for to arrive. So the best thing you can do is to look for reputable sellers and only buy from the ones who have a good score.

Look on the seller's page at their feedback summary and seller ratings. The detailed seller rating are displayed as stars and there is a comparison with other sellers, all laid out in a nice graphical, easy to understand format.

Feedback history includes positive and negative feedback given over the last monthly periods. Feedback ratings are broken down into:

  • Item as described
  • Communication
  • Shipping speed

So you can see at a glance what you are dealing with and how safe they are to buy from.

4. Check the seller guarantees

Sellers can also give their own guarantees, so be sure to check them. They might include a set delivery time and details of their specific returns and refund policy.

5. Make safe payment

Always ensure you use a "safe" way to pay. Never send money straight to a bank account, always use a credit/debit card, some will offer you some form of guarantee. Otherwise use Google Pay, Apple Pay or Paypal and AliPay.

This way you have another method for trying get your money back or help resolving a dispute.

Conclusion

The conclusion is that if you are aware of all the factors and practice safe shopping and paying, then it is just as safe to buy from China as it is from any more developed country in the world.

Coronavirus.

Worried about the recent cases of flu virus spreading from China. We have evaluated the possibility of catching anything from shopping from China here: Coronavirus, is it safe to order from China?