There needs to be much better quality control over product descriptions so they match the products buyers expect to receive. This is especially true with the electronics vendors. I have received multiple orders that are entirely different from their online descriptions.
For example, I bought some LED lights that were listed as 13 watts. They are actually 5 watts, according to my Kill-A-Watt-EZ. They were also listed as warm spectrum when they are in fact closer to cool spectrum, as shown in the posterized analysis in the image below. Worse, almost all the vendors use the same images and same specs for same product, so they’re all wrong in exactly the same specs.
On another order, I received LED grow bulbs that were supposed to contain 60 small LED’s at 5 watts, but came instead with 5 large LED’s and were 6 watts. The spill pattern on the lights I received is a more focused beam, and not a broad unfocused spill pattern like I was expecting.
On another order, I received two grow bulbs that were labeled as 15 watts, but ended up measuring 8 watts.
On yet another order, I received two android devices with off-brand USB chargers that were over-voltage. One android device even told me to unplug the adapter immediately because the software recognized the over-voltage problem. Over-voltage power adapters can severely reduce battery life, or even worse, cause the battery to explode.
When I asked them to send me replacement USB chargers, they said they would only do it if I would buy something else from them (even something small), and they would include the chargers in the shipment for free. I could even pay $35 extra to have them arrive in a week. Except these are obviously three-dollar chargers, and there was nothing on their vendor page that I could truthfully use. They didn’t have any other US-plug, 110V USB 2.1 amp chargers in stock on their vendor page, so they would probably send me the same flawed chargers again because they don’t actually understand that the whole lot of chargers they bought from their manufacturer is over voltage. I politely suggested we leave the matter unresolved, because my time is worth more than two crummy chargers. I bought two very nice replacement chargers from Amazon instead.
Of the twelve total orders I have made on Aliexpress so far, two of them were canceled—one because they didn’t realize they didn’t have the item any longer, and the other because the vendor tried to swindle me, but failed thanks to Aliexpress. Out of ten transactions that were completed, six items were exactly as described, and four items were grossly misrepresented in some way. And by “grossly”, I mean, a large enough discrepancy that I could have asked for my money back if I were stingy or mean. But the products they sold were at least worth to me what I paid for them, even if they were not exactly what I asked for. What is my time worth? Is the seller at fault or is the vendor system at fault?
There is a pattern here, not just random infrequent occurrence. There’s an obvious lack of quality control among vendors, and Aliexpress has no method for buyers to quickly flag vendors who sell unsafe or misrepresented merchandise.
Electronic items have measurable specifications. If the specifications are wrong, how can I expect them to perform appropriately or even safely?
That said, I have ordered some items that were spot on. The USB volt-ammeter in the image above was a fantastic find, as were the android devices that came with the over voltage adapters, and my first-ever Aliexpress purchase, a recording oximeter.
There are probably a number of reasons why quality control becomes difficult.
- Vendors don’t work for Aliexpress. They are independent contractors who use Aliexpress a venue for international sales, much the way ebay has become a defacto international sales venue rather than the friendly national yard-sale it started out as.
- Language barriers – we don’t natively speak the same language. That’s got to add to the confusion.
- Product ratings – There is no way to rate the products separate from the vendor. The star rating for each product you buy can be easily confused as either a product rating or a vendor rating. It’s only a rating for the vendor, but since there is no way to rate the product, I also weight my star rating on the product as well.
- Aliexpress seems to allow multiple vendors to use the same graphics for products that are relatively similar, but nobody is checking the validity of the images or the text provided for each product. There seems to be a “meh… close-enough” attitude that simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to electronics.
- I get the impression that Aliexpress originally started out as a way to give wholesalers outside of Asia an inexpensive method to check out merchandise from alibaba vendors before buying large lots from the same vendor through alibaba. When chatting with some of the vendors, I’ve noticed some of them seem to be under the impression although I’m buying a few items now, I will probably be coming back for a larger lot later that I will sell retail in the US. But on the US side of the Aliexpress website, we’re given the impression that it’s a way to cut out wholesalers entirely. I have to wonder if the vendors understand this.
- Anyone can sign up to be a vendor on Aliexpress, just like anyone can do so on Amazon.com. Some vendors truly are swindlers, creating a vendor account purely for the purpose of getting your credit card data, if they can. On my second-ever Aliexpress venture, I ordered two android devices that were selling for a price I couldn’t ignore — half of what everyone else was asking. Going against my gut, I bought them. After a long “courteous” battle with the vendor I got in touch with Aliexpress chat support. The vendor’s account was frozen because nobody was receiving their goods. The vendor then blatantly tried to get my credit card information, saying they had to do the refund. Of course I didn’t give them the satisfaction, since I knew that alipay manages all transactions, including refunds. My money was returned a few days later and the vendor was banned. So, I’m thankful that if you follow the rules, it seems unlikely that your credit card will be compromised by a bad vendor. Never give your credit card information directly to a vendor on Aliexpress.
- It takes from two weeks to two months for your stuff to arrive if you choose free shipping. A lot can happen in two months. I wonder if some vendors figure you’re just glad the order has been delivered and that you’ll overlook any minor difference because squawking is too much of a hassle.
The obvious comparison for Aliexpress is amazon. I rarely get less than complete satisfaction from something I buy on amazon, partly because I am able to research what I’m getting by reading the product ratings, and answers to questions about the product by those who have already bought the item. This capacity doesn’t exist yet on Aliexpress. In contrast, with Aliexpress, it’s more like I’m thrill-shopping. There’s a “prize”, somewhere in the packaging, but I’m not really sure if the prize is what I’m expecting. Aliexpress has a few kinks to work out as it opens its doors to the world.
Yes, it can take time and courage to order something from across an ocean and between langauges. But maybe part of the thrill of ordering something from Aliexpress should not be wondering whether what you get will be the toaster oven or the toast.
Chris with Laughter on Water