I’m not an early adopter, but I do like to shop newcomers and upstarts. That’s why I decided to check out the new competitors to eBay and Amazon: Jet and Alibaba/AliExpress.
A colleague described China-based AliExpress as the wild West of Internet retailing. A consumer nerd like me would say “caveat emptor” or buyer beware. The reviewer of online websites, Trustpilot.com, rates AliExpress as one out of five stars or 2.7 on a scale between one and 10.
TrustPilot is filled with complaints from consumers who didn’t get their order, had their order canceled and had to wait months for a credit, got their order but it was broken, defective or a piece of junk, didn’t get a response to a complaint about the item being broken, defective or a piece of junk and didn’t get a refund about the item that was … you get the picture.
I don’t want to sound flip about people who say they are out $400 or $700, but in my opinion, this is legalized gambling. You can save big bucks on brands such as Lenovo, Chanel and Armani if you don’t mind counterfeits. Want a Kate Spade handbag? Name such as Kate Space, Late Spade or Kate Spad all show up in a search for “Kate Spade.”
According to China’s official news agency Xinhua, more than 40 percent of goods sold online in China last year were counterfeits or bad quality. You want to pay $2,449.30 for a 58-piece set of Louis Vuitton china, currently available on the site? I hope you get as much pleasure from the experience as you would playing the slots for eight hours.
I ordered three items on the site as a test, each under $10 — a desktop humidifier for $5.87, a set of three shower squeegees for $3.69 and a graphic T-shirt for $6.59. All arrived from China within the delivery time given of 15 to 45 days in perfect condition.
Even though I normally buy a large size, I ordered an extra large T-shirt because I assumed that Chinese sizes would be smaller. Smart move. After I put it in the dryer, I would now call it a medium-large.
The set of three squeegees turned out to be one. When I searched for them most were sold as singles for about $1.80 to $1.90, but I chose the set of three for $3.69 because I thought it was a better deal. Bad assumption. Even though the online photo shows three, my order states that the quantity ordered is “1 piece.” Billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, must have uttered the Chinese equivalent of “gotcha!”
The item I was most excited about was the travel-sized humidifier. Bed, Bath & Beyond sells a version called the Jerry Ultrasonic humidifier for $50, and AliExpress’ version was less than $6. You place a plastic water bottle in the desktop housing to get the mist. AliExpress’ model is powered by USB, which makes it perfect for the office.
The unit worked great for two days until I left it on over the weekend. When I refilled the water bottle on Monday, only a faint mist came out. The directions don’t appear to indicate that the unit needed to be shut off when the bottle was empty, but I had a little trouble understanding sentences such as “plug the cable softly” and “change the filter and water bottles with aroma oil for new.” At least the instructions were written in English. Some electronics buyers have received instructions only in Chinese.
If you’re curious about AliExpress, spend no more money than you’re comfortable losing. Just like eBay, buy only from a frequent seller with good feedback ratings. If you like knockoffs and the price seems reasonable, it’s as fun as a trip to the dollar store. Great for stocking stuffers and white elephant gifts, but don’t count on getting them by Christmas.
Alibaba had reportedly invested in Jet.com, but they’re two very different experiences. I found Jet to be a great Amazon backup. It’s not a substitute because Jet’s selection is only a fraction of Amazon’s. Want to buy Adele’s 25? It’s not available on Jet. Jet’s shipping is also slower than Amazon Prime, it lacks user reviews, and some users claim its customer service isn’t as strong as Amazon’s. Trust Pilot gives Jet three out of five stars and 5.1 on a scale of one to 10. (Amazon rates four stars and 7.9 out of 10.)
But if you’re a price shopper who isn’t on Amazon, Jet can save 10 to 15 percent, according to Jet’s CEO Marc Lore. In July, a survey showed Jet’s prices to be 9 percent less than Amazon’s, according to Internetretailer.com. Brad Tuttle at Money.com found even greater price differences, saving about $500 a year ordering staples from Jet such as Tide, Bounty, Scope and Starbucks ground coffee.
In my own comparison of three inexpensive items, Jet was 25 percent cheaper. But I used a 15 percent-off coupon. Since then, I have received other coupons for grocery and Halloween items as well as sitewide coupons ranging from 15 to 30 percent.
Since its debut in July, Jet has already dropped its $50 annual fee. Shipping in two to five days is free for orders over $35 and additional discounts can be applied for multiple-item orders and waiving the free-returns options. All three items I ordered arrived in two to five days.
Just as a consumer may compare prices at Bestbuy.com and Amazon.com, I now plan to check Amazon first and then compare it to Jet’s price. No consumer should blindly accept that Amazon will always have the lowest price. Jet may have a long way to go before it’s on par with Amazon, but consumers should take advantage of its sole claim to fame — lower prices on many items.
Get ‘em while you can.