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diy solar

How to evaluate merchants on Alibaba or Aliexpress


Solar Enthusiast
Feb 11, 2020
Nebraska, US
I've been getting pieces and parts together to put a modest solar power system together in a few months, mostly using U.S. based suppliers and purchasing off ebay and through the affiliate links. All of this is pretty familiar territory, but it appears that the battery and bms components will probably be purchased through Alibaba or Aliexpress, and those platforms have a somewhat different feel to them. I've read through the forums and see that there are plenty of good buying experiences, so I guess I'm just looking for advice on evaluating merchants on those platforms.

For instance, on Alibaba, there are 'Gold Suppliers', 'Verified Suppliers', and 'Trade Assurance'. Are these all important to look for or is one more critical than the others.
Then there is the question of how trustworthy the reviews are. Is there a lot of astroturfing, or can the good reviews be believed. This question came from seeing someone selling the green medical equipment batteries that Will reviewed a while back. The reviews were terrible. Then a little further down, I saw nearly the same ad, for the same product, possibly even from the same merchant, and almost all the reviews were stellar.

I'd appreciate any wisdom you can impart.
If they have an eBay store, it's much safer IMO to buy from them on eBay. I have only 3 purchases on Alibaba, 1 they sent the wrong items, but made good and sent the right items. One took so long to ship, I forgot I ordered the thing. And one got here in 8 days. A total crapshoot.
Over the past 15 years I've bought a lot of stuff via Alibaba and Aliepress (musical equipment and instruments, electronic testing equipment). Alibaba is really set up to be business to business. Alibaba is mostly manufacturers or large traders. They are not set up for retail sales or low cost shipping, unless you want to buy a container full of stuff. They may say minimum order quantity is 1, and that they will sell you a sample. If the items are not very small (like chainsaw chains) shipping will cost a lot. But everything I have bought from Alibaba this way has been excellent. Fedex (or similar) door to door, well packaged (I just opened two 15 ft pole chains saws today and the packaging was incredible, and the products are first class). In my opinion Alibaba sellers are the real deal. But you have to establish some kind of relationship with whoever answers your chat or email. And you will most likely have to pay with a credit card.

Aliexpress on the other hand is like eBay. A lot of merchants and a lot of young hustlers looking to make a buck. 200 of them sell the exact same product. Their "reviews" are often self generated. The quality of stuff available thru Aliepress (in general) is not as high as Alibaba, and its a lot of work locating what seems like a good source. But for small things its the best price in town - guitar strings, car battery chargers, multi-meters. If the item is small and light enough they can ship at vastly subsidized rates (always cheaper from China than say LA to Dallas even with USMail). It can take a while - 6 weeks - to get stuff, but that's cheap shipping. 99% of my stuff has been received exactly as promised and been of better quality than stuff from Walmart. Aliexpress also has a kind of Paypal-like "escrow" where the seller doesn't get your money until you verify you got your stuff. Sellers I've had to work with - to get software which worked with my OBDII reader - got it to me, after a couple of emails. I use Aliexpress knowing that its cheap, the stuff will arrive, but that if it fails I'll just eat it and look for a future discount on something else. Its not like Costco where you can walk it back in. You won't have the cheap shipping back to the Aliexpress seller!
The one time I was ripped off was by an India/Pakistan glove seller with a Canadian account who claimed he would sell me great samples and then shipped me junk. Paypal told me to piss off. My credit card accepted my chargeback of the Paypal bill but this was a long and tedious process.

If you search thru this forum you can get some fantastic leads on sellers on both Ali's who forum members buy from. That's a lot easier than starting your own relationship!
Thank you both for sharing your experiences. I also appreciate the explanation of the difference between alibaba and aliexpress. I had read that aliexpress was owned by alibaba, but now this makes sense in that they serve different sorts of marketers. It also explains why the Alibaba ads spend so much time talking about the size of the factory and the number of employees.
If you buy on alibaba make sure you ask as many questions as you can think of. Also make sure you agree before hand as to what the quality is supposed to be and what will happen if the quality is not met. I buy batteries by the truckload and I make sure I tell them I am going to test every cell to make sure it is up to standards advertised. In the process I get from them the testing parameters first so they cant say "well you need to do it this other way" This way if I think their testing protocol is reasonable and I test to their methods when something is bad there is no argument.