There's always a bit of worry attached to online shopping, which escalates quite a lot when shopping from a site that's from China. We've all heard of horror stories about 'Chinese maal', and then there's the matter of shipping, which takes longer than what we're used to from Indian e-commerce sites. Thankfully sites like Ali Express have changed that perception quite a bit. The site offers a robust transaction system that rates and curates its sellers, to leave negligible room for error. And if things still do go wrong, you can always ask for a refund, which will be duly paid.
Now, with China's Singles Day 2017 - its equivalent of Black Friday and Cyber Monday rolled into one - sales on November 11, it's the best time of the year to explore Chinese e-commerce. Though these suggestions are recommended across the board, we will restrict our references to Alibaba’s Ali Express, since it will be the most popular option this sale season. Here's what you need to keep in mind when you're in India, and shopping from China.
Better deals on apps
Sites like Ali Express offer better prices on the mobile app than the desktop version, much like in India. Therefore it's best that you use the different mobile app for shopping. In fact, even if you prefer to browse for deals on the Desktop, Ali Express has a QR code option on most products. Just scan that from the app and you'll open the product page with the discounted price. The Ali Express app is available on iOS and Android.
Check the Lightning Deals
Ali Express keeps your search history in mind when serving you Lightning Deals (deals restricted to a short amount of time). It's a good idea to check that section frequently to see the deals on the products you didn't buy the last time.
Double check the ratings and reviews
In India, we're used to the idea of e-commerce marketplaces where the seller is a third party. When dealing with multiple sellers on an e-commerce site like Ali Express, it's usually a good idea to keep the seller rating apart from the product reviews. Many of these reviews come with pictures as well, so you can verify whether the end product looks as good as the one shown in the seller's pictures.
This is especially useful when you're buying something size related like bags and accessories. Keep an eye for the Top Rated Seller badge on Ali Express, as that serves as a guarantee that the seller will be accurately delivering the right product, and will be approachable in case something goes wrong.
Don't buy the first option you see
Familiar e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart are optimised to give you the best result first, but that's not usually the case on Chinese e-commerce. Though you'll see the most relevant result up top, it may not be the best deal on offer. Take your time, go through the listings, and you'll find a better deal on the same product elsewhere.
Don't buy electronics blindly
China is not where you turn to when you're looking for a new computer part, camera or even a game console. There's a lot of unbranded, fake products in those categories that can be a complete waste of money. It's better if you look at the local or western markets for such products instead. What you can buy are accessories for these products. Sites like Ali Express have official stores for manufacturers like Xiaomi, so it's relatively safer to pick up that brand's products that are not available in India. It may come in Chinese language and interface though, so keep that in mind before you buy.
Buying larger consumer electronics is always riskier than smaller tchotchkes. TV's, large vacuum cleaners, food processors, etc. will not only be at high-risk because of the shipping conditions, and warranty issues in India, but will also be slapped with heavy custom duties. It's always safer to go with the local market for these.
Never buy memory cards
Just don’t. There are too many fakes ones going around.
Buying smartphones is safe but...
If you're picking up a phone from an official company store on Ali Express, you will get the product as described. But there are a few things you will have to keep in mind. Make sure that it comes with English language option as default, unless you want to endlessly explore it in Chinese. Secondly, it needs to have Google Play support. This may sound like a no-brainer when you are buying an Android phone in India, but since Google's services are blocked in China, Google Play doesn't exist there. Lucky for you, sellers will mention these things in the product description, so be sure to read up before you buy.
For mobile accessories, try to pick up non-power related items like cases, screen guards, docks, cables, and so on. For power adapters it's better you stick to the manufacturer recommended original option, since there's always a risk of an electrical accident with cheap third party adapters.
What about product warranty?
Yeah, you might as well forget about that. Very few Chinese brands offer international warranty. You should assume that you're giving up warranty for the great discount you're getting.
Always see the size chart
Picking up clothes and shoes is always risky from China, mainly because you absolutely need to try the size before you buy. Sizes on e-commerce sites especially vary from brands and sellers, so do check for measurements in the size chart every time. If you wear large in India, chances are you'll need to buy XXL, or often even XXXL from these sites. The same goes for shoes, which tend to be a bit trickier to buy online anyway.
Use a credit card
It's advisable not to use any form of direct debit when paying for off-shore purchases. Credit cards offer you a lot more safety when it comes to shopping online, especially when you have to get refunds or block payments.
Customs can be a deal breaker
In our experience, we've managed to shop for smaller items without any additional custom duty attached, but it is a factor you need to keep in mind when ordering from China. High-end electronics may come under the customs radar and you will be charged the appropriate duty for it.
It's a good practice to double the product's price, assuming you'll pay a maximum of 100 percent duty on it, and then check if its still worth the discount. Better be safe than sorry.
Whether it is browsing through huge product catalogs to find the right product at the right price, or waiting for delivery, you need to be patient when it comes to shopping from China. Both free and paid delivery options tend to take anywhere between 15 to 30 days on an average to arrive. This is especially true when the seller is using an option like China Post.
It's likely to take even longer right now with the Singles Day sales. Package tracking isn't too accurate either, so take that with a pinch of salt. It's rare a product doesn't show up, but in case it doesn't within the time provided by the seller, you can easily open a dispute, that will return your money. Dispute works even if you get a damaged product or it doesn't fit the description provided.