Well before the Chinese eCommerce company Alibaba began making IPO rumblings in America, I was familiar with its offerings.
Not only have I stumbled across Alibaba products many times over the years, as an entrepreneur I’ve been intrigued with this company that is bigger than Amazon and eBay combined – and is almost unknown to Americans.
I’d never bought anything from it … until this month.
After hearing all the stock excitement, I wanted to see how the experience of this soon-to-be-global company matches up with the sites I use regularly, so I did a little experiment. I searched one of its subsidiaries, AliExpress, for something I’d never heard of: a watch with a denim band.
Our senior programmer at OnMilwaukee.com is a bit of a self-professed raw denim nerd, and I figured I’d spend a few bucks to buy him a token of my appreciation of his hard work. My search for "denim watch" yielded 627 resulted, and in fact several looked good and cheap; $5.99, $5.79 and $11.93, all with free shipping. It seemed worth the minimal risk to at least get some good blog fodder.
While each of the transactions worked, Alibaba feels very much Chinese – or at least non American. The omnipresent generic, slightly fuzzy stock photography, the Asian style kerning of the fonts, even the verbiage itself; it’s clearly not written by native English speakers. Even the available credit cards that can be used for purchase include several brands I’ve never heard of, and I’ve done enough international traveling to recognize non-American financial institutions. Notably, Paypal is missing.
But three things jumped out at me as major red flags in a all of this. The hoops one has to jump through to buy multiple items are significant; there’s no commitment when you click "buy," and the shipping time is snail-like, at best.
Keep in mind that AliExpress is a little like a less crafty version of Etsy; you’re dealing one-on-one with the creators of the items directly in China, lan…Read more...