If you are thinking of starting an eCommerce business, we need to talk about dropshipping from China.
You will most likely have heard of this method already. Many online entrepreneurs start out with this eCommerce model, and there are advantages as well as disadvantages to consider.
The key marketplace for dropshipping from China continues to be Aliexpress. Think of it as a vast online super-mall, with many different shops (suppliers) under its one roof. You can find almost anything to sell - to the extent that it becomes quite comical! At face value, your choices will be dictated largely by your niche. But there are other things to consider, which I’ll cover below.
I started my own venture into online business with the Aliexpress dropshipping model, using Shopify. It was a good way of learning about how all the pieces of the supply chain fit together. And, I did have a lot of fun, ‘shopping’ by creating store listings for pieces that fit my store’s theme and offerings (costume jewellery). Everything was so colorful and unique. Some of it was downright beautiful, unavailable in stores (a key selling point)-- and my customers loved it.
I have since moved away from Shopify/AliExpress to solely using print on demand on different platforms, and for various reasons. Looking back, I’d like to share with you what I loved about dropshipping from China, and ultimately why I drew away from it.
Let’s see the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty!
Advantages of Dropshipping from China
There are several advantages to this model of dropshipping:
- 1Cost-effective: Products manufactured in China are often less expensive due to lower production costs, which makes dropshipping from China a cost-effective option.
- 2Wide range of products: China has a vast network of manufacturers and suppliers, providing access to a broad range of products across various niches, including electronics, clothing, jewelry, and more.
- 3Easy to find suppliers: There are many online platforms where you can easily find suppliers from China. This makes it easier to find a supplier that meets your requirements.
- 4Flexibility: Dropshipping from China allows for more flexibility in terms of order quantity and customization options. Chinese manufacturers can produce products in smaller quantities and offer customizations, which can be an advantage for small businesses.
- 5Fast shipping: China has one of the world's most extensive transportation infrastructures, and there are many shipping options available, including ePacket, which provides fast and affordable shipping to most countries.
- 6Quality products: Many Chinese manufacturers have invested in advanced manufacturing technologies, and they often produce high-quality products that meet or exceed international standards.
Overall, dropshipping from China can be a profitable and cost-effective way to start an eCommerce business. However, it's essential to do your research and carefully vet suppliers to ensure quality products and reliable shipping. I recommend that you drop them a message with a general enquiry, to test their response times and communication skills-- before you list any of their products. It's an extra step that takes a bit of time, but it's very well worth it. You want to build relationships with the best of them on those counts, if they have the items that you would like to offer in your online shop. You will go in with your eyes wide open, and it will give you a bit of peace of mind knowing that you have active, trustworthy suppliers that are very keen to work with you on board.
Like any good market, at AliExpress you'll be spoiled for choice!
Now, in the interest of balance, let's look at the disadvantagers of dropshipping from China. For some of you, they may be deal-breakers-- especially with customers who have become attached to the virtues of lightning-fast Amazon Prime:
Disadvantages of Dropshipping from China
- 1Shipping times: While China has many shipping options available, shipping times can be longer compared to domestic suppliers. Delivery times can range from a few days to several weeks or even months. (Yes, months!). Talk about a sure-fire recipe for angry customers, and rightfully so.
- 2Quality control: As with any dropshipping business, there is a risk of receiving poor quality products. It can be challenging to ensure consistent quality, and it's essential to vet suppliers carefully to minimize this risk. Spend the time reading their shop reviews- a goldmine of valuable information.
- 3Language and communication barriers: There may be language and communication barriers when dealing with Chinese suppliers, which can make it challenging to negotiate or resolve issues. Often times, I just had to give up on a supplier to find somebody else who had a better command of English.
- 4Customs and import duties: Products imported from China may be subject to customs duties, which can add additional costs to the final price of the product. Another way to irritate your customers!
- 5Intellectual property concerns: China has a reputation for intellectual property violations, which can be a concern for businesses looking to sell branded or copyrighted products. Oh yeah, this is a minefield. Just because you can buy something, say, 'Disney', doesn't mean you should. Always remember that it is you, not the supplier from China who will be held liable for copyright infringement. You would not be considered the innocent 'middle-person' in this equation, so remember that the buck stops with you as the re-seller.
- 6Political and/or global issues: There will always be a customer cohort that insists on buying only USA-produced goods. They will have no interest in partaking of Chinese-imported items. Also, depending on the political climate and world events, the same will apply. Then there are logistics problems: Consider the shortage of shipping containers, which emerged as a direct consequence of the pandemic: it greatly impacted shipping prices and times, stretching them beyond already-lengthy frames. It may interest you to know that only three Chinese companies supply 80% of the world's shipping containers. At best, this continuing problem is something to watch, and at worst--to avoid altogether, by not dropshipping from China.
- 7Chinese New Year holiday: On any date between 21st January and 20th February, Chinese New Year celebrations will begin, lasting over two weeks. During this time, most AliExpress suppliers close shop and are unavailable for business. Of course, we don't begrudge anyone their holidays-- but you need to be aware that this will, of course, have a knock-on effect on your shop. You would be wise to be transparent with your customers, and to put a message in your relevant listings that there will be an added delay (to an already long shipping time!). You would be correct in assuming that you will lose sales during this period, for that very reason. You may even wish to put your shop in 'holiday' mode until near the end of the Chinese celebrations, just to save yourself a heap of worry-- and disappointed customers. Luckily, this is a generally quiet time of the year for eCommerce anyway, following so soon on the heels of the Christmas rush. You might even welcome the time for a bit of a break yourself! Use it to spruce up your shop and do any necessary 'housekeeping' in the back end that's been put off for too long.
- 8Lack of control: When dropshipping from China, you have less control over the shipping and handling of products, which can lead to customer service issues if products arrive damaged or late.
Unhappy customers make unhappy sellers
So, there you have it. Much as portrayed in these two lists, the disadvantages outweighing the advantages--my own experience supported that. The main reason? Lack of control.
Why POD is the Clear Winner for Me
With Print on Demand, you have more control over products, shipping, and ultimately customer satisfaction.
A big part of that winning equation is going to be the fast turnaround times from your production partners, who are most often US-based. They are also branching out into satellite factories dotted throughout Europe, which enables speedy shipping to your customers in those locales.
The big two (Printify and Printful) are very interested in keeping their customers (we sellers) happy and able to meet the demands of our own customers (the buyers).
With POD, you never have to worry about an item taking three weeks to get to your customer. Your POD partners will give an outline for expected production times for each catalog item, ranging anywhere from 1-10 days. However, 3-5 days and up to 7 seems to be the norm. So this puts you in better control of managing customers' expectations, and therefore giving a better overall experience.
You should always keep an eye on a product's progress in the production phase, regardless of what's promised. If an item goes one day past its expected completion time, it's good practice to reach out to the company and inquire about the delay.
Most times, you can communicate your concerns via a Live Chat feature, and I've always found the agents in any POD company very helpful and efficient in problem-solving. I've yet to have a bad experience.
Comparing this to dropshipping from China: it is harder to communicate as quickly due to the different timezones (unless you live in that part of the world), and most often you cannot get a straight answer or any data about your item's whereabouts until it enters the shipping phase and a tracking number is generated.
The Ability to Offer Customized Products to Customers
Customers love a bespoke shopping experience, and POD is the ideal match.
Be it for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, births, or memorials-- and more-- buyers often wish to put their own stamp on a product. Sure, they may love the item overall, but they want to make it an extra-meaningful gift for the recipient.
With POD, you are ideally situated to be able to offer just that. For example, the wedding season is fast approaching. And what precedes a wedding? Stag and doe parties! Bride and bridesmaids' weekends away! Wedding showers! Rehearsal dinners! And on it goes.
These events are positively screaming out for your involvement-- in garnering potential sales. Think: Funny T-shirts with bride and groom in-jokes, tote bags with each bridesmaid's name, mother of the bride mugs, bride wine glasses...the list is endless. I'm sure you could even come up with more of your own ideas based upon your life experience.
You are in control, through first vetting the base product for quality, shipping time, and then offering customization in your shop. Equally, when your customer initiates a transaction, they get to feel in control with their individual requests.
So it is a win-win and it doesn't hurt that these orders are extra-fun to produce! It can also increase your profits, in that you may elect to charge an extra amount for the customization, on top of the base product. The amount of $5 seems to be standard, and reasonable for your extra efforts.
For making your designs, I highly recommend the most versatile platform around -- Canva. I can't sing its praises enough, for all that it can do, and I wouldn't have a business without it. Do yourself a favor, go check out the site, and see for yourself-- is my best advice.
I've also compiled a more in-depth look at Canva, which you can access on our homepage and through opting in to my emails. I'd love to welcome you with that! Canva is a designer's paradise and you can't miss out.
Be part of someone's special day -- without being there!
So, to wrap up -- I'm glad that I started with Shopify and AliExpress, for what I learned about what's important in business. And the central theme was managing the customers' needs and expectations. I just found it too difficult to do with this long-arm approach to eCommerce. I'm just not the type of person who could be 'okay' with keeping customers waiting...and waiting. No matter how beautiful the items were-- and, most customers' ire was soothed once they received their orders-- it didn't sit well with me. 'Cold sweat' comes to mind- especially with less-than-happy emails landing in my in-box about "missing items".
It all placed me firmly out of control, and for me that was the deal-breaker that brought me firmly into the fold of Print on Demand.
What about you? Have you tried the AliExpress model? If so, what was your experience-- do you still love it, and why? Please let me know in the comments below, I'd be intrigued to hear about it!
Until next time.
To moving forward,
About the Author
Dani Sherman, CEO at EcomGemini
Dani's been immersed in the online space for the past several years, and she knows what it takes to establish a presence on multiple e-commerce platforms. She would like to help you get started with your own strategy of running a successful online business. Her regular blog focuses on all things Print-On-Demand and eCommerce. So, check back often to see what's new, and to be inspired!
Even better, drop your name and email into the form below to subscribe-- and be kept in the loop when it comes to Print on Demand. When you sign up, you will also receive a free gift that intoduces you to your new best friend in all things creative -- Canva!