Let’s get one thing clear: I’m probably not a regular shopper. I don’t live to shop. Retail therapy is a myth invented by retailers (obviously).

And mass consumerism is a scourge that is killing this planet and led to throw-away TV shows like Marie Kondo on trashing that undie 5-pack you just bought last week because it’s not sparking joy (just dispose thoughtfully by remembering to say thank you…).

That said I like getting a bargain as much as the next Scotsman, and possibly one of the few guys who actually enjoys grocery shopping for the potential thrill of hitting the holy grail of finding at least 80% of what’s on your list is also on special. The rush.

Aliexpress is bargain central. Especially for us poor kiwis run ragged by ruthless retailers hell bent on maximum margin while the going was good. Hopefully the greedy beggars have had their day and we’ll see some real competition in the retail sector. Of course that change isn’t going to happen overnight. Yes Aliexpress is becoming more common, a go-to for a lot of ordinary people (read: not just computer geeks and online nerds). But there are still a huge percentage who don’t know about it, or stay away due to fear of the unknown (not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to handing over your credit card details online).

So after using Aliexpress for a few years now, what are my top tips?

Top tips for NZ shoppers on Aliexpress

1 – Plan ahead – Probably the biggest drawback of Aliexpress is how long it takes – some of the stuff I’ve ordered has taken four weeks to get here. One time I ordered an underwater camera for a trip to the Great Barrier Reef about 3 weeks before I was going – the listing stated shipping was 14-21 days. I knew I was cutting it fine but I took a chance. It didn’t work out. So don’t rely on delivery times; alternatively pay for faster shipping or just buy local.

2 – If you’re unsure just start small – I was talking to an older guy the other day, an accomplished builder not afraid of risky projects and daunting challenges, but the idea of buying from an unfamiliar shopping site based in China scared him. I suggested he start small – buy some cheap LED lights and go from there. I’ve never had an issue getting a refund in the rare event something didn’t arrive (even though it’s possible it was stolen or mislaid).

3 – Double-check the specs – Aliexpress is a global buyers site – not like Trade Me where you expect that everything you buy will be compatible with NZ systems (e.g voltage, plug types, car parts, plumbing threads etc) – so double-check that what you’re buying is right for NZ. For example, I have bought car parts that looked identical to the part I was replacing only to find the wiring was slightly different (note to self: use the OEM part number in future). Fortunately, it was a cheap mistake but one that cost me time getting my car fixed (ironically, I ended up finding the right part at the wreckers just down the road – for about twice the price I might add…).

4 – Compare sellers – Once you start shopping online you quickly realise there are hundreds of sellers selling identical products (makes sense really) so shop around – you might save a few dollars or find a seller with a higher feedback score or reputation for faster deliveries. You might choose to only use sellers with a rating of 95% or higher.

5 – Keep an eye out for sales – This is not a major point as there are sales all the time (and when the time remaining counter reaches zero it restarts, sneaky I know) so it kind of feels like Briscoes. Having said that there are some times of the year that there are more sales and bigger discounts – Singles day (11/11), Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Chinese New Year and a few others.

6 – Clothing sizes may be slightly smaller – I’ve been super happy with all my clothing purchases and most of my shoes (except for one pair that cracked up within a few months). Awesome prices and a great range. Just when it comes to sizes maybe go up one from what you might generally buy here in NZ, they often tend to be slightly on the smaller size.

7 – Find the same item locally (just so you can gloat) – Many times I’ve compared local prices (if I can get it here then I will) but the prices have always been ridiculously more (I say ridiculous because nine times of 10 it’s the identical item, imported and sold through a NZ retailer or on Trade Me with a massive margin plus expensive shipping costs). For example, I recently replaced the driving light bulbs on my car – from “Super Cheap” they were $28; Aliexpress $1.75 incl shipping – the exact. same. item. It almost seems criminal local retailers can get away with it but they do have more overheads.

8 – Get in now before GST hits – The NZ government have sniffed out a missed tax opportunity and are planning to plug the gap by charging GST on ALL items bought from major overseas retailers from October 2019.

9 – Order small quantities – With free shipping on many items if you’re not 100% sure about those new LED downlights, why not just order one or 2 first? Saves having to flog off 20 on Trade Me.

10 – Compare other sources – With bargain basement prices it’s easy for Aliexpress to become your go-to for everything, but there are some things where it’s just cheaper, faster and less hassle to go local for. The Warehouse, for example, has plenty of affordable bits and pieces and some local retailers are great for obscure spare parts (like the starter pulley for my Ryobi chainsaw). Shop around before you buy!

11 – Do you really need it?? – The hardcore shoppers are harrumphing this particular tip (“like really why do you even need to ask??”) but seriously over-consumption is killing this planet and I don’t want my blog to in any way, shape or form contribute to more needless shopping. Please just stop and think – do you really need this? can you recycle or reuse something else? have you asked on your local facebook page if anyone’s giving it away? Sure it’s only 99c but shop responsibly people!!

Aliexpress – A good option for NZ shoppers?

In my experience, and used responsibly and with a little homework, absolutely it is a great option for NZ shoppers. I have saved hundreds on everyday items that would have cost me a lot more had I bought local.

Just the other day I received a Quyanre Matte Black Sensor Kitchen Faucet (with Sensitive Smart Touch Control) that I had ordered to replace our leaking Caroma kitchen taps. For the less than the cost of getting a plumber out to repair the leak I was able to get a brand new tap (costs $400-500 locally). Sure it took me the best of the evening to install it but it connected to all the local fittings just fine and now we have the novelty of a touch sensor tap (which is actually super convenient when you have dirty hands and saves on water).

So it’s definitely a yes from me, and for more than just electronics. Try it for yourself and let’s encourage local retailers to be a bit more competitive!

As a quick ps one business idea that can work for some (especially for those with good knowledge in a particular niche e.g. DIY) setting up an ecommerce website and using Aliexpress for dropshipping can be a good money spinner. Let us know if you need help setting it up!

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Aliexpress – 10 tips for NZ buyers