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Are Alibaba Products Fake? How To Spot Imitations On Alibaba

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As an eCommerce reseller, finding and sourcing the right products is hard. There are lots of fake products out there, prices are changing all the time, and counterfeits are becoming more common.

When it comes to Alibaba, there is a lot of controversy about fake products and low quality.

Are Alibaba products fake? After hearing a few horror stories, it might seem like this could be true - but actually, when you dig deeper, Alibaba offers real value to its members. The key is understanding how the platform works, where the risks are, and what to watch for.

In this article, we'll have a look at Alibaba from an eCommerce reseller point of view, and clarify the issue around fake products.

Are Alibaba Products Legit?

As a website, Alibaba is legit. It is one of the world's most visited B2B trading platforms. But it certainly won't be of much use to a reseller business if one ends up getting scammed. Unfortunately, there are lots of fake products on Alibaba, not only for consumer goods but also for all the section categories found on the website.

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Image Credit: http://seller.alibaba.com

If you buy from these sources without understanding how they work, you'll lose a lot of money and your company will suffer serious damage due to a bad reputation (if you then try to deliver such fake products to your own customers).

Understanding the supply chain in China is key - below we'll take a look at what this means when sourcing through Alibaba.

However, there is no doubt that despite the above, many people are using the platform successfully. The key thing is to find a supplier that you can trust and know you can rely on for their quality and professionalism.

Is Alibaba Safe? The Website Vs The Suppliers

What you need to understand is that as much as Alibaba tries to put measures in place to control sellers, at the end of the day, it is a marketplace. Alibaba isn't creating any listings itself and as such, it’s not in control of what goes on in that regard. What Alibaba tries to do is take proactive and reactive measures to ensure that what is described in its listings is what is actually sold.

As long as you select your supplier carefully and manage them appropriately, you can avoid most of the problems around fakes and low quality. If they do not meet their commitments, then you need to terminate the relationship and find another supplier as soon as possible.

Where does all this leave you with Alibaba? As an eCommerce reseller, Alibaba offers a serious advantage over other such sourcing platforms: There are already lots of suppliers registered, so finding a competitive price really couldn't be easier.

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Image Credit: http://ecomcrew.com

The sheer size of the community means that if one supplier lets you down (and inevitably they might at some point), you'll have no problem finding another. Using the correct strategies, Alibaba can be a great place to source products.

Understanding What A Branded Product Is

The problems with fake products start showing when resellers expect branded products to be found for cheap on Alibaba. In fact, this might be one of the main issues faced by those that are just becoming a reseller.

The thing about many branded products is that they are expensive as they usually wouldn’t be sold on eCommerce sites like Alibaba.

So when resellers expect to buy them for a fraction of the original price through this website, they are in for a shock. The truth is that there's no real way to find products that are indeed 100% authentic for such low prices.

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Image Credit: http://luxe.digital

This means that people can try to sell counterfeit goods or replicas through their Alibaba store. Also, think about branded products. Some of the most popular ones in the world today include:

  • Rolex
  • Apple
  • Samsung
  • Nike
  • McDonald's
  • Disney

Do you think that these brands are going to list their products on Alibaba and sell them at the low prices that can be found on this website? Of course not. It just wouldn't make any financial or brand sense for them. 

If someone is selling replica watches or fake apple phones, they will try to lure in customers by listing them very cheaply - it's up to the reseller to check whether what they are buying is indeed real or not.

Even though some of the above companies might have their products produced in China, the products would never be sold on sites like Alibaba. This means that if you see suppliers that are selling the same products as the most well-known brands, be very careful.

In this case, chances are that you are being sold fakes or replicas - even if they are advertised as "100% authentic".

Have The Right Expectations - There Are High-Quality Unbranded Products On Alibaba

If you are just starting an e-commerce site and want to sell items that might be of high quality but unbranded, then Alibaba might be the right place for you.

Since there are no branding factors involved, the products will be much cheaper. Sure, there might still be knock-offs but at least, if you go in with the right expectations, you won't have to worry about counterfeits since these are not branded goods.

The Factors To Investigate Before Buying From A Supplier

There are a few things that you should watch out for when it comes to Alibaba suppliers. Although some might seem like they are offering a great deal, these are usually signs of a scam.

Let's have a look at various factors to consider.

1. Is The Supplier A Gold Supplier?

This is the industry standard that you should look out for. If a supplier has this certification, then they are serious about what they do, will provide higher quality products and might be easy to communicate with.

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Image Credit: http://seller.alibaba.com

A Gold Supplier is a paid membership on Alibaba.com. To become one, the supplier must pass onsite checks done by Alibaba itself if they are in China. If they’re not, there is another check (called A&V Check) that must be passed.

2. Are They Verified Suppliers?

This is a good sign as well, though the "gold" status is preferable. A verified supplier will have undergone testing and authentication, meaning that they are more trustworthy than anonymous sellers.

Verified suppliers will also give you an accurate figure when it comes to your Alibaba shipping costs so that you can have an idea of what you’ll have to pay in order to get the products that you bought delivered. Unprofessional suppliers might change this cost last minute to try and squeeze as much money from you as possible.

3. What Is The Feedback And Transaction History/Level?

Checking feedback is one of the most important things that you can do. Alibaba is a marketplace which means that sometimes there's no way to verify whether or not a supplier is telling the truth - however, real customers who have been sent something they weren’t expecting will have no problem sharing their Alibaba website reviews with the world.

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Image Credit: http://leelinesourcing.com

Buyers will need to look at community comments and go through all of their feedback. This enables them to see if problems have arisen with any product in particular - this might be an indicator of faulty goods or fake items.

The Transaction History/Level is another very important thing to check. It shows how often a supplier has done business with Alibaba and will also say whether they have been selling on the platform for a long or short period of time.

4. What Certifications, Testing, and Other Standards Are Available?

To sell on Alibaba, suppliers need to adhere to set standards - if they don't, then the products might not be safe to use at all. For example, you should look out for certificates that show that a product meets industry standards. When suppliers have these types of certificates, they are usually very happy to show them to buyers on the listing’s page.

5. What About The Product Photos?

This is also another thing to look out for. If product pictures are blurry, unclear, or simply don't exist, then you should probably move on - this might be an indication that the supplier is not serious about their business, might be trying to pass off a product as something else, and will not be easy to communicate with. 

Also, if the company’s profile page has incomplete or very few details then this could be a red flag. Once again, it doesn't mean that the supplier is definitely a scam but you should keep your eyes peeled and do some more research before committing yourself to anything.

6. Where Is The Company’s Location?

The location of the business is another thing to look for - if you can't find any information about where the company is based at all, there might be something suspicious going on. Of course, don't expect all sellers to be Chinese suppliers with headquarters in China since many companies do operate from other countries as well. 

However, the company address should be publically visible and easy to find without having to dig deep on multiple sources.

7. How Long Have They Been In Business?

Ideally, you want a supplier that has had their business for at least a few years since these are the ones who know what they are doing and will be easy to communicate with. Newer companies might seem like better deals but in reality, most of them won't be able to offer you any kind of quality guarantees or post-sales support.

The longer a company has been in business, the more reviews you’ll also be able to find to ensure that you are getting the real deal.

8. What Does Their Website Look Like?

It's easy to create a professional-looking Alibaba profile page but this doesn't mean anything if the website looks unprofessional. If the supplier's website is not complete or does not look right, stay away.

A good website should give you more information about the supplier so you can ensure that you are doing business with a real company that produces real goods.

9. Are The Prices Too Good To Be True?

If your supplier is offering prices that are way too cheap, then you might want to consider the fact that it's too good to be true. If you feel that you are getting a super good deal (and the supplier is losing out), then probably you could be looking at either low-quality products or even a scam, where you will never receive the products ordered.

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Image Credit: http://seattlestagedtosell.com

10. Can You Get Another Opinion / Ask Around?

Don't just take their word for it; If you aren't sure about something, seek advice from trusted sources. Chances are that on various Facebook groups or even online forums, someone has already dealt with the specific supplier you have in mind and can provide feedback.

As such, there is no reason why you shouldn't do this check before pulling the trigger and buying products from a supplier.

11. Are You Using Alibaba Trade Assurance When Purchasing?

Using trade assurance when making an order is always a good idea. This way, you will be able to get your money back if something goes wrong with your order. It's also worth mentioning that Alibaba themselves give buyers help if something does go wrong and trade assurance is in place.

12. Are You Being Promised 'Secret Deals'?

Another thing that you should avoid are unrealistic claims made by the seller - most of them are probably false so make sure to keep your eyes peeled.

13. Has There Been Factory Inspection Done Recently?

When checking out an Alibaba supplier page, it's good to see if they offer a factory inspection video. This video would show that your supplier is serious about their business and that they have nothing to hide - this is a sign of a reliable seller. Alibaba sometimes does this officially so if you see that a supplier has a video that was recorded by Alibaba, this is typically a very good sign.

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Image Credit: http://turkish.alibaba.com

A live factory video can sometimes be provided on request. In such cases, make sure to ask for it if you think that your supplier might be hiding something but would like to ensure that this is not the case.

14. Does A Google Search Give You More Information?

Searching for a supplier on Google is always a good idea. Google results are usually very often and can turn up information that can’t be found anywhere else. If you're looking for more information about a specific supplier, try searching for them on Google and see if any reviews or other info pops up.

Be aware that sometimes there are multiple companies with the same name so make sure to double-check you’re looking at the right one before making a decision.

15. Are The Invoice/Bank Details Correct?

As soon as you receive the supplier’s bank details or first invoice, you should check them out. If something is not right, speak with your supplier immediately. Ensure that the supplier's company name, address, and other important information are the same on the invoice as it was originally discussed.

If something is off, proceed with caution. There's a chance that your supplier is simply using a fake name or just doesn't have a bank account yet - in some cases, your supplier could be trying to scam you.

16. What Are The Payment Options?

If a supplier asks to be paid via Western Union, it's time to run. This is a common sign for scams because it's easy to run with the money after getting it through Western Union transfers - in most cases, this payment method is used when the seller knows that they are probably going to scam you.

17. Do The Product Pictures Focus On The Latest Tech Products With Mismatching Names?

Finally, if a supplier has the latest tech products in their store listed with branded pictures  - all whilst using ‘strange’ names to describe them - something is off.

Alibaba will filter suppliers that use brand names in their text descriptions but it's more difficult for Alibaba to understand what brand pictures are being used. As a reseller, ensure that your supplier is legit by carefully checking all pictures used to advertise the products.

Cheap electronic devices like smartwatches, gaming consoles, PC speakers, phones & tablets are usually targeted because the images are so easy to find. Whenever you're buying such a product you can also ask for pictures that show the serial number or other important details. This way, you will be able to prove that your supplier will indeed sell you the correct product.

How To Spot A Fake Product On Alibaba

While the above factors are great to keep in mind, there are also ways you can spot a fake product even if you're not an expert. Keep in mind that some brands like Louis Vuitton & Michael Kors are popular victims because they don't sell their merchandise via Alibaba - this means that a seller with bad intentions can sell fake merchandise on Alibaba.

The following are the things to look out for in a fake product.

1. Authenticity Card & Strap

When you buy a Louis Vuitton bag, for example, it's important to check if all details are correct. 

If a supplier keeps insisting the product is authentic, make sure to ask your supplier where they got their items from. If they claim that they bought them directly from Louis Vuitton or another brand owner, this is probably a sign that the product is fake.

Real products will have an authenticity card and some will even have details engraved on them so these are all signs to look out for and ask for clarification on, if needed.

2. Quality Of Replicas

Another quick way to spot a fake is by looking at the quality of replicas. Sellers usually have a hard time with smaller details including things like stitching and the quality of the leather on handbags & shoes. A good idea would be to ask your supplier for a video showing you a close-up review of the product before making a decision.

3. Reviews From Other Buyers

Alibaba website reviews from other buyers are very important as well - even if your supplier has been recommended by someone you know, it's always worth checking online who else bought from them and what their experience was. If anything seems off, then we recommend that you trust your gut and stay away.

Always keep in mind that although Alibaba only has a review system for suppliers, there are different review websites like Trustpilot where buyers post their experiences which will help you make a more informed decision.

Top 3 Tips To Stay Safe On Alibaba

Staying safe and away from fake products on Alibaba can be done by following a few simple tips.

1. Build A Relationship

As with any business transaction, building a relationship and communication are to be prioritized. When you contact the supplier, make sure to ask lots of questions and understand what they can do for you. 

Moreover, it's important to remember that a good supplier won't rush you into making a final decision. Always make sure they know when and what you plan on buying and try to follow up with them. This way, even if something goes wrong from their side (and you’ve built a good relationship with them), they will be more likely to help you out.

2. Get Samples Of The Products

After building a relationship with your supplier, you should try out their samples before placing any orders. 

Although this might seem like an unnecessary step, it is actually a very important one. Alibaba is well known for sellers who send fake items just because buyers fail to do their research properly - so always take the time to order a few samples and verify that the quality is what you are expecting.

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Image Credit: http://seller.alibaba.com

In terms of samples, it's a good idea to ask your supplier for smaller items because chances are that they will be easier to evaluate. For example, replicas of clothing might have the wrong type of fabric so checking out their quality is always important.

3. Never Negotiate Out Of Fear

Always negotiate from a position of power. If you feel that the supplier's asking price is too high, don't be afraid to ask for a lower price - but never succumb to requests that do not make sense to you. By being willing to walk away if the alarm in your head is going off, you minimize your risk when buying items on Alibaba. Although scammers usually like to intimidate buyers into making a decision, always remember that you won’t be scammed if you do your research and walk away if things don’t make sense.

Always make sure you clear up any issues in advance because it's much easier than trying to solve them after a decision has been made.

Are Alibaba Products Fake - FAQS

What are replica sellers?

Replica sellers can also be known as "unofficial suppliers" because the merchandise they give isn't made directly by the manufacturers. In most cases, they buy from an original supplier who has a surplus of certain items so that they can place them in their store at lower prices.

Are counterfeit goods illegal?

In most cases, replica sellers don't break any laws when selling counterfeit goods. However, if this is repeated many times and the sellers get caught, they might eventually get banned from selling on Alibaba.

What are the best ways to find reliable manufacturers?

Finding the right manufacturers when doing business on Alibaba means that you should stick to buying items from sellers that are credible in relation to the factors described above. Also, if you are OK with replica items, know that genuine suppliers tend to make good replicas since they provide higher profit margins than original merchandise. 

Another popular way to find reliable suppliers is by asking for references on Facebooks groups used by resellers. This usually gives you an idea of who is a trustworthy supplier and who isn’t are when it comes to their business.

What is Alibaba’s trade assurance?

Trade assurance is a way for buyers to be protected when doing global trading. The purpose of this protective measure is to protect buyers against any risks related to payment disputes, cancellations, or alterations on all shipments. Only trade assurance orders guarantee that you end up on top no matter what happens.

How do sellers get the gold suppliers status?

An Alibaba gold supplier status is a paid membership that the top sellers are a part of. It indicates that the suppliers that have this membership have met all the requirements and can now be trusted more than other suppliers.

A gold supplier membership means that the supplier has passed a strict supplier verification process so you can rest assured that they have been delivering high-quality products for quite some time.

What are product certifications?

A product certification, also known as a quality certification, is the official document that authenticates products that are being sold. These documents ensure buyers that the item has met all safety standards and requirements. Ideally, you shouldn't ever purchase anything without this type of documentation because it can lead to unexpected consequences down the line when you resell these products to consumers.

How can you ask for a high-quality sample before making an order?

Most suppliers and trading companies have no problem with providing samples for free if you give them a reasonable explanation about why you need one. 

Asking for a high-quality sample is often the best way to avoid getting ripped off because it allows buyers to check everything in advance - including product quality, color shades, or packaging design.

A reputable trading company (such as one that is a gold supplier) will be happy to send a sample of the product you want to buy. If they don't, then you should go elsewhere.

What does it mean for a product to be fake?

If a supplier is trying to sell brand products on Alibaba, chances are that the product is fake. Branded electronic products are usually sold through official company channels and therefore, items that you see on Alibaba are probably knock-offs. 

With that in mind, it's better to always go through the main website of Adidas or Sony (for example) if you want to be 100% certain that you're purchasing an original product.

Final Thoughts On Alibaba Products

In conclusion, remember that no matter how many obstacles you come across on your way to finding a reliable supplier, Alibaba is still one of the best places to look for wholesale products. With a bit of patience and focus, you'll be able to find trusted sellers who will give you everything that you need.

By keeping the above tips in mind, you’ll be able to find the right products for your needs and form long-term relationships with suppliers that are a win-win for everyone involved.

Recommended Reading

Want to learn more about the eCommerce world? Check out this guide for dropshipping higher ticket items as well as this post on the best lifestyle business ideas trending right now.

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About the author 

Mike Vestil

Mike Vestil is an author, investor, and speaker known for building a business from zero to $1.5 million in 12 months while traveling the world.

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