It is impossible to make the journey from Hong Kong airport into the city without being exposed to AliBaba.com a number of times. The orange posters, with smiling faces of happy customers/suppliers, are everywhere. The Airport Express train has a perpetually looping clip of customers sharing their delight. They are operating on the assumption – of course – that a large number of travellers to Hong Kong are there to source products from China.
AliBaba is like a super-sized online trade show, where traders can buy just about anything (Yahoo is a major shareholder, which is one of the few bright spots as far as this struggling internet business is concerned).
I recently came across Aliexpress.com, which is the online shopping version of AliBaba. Much of the same stuff is available – even when purchasing one unit only – and it gets despatched via DHL or airmail post. Seeing as it’s one of the advertisers on this site (they pay a percentage of sales in lieu of access to the space) I thought I’d give them a test-drive.
I’ve been wanting to get a Kindle reader from Amazon, but have been bothered by the limited application of the device. While a tablet has many more uses, in its iPad incarnation it just seems that little bit too expensive for its utility (perhaps if I had more money I would be more comfortable with the iPad’s premium pricing).
From AliExpress I bought an Android tablet, including DHL delivery to my door, for just $190. At this price it’s the same cost as a Kindle, which I think is extremely good value. I’ve downloaded the Kindle app, so I get that functionality. In addition, I have a fully-fledged link to ‘the cloud’ (read my previous post about this). I’d certainly recommend this purchase (it’s been running very happily on my WiFi; next step is to get it hooked up to 3G, which requires a Huawei E1750 USB modem that I have on order).
I’m not suggesting that everything on AliExpress is going to be to everyone’s taste. However, some careful shopping certainly yields bargain results. I’ll be going back for their wide selection of cycling gear, which is going for a fraction of the high-street retail price.
You’ll notice the words “Escrow buyer protection” all over the site. This means that your payment is held in trust until you have received the goods, are satisfied with them, and then release the payment.
I wouldn’t forego my Hong Kong experiences, but here’s a way of accessing many of the same shopping bargains without paying the airfare (or buying whole containers of an item!).
Donald Clarkson - August 22, 2011
The world economy, as it is structured, relies on a critical mass of economic activity. Cutting out the ‘middle man’ – which is what vendors such as AliExpress do – puts more people out of work and reduces the economically active population. This means fewer people can afford luxury goods such as wine (though it does enable those with money to afford more wine). Governments such as that in the UK lead the way in such perverse thinking with cut-backs at a time when they should be doing the exact opposite.
Oscar Foulkes - August 22, 2011
I’m definitely Keynesian, in the sense that a healthy economy requires people to be spending money, so that it can circulate through the economy.
Having said that, I’m all for efficient transactions. A higher-priced high street purchase needs to deliver additional value. One could say the same for higher-priced premium brands.
Those that don’t deliver extra value are at risk of disintermediation.
Donald Clarkson - August 23, 2011
Efficiency in the use of material resources can only be a good thing, but when it is applied to human resources social problems arise. Our species has become largely redundant, with machines doing the work faster, cheaper and better, producing more goods than we can consume. There is an oversupply of goods and an oversupply of humans – hence advertising which makes us want stuff we don’t need, or need stuff we don’t want. But there’s not enough work to earn what we buy so we again take the lead from our governments and borrow. What can be done? A tax on production instead of pay? If it works for wine, why not for gadgets?