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Taobao Wholesale Orders vs Alibaba & 1688.com

January 15, 2016 by Andrew Minalto - 16 Comments
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taobao-part-3At the end of Part 2 in our Taobao series, which was published on Wednesday, we had finished comparing the pricing on Taobao vs our tried and trusted AliExpress, and honestly, the results were not good…

With the commission and added shipping costs, Taobao just couldn’t keep up with the low prices offered for single/small quantities. But other than samples, the vast majority of you reading this aren’t interested in single orders anyway – when I talk about importing from China I talk about bulk orders, as that’s the only way you’re going to be able to compete with other sellers ordering container loads at a time.

And that brings us to our final question about Taobao – is it worthwhile for larger orders? To get our answer we’re going to go back to the MacBook cases that we looked at it Part 2, but instead of an order of 10 pieces, we’re going to find out the price for an order of 500!

  • £1300 – Cost of Products (500 x £2.60)
  • £130 – Commission
  • £300 – Shipping

= £1730 TOTAL = £3.46 Per Piece

So again another big drop in the cost per piece compared to ordering 10 units at a time, but that really is to be expected at such quantities and any other result would have been a huge disappointment…

Does this change my overall thoughts on Taobao in any meaningful way? Well no, not really, as I’m practically certain that I could easily beat that price for a quantity of 500 using Alibaba.

In fact, I found this after literally 30 seconds of searching:

wholesale-casesIgnoring the shipping costs as that’s a courier vs freight for the Taobao example, the price per piece of $3.29 is equal to roughly £2.19, which is already 15% cheaper than Taobao! That’s for 100 pieces, I would obviously expect it to be even cheaper for 500 and once again this is without all the hassle of using a buying agent, paying commission, waiting longer for multiple shipping times etc. etc.!

And this is without even considering the fact that Taobao just isn’t built for large quantity orders anyway. I tested this out with a number of sellers (with the help of the buying agents of course) and requested a price for an order of 100-500+ pieces. The answer came back every time that they can’t offer such quantities.

So never mind getting a price that beats Alibaba, on Taobao the sellers aren’t even able to fulfil such orders.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone though. As I said Taobao is the “eBay of China” and I very much doubt that I’d get much of a response if I went around asking sellers on eBay to give me a quote for an order of 500 items either.

As I pointed out earlier, for our purposes Taobao is roughly equivalent to AliExpress, so is there a Taobao for bigger orders, just like there is an Alibaba?

And actually the answer is yes! The site is called 1688.com and it is much more akin to Alibaba in that there are MOQs, and it’s all set up for large quantities orders to be shipped via air or sea freight, not via couriers such as DHL:

1688But the big question is, does it have the pricing to match? So far in this comparison AliExpress has beaten Taobao fairly easily, so now it’s left to their two bigger alternatives to battle it out in a final pricing showdown!

To keep things consistent, we’re going to stick with two of our earlier products for this final test – the Syma RC Drone and the Macbook case. I decided to remove the Kangertech Subox Starter Kit as I simply came across too many suspect listings for them and I don’t want to include potentially fake products here!

Also, I won’t really be considering the shipping cost, and will instead look at FOB pricing, which is a fairer and simpler comparison. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Syma X5SW RC Camera Drone

We’ll start off with Alibaba, and I found this product for $41.25/piece with a MOQ of only 12 pieces:

syma-alibabaUsing 1GBP – 1.5USD, that’s £27.50.

Searching on 1688.com and there were a number of sellers to choose from, all offering pretty much identical pricing:

syma-1688The price starts at 294 CNY, with two price breaks at quantities of 12 and 120. The mid-point obviously fits in perfectly with Alibaba, so that’s what we’ll use:

syma-X5SWThat gives us a price of 242 CNY plus 32 CNY for shipping 12, which means a final total cost per piece of 245 CNY, or converted to pounds – £25.52. Add on the 10% commission for using one of the buying agents (though not Taobao Focus, as they don’t currently support purchases from 1688) and the final price is £28.07.

So for our first product, 1688.com and Alibaba both offer very competitive pricing in comparison to AliExpress, and as their pricing is practically the same, I’m going to call round 1 a draw.

Round 1 Winner – DRAW.

Now let’s move on to product no.2:

MacBook Hard Cover Case

For this item, we already found a seller on Alibaba offering it for $3.29 earlier, with an MOQ of 100 pieces.

macbook-case-alibabaThat is £2.19 per piece.

Moving on to 1688 and once again there are a number of different sellers offering slight variants of this product. One hundred cases can be bought for 13 CNY each, plus 50 CNY for shipping:

168-caseThat gives a final price, including commission, of 14.85 CNY per case, which is £1.55 – 29% cheaper than Alibaba.

Round 2 Winner – 1688

For our 3rd and final test, we’re going to use an old favourite on this blog!

Camera Lens Mug

The variant I went for on Alibaba is the 24-105mm “lens”:

alibaba-lens-mugWith an MOQ of 120 pieces, the price offered is $2.05 which converts to £1.37

On 1688 I initially found a few sellers for the product just by searching for “lens mug” (yes, in English!) and one of them actually had a fairly competitive price of 17.50 CNY:

1688-lens-mugHowever I had a feeling we could do better, and with the help of the buying agents, we did:

1688-camera-lens-mugThis seller is offering a price of 7.50 CNY per piece at a quantity of 120, with 42 CNY on top for shipping. That makes a total of 942 CNY and 7.85 CNY per piece. Adding on 10% for commission and we get 8.64 CNY.

That converts to £0.90, which is a phenomenal result, being 34% cheaper than Alibaba!

Round 3 Winner – 1688

Well, what a change of events! Coming in to Part 3, Taobao had not fared well at all, but the introduction of the wholesale oriented 1688 has made all the difference.

From our three pricing tests, 1688 drew with Alibaba once but then beat it by around 30-35% twice. I honestly never would have expected that!

Of course there are some other aspects to consider, such as the PRODUCT QUALITY (something I did not compare in these tests), added difficulty of using a middle man for your order, extended shipping times, language barrier etc. but at the same time it is very, very hard to argue with a 35% saving.

With that in mind, there is really only one fair conclusion to Part 3 and this series on a whole and that is – while Taobao may not be that worthwhile, because of its retail set-up, 1688 certainly is and it’s definitely something you should investigate further for your business.

Just how useful depends on your products and individual circumstances, as always, and also depends on how good the buying agent you use is. I’ve actually been very impressed with the level of service and from what I’ve seen of them over the last few weeks. If there is enough interest, I may place a trial order with one of them to really put their service to the test.

So if that’s something you would be interested in seeing, please post below in the comments section

And of course, if you have any other questions or comments, I’d love to hear them so don’t be shy!

Otherwise, until next time.

All the best,

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  1. Jav Maqbool

    Hi Andrew, just read your 3 part series on this and it’s been such an informative read, so thank you! I’m looking into buying some products where the quantities will range from 100-200 items. So I assume 1688 may the best bet. Can we use the same buying agents as you’ve highlighted?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi There,

      This post is several years old, so please do some research online, check reviews to see which buying agents are good and trustworthy in 2020.


  2. Hi Andrew,

    I know this is an old article, but hoping you still get notified when someone comments on it. 🙂

    We pay 1688 suppliers through agents, but most of these agents request payment into private bank accounts. This has worked so far using TransferWise, but payments need to be split up in several small transactions.

    We have now reached a level of ordering for £100k+ and not sure how long we can continue to split this up in small payments.

    Have you ever come across agents that actually can accept international business bank transfers? Do they exist?



    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your comment – I still read and reply to all of them! 🙂

      Unfortunately, I can’t provide any helpful advice on this as I don’t use 1688 for my businesses. I also don’t use agents so can’t really comment on the payment terms they use….


  3. I’ll like to see an article comparing qualities of items on 1688.com and Alibaba.com

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Thanks for your suggestion Alex.


  4. Hi Andrew, great article, I’ve been testing the water importing from China using Aliexpress which has gone smoothly. Looking at the 1688 site, I have been able to find items around 50% cheaper than Aliexpress. I was wondering which agent you would use as a trial run buying from 1688? I was looking at a site called freeshoppingchina, just wondering if you knew of others?

    Many thanks for your help


    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Chris,

      As you can see from my experiment, even while prices on 1688 are often cheaper, with agent/shipping fees it actually may not end as cheap as it looks, that is if quantity is not that great.

      Check out this post where I cover buying agents:



  5. Andrew, how would you do payments on 1688.com? Send payment to a chinese associate and let the items be sent to them?
    Also, can how do you communicate with sellers. Right now the only thing i found was a chat function. Is there a possibility to send mails?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Nathan,

      Yes, you send money to agent.

      You also communicate via the agent, so everything stays in English.


  6. TaobaoFocus

    Thanks for trying our site. Unfrotunately , we can not make orders on 1688, but we are working on improving and expanding our service, so 1688 ordering option can be added in the future. So you can follow our site for news and updates, to be informed

    1. Andrew Minalto


  7. Thanks for another great article series full of useful tips 🙂

    I am keen to get started with my own shop but do you have any trusted sourcing agenda you reccomend? Or how do I go about finding them?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      What exactly you mean by “trusted sourcing agenda”?

      Let me know! 🙂


  8. This has been a great series of posts, thank you Andrew. I’m certainly interested in finding out how good the agents are, it would be great for your readers to benefit from the trial order you place.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Thanks very much!

      Will think about it, definitely.


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