1688 vs Alibaba: What’s the Difference Between 1688 and Alibaba?

Mar 21, 2024 Chapter 1. Sourcing

Alibaba and 1688 are both popular e-commerce platforms, but they serve different purposes and cater to different types of buyers. Your choice between the two platforms depends on your specific needs and circumstances. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which platform to buy from:





1688 vs Alibaba:

while both Alibaba and 1688 are owned by the same company and facilitate trade between buyers and sellers, Alibaba is a global B2B platform that caters to international buyers and suppliers, while 1688 is a Chinese domestic wholesale marketplace primarily serving the Chinese market.



  • Taobao is a Chinese online shopping website, also owned by Alibaba Group, that primarily caters to individual consumers and retail customers.
  • It offers a wide range of products, similar to Alibaba and 1688, but in smaller quantities suitable for individual consumers.
  • Taobao is popular for its diverse selection, including fashion, electronics, household items, and more.
  • It’s a suitable platform if you want to make smaller purchases for personal use.


Aspect Alibaba 1688 Taobao
Target Audience International businesses Domestic businesses Consumers (China)
Language Multilingual Chinese Chinese
Product Authenticity Emphasis on authenticity May have authenticity issues Focus on individual sellers
 MOQs Common for larger orders More flexibility for smaller orders Primarily for individuals
Payment Options Various international methods Alipay Alipay
Shipping and Logistics Experience with international shipping Domestic logistics Domestic shipping options
Purpose B2B and B2C Primarily B2B Primarily B2C
Supplier Verification Verification processes Variable reliability Less focus on verification
Product Range Wide range of products Broad, domestic products Broad, domestic products
User Interface Business-oriented Business-oriented Consumer-oriented



Target Audience:

  • Alibaba: Alibaba.com primarily targets international buyers and sellers. It’s a platform where businesses from around the world can connect and trade with Chinese manufacturers and suppliers. If you’re an international buyer looking for products to import or source from China, Alibaba is a suitable choice.
  • 1688: 1688.com, on the other hand, is a Chinese-language platform that primarily targets domestic buyers and sellers within China. If you’re based in China and looking to purchase products for domestic use or resale within China, 1688 may be more suitable.


Language and Location:

  • Alibaba: Alibaba’s website and communication are available in multiple languages, making it accessible to international users. You can find products and suppliers from various countries.
  • 1688: 1688.com is primarily in Chinese, which can be a barrier for international buyers who do not speak or read Chinese. It’s designed for the Chinese market and may not have as much international product diversity.


Product Authenticity:

  • Alibaba: Alibaba generally has a higher emphasis on product authenticity, and they have implemented various verification processes to ensure the credibility of suppliers. While there can still be issues, it is generally considered more reliable for international buyers.
  • 1688: 1688 may have a wider range of products, but it may be riskier in terms of product authenticity and quality control. Due diligence is crucial when purchasing from 1688, especially for international buyers.


Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs):

  • Alibaba: Alibaba often caters to businesses looking to buy products in larger quantities. Many suppliers on Alibaba have MOQs, which may not be suitable for individuals or smaller businesses.
  • 1688: 1688 may have more options for smaller quantities, as it’s designed for domestic buyers who may not require large quantities.


Payment Options:

  • Alibaba: Alibaba offers various payment options, including Alipay and international payment methods, making it easier for international buyers to transact.
  • 1688: 1688 primarily uses Alipay for transactions, which can be challenging for international buyers who do not have an Alipay account.


Shipping and Logistics:

  • Alibaba: Alibaba often has more experience dealing with international shipping and logistics, which can be helpful for international buyers.
  • 1688: 1688’s focus is primarily on domestic logistics within China, so international shipping arrangements may be less straightforward.



In summary, if you are an international buyer looking to source products from China, Alibaba is usually the better choice due to its international focus, language support, and emphasis on product authenticity.

However, if you are a domestic buyer within China, 1688 might offer a broader range of products at competitive prices. Or, you can consider hire a 1688 sourcing agent to help you buy from 1688.com. 


Regardless of the platform you choose, always conduct thorough due diligence when selecting suppliers to ensure product quality and authenticity.




How to Order from 1688?




Step 1: Translate 1688.com into English

To begin, follow these simple steps to translate 1688.com into English using the Google Chrome web browser:


1688 in English



  1. Choose Google Chrome: Ensure you are using the Google Chrome web browser.
  2. Access Google Translate Extension: Visit the Chrome web store and search for the “Google Translate Chrome extension.”
  3. Add to Chrome: Once you’ve found the extension, click on “Add to Chrome.”
  4. Confirmation: A confirmation window will appear. Click on “Add Extension.”
  5. Extension Added: You will receive a confirmation message in the top right corner of your browser window, indicating that “Google Translate has been added to Chrome.”
  6. Visit 1688.com: Go to the 1688.com website. You may notice an automatic pop-up message that prompts you to translate the site into English. If this pop-up does not appear, you can manually click on the Google Translate Chrome extension icon within your browser window.
  7. Language Selection: Ensure that English is selected as the target language.


Now, you are ready to explore 1688.com and search for products seamlessly, regardless of the language barrier.



Step 2: Search Your Desired Product on 1688.com

Discovering your desired product on 1688.com can be achieved through three different methods:

Image Upload on 1688.com:

    • Click on the camera icon located in the search bar to upload an image of your desired product.
    • The website’s image recognition feature will attempt to match your uploaded image with products based on their shape and design.
    • It’s worth noting that if you search for a toaster using this method, 1688 may suggest microwave ovens due to their similar shapes.
    • Please be aware that utilizing this method requires you to have a 1688 account.
    • To register an account, you must possess a valid ID registered in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea.
    • Using a VPN (virtual private network) will not allow you to bypass this requirement.

1688 in English



Search Using English Keywords:

    • Type your desired keyword in English into the search bar and click “Search” (搜索).
    • For instance, entering “golf bag” will yield relevant results.
    • However, there’s a limitation: searching “golf bag” in English will provide only 291 results, which may not cover the extensive range of suppliers available on 1688. You can enhance your search by conducting it in Chinese.

1688 in English



Search Using the Chinese Translation of Your Keyword:

    • Utilize Google Translate or Google Chrome to obtain the Chinese translation of your primary keyword.
    • For example, you can type “translate golf bag to Chinese” in Google Chrome to acquire the translation.
    • Copy and paste this translation into the 1688 search bar, then click the search button.
    • You will observe that your search now generates a much larger pool of results, such as 3,725 in the case of “golf bag,” offering thousands more options compared to an English search.

1688 in English



Step 3: Assessing the 1688.com Listing

It’s crucial to comprehend how 1688.com differs from consumer-oriented platforms like Amazon and other sourcing websites such as Alibaba. The dynamics on 1688.com operate under slightly different rules:

  1. Listed Price Accuracy:

    • The price displayed on the listing is often not an exact reflection of the final cost.
    • Many suppliers purposefully advertise lower prices to capture your attention with enticing but often unrealistic expectations.
    • While some of these prices might indeed be accurate, they typically apply when you place orders in very high quantities. It’s advisable never to accept a listing price at face value; always engage with the supplier to clarify the actual cost.


  2. Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ):

    • The MOQ mentioned in the listing is usually reliable.
    • MOQ represents the minimum quantity of units you must purchase for the supplier to accept your order.
    • To put it in perspective, 250 units constitute a small MOQ, whereas a large MOQ might encompass 5,000 units or more.
    • Generally, products with higher prices (above $25) tend to have smaller MOQs, while lower-priced items (under $25) may have larger MOQs.
    • Ordering quantities surpassing the MOQ often opens the door to negotiating lower unit prices.


  3. Product Availability:

    • The presence of a product picture in the supplier’s listing doesn’t guarantee its immediate availability.
    • Some 1688 listings serve as “holding spots” and might persist even if the product isn’t in stock.
    • The images displayed can either represent items currently in stock or products that the supplier can manufacture.
    • It’s advisable to always communicate with the supplier to confirm product availability.


Once you’ve assessed the listing and are content with it, proceed to evaluate the credibility and suitability of the supplier.




Step 4: Scrutinize the 1688.com Supplier

To vet a supplier effectively on 1688.com, follow these steps:


how to shop on 1688 in english



Access the Company Tab:

Click on the “Company” tab


Verify the Following Criteria:

  • A longer establishment period reduces the likelihood of fraudulent activity. Scammers tend to appear and disappear quickly, while legitimate businesses demonstrate longevity and growth.
  • Locate this information by scrolling down or using the search function (Command + F on Mac, Control + F on PC). Look for the term “Established.”
  • Check if the supplier has been in operation for at least 3 years.


Employee Count:

  • Ensure the supplier reports a workforce of 50-500 employees.
  • Fewer than 50 employees might indicate a trading company, as a full-scale factory typically requires more staff for high-volume production.
  • If the supplier boasts more than 500 employees, they likely engage in large-scale wholesale production, which may be less flexible for smaller initial orders.
  • Find this information by searching the page (Command + F on Mac, Control + F on PC).


Office Space Size:

  • Ensure the supplier’s premises encompass a minimum of 200 square meters.
  • To put this in perspective, 200 square meters equate to about 2157 square feet or roughly half the size of a basketball court.
  • Companies with larger office spaces are less likely to operate as secretive trading companies.


Delivery Guarantee:

Confirm whether the company offers a “Delivery Guarantee.”

If you spot a “Delivery Guarantee” badge on their company page, it indicates that when you place an order, the supplier deposits 3,000 RMB into a third-party escrow account.

The supplier cannot retrieve this money until you confirm successful delivery of the ordered products.




Step 5: Connect with the Supplier and Negotiate

Engaging with suppliers and negotiating effectively is crucial when sourcing from 1688.com. Here’s how to do it:

how to shop on 1688 in english


Primary Communication Method:

  • The most commonly used communication platform on 1688.com is Alitalk.
  • If you possess a 1688 account, you can access Alitalk by clicking the small blue raindrop icon. Alitalk functions similarly to chat services like WhatsApp or WeChat.


The Challenge:

    • It’s important to note that the majority of 1688 suppliers using Alitalk may expect conversations to be conducted in Chinese, as they often assume you are a Chinese retailer.
    • However, instead of obtaining a Chinese passport and learning a new language, there is a simpler solution:


Contact Suppliers Directly on WeChat:

  • WeChat is one of the most widely used messaging applications among Chinese citizens.
  • The key advantage: WeChat offers translation capabilities, facilitating communication between Chinese and English.
  • You can download WeChat for free from the App Store or Google Play Store and create an account.
  • After setting up your WeChat account, tap the “Contacts” button located at the bottom of the screen.
  • To find the supplier’s mobile number on 1688, access the top menu and click “Contact.”
  • Within WeChat, tap the human outline icon with a “+” in the upper right corner.



How to Contact a Supplier on 1688.com without an Account:

    • For those without a 1688 account, you still have options to contact suppliers:
    • Firstly, ascertain if the supplier can manufacture your specific product. Provide detailed specifications, including precise measurements and material types, rather than vague descriptions like “made of steel.”
    • When it comes to price negotiations, avoid focusing on samples, as Chinese suppliers may perceive you as inexperienced. Instead, concentrate on negotiating terms for larger product volumes. This approach not only saves more money in the long run but also earns the respect of your supplier.



Step 6: Secure Payment and Manage Your Order

Managing payments and ensuring the integrity of your order is a critical step when dealing with suppliers on 1688.com. Here’s a detailed guide:


how to pay to a 1688 supplier


Payment Options on 1688:

    • 1688 offers a range of payment options; however, these options are only accessible with an account. To create an account, you must possess a government-issued ID from one of the eligible Southeast Asian countries.


Alternate Approach:

    • If you don’t have a 1688 account, you can still manage your transactions outside the platform.


Request a Proforma Invoice (P.I.):

    • Start by determining the total cost of your order, then request a proforma invoice (P.I.) from your supplier or 1688 agent. This document serves as a price quote and outlines the quantity, product details, and purchase terms.


The 30/70 Deal:

    • Propose the “30/70 deal” to your supplier. Under this arrangement, you pay 30% of the total cost upfront and the remaining 70% upon completion.


Wire Transfer:

  • Initiate an international wire transfer to your supplier to cover the 30% payment. Keep in mind that this transfer usually incurs fees ranging from $30 to $40 through your banking service.


  • While wire transfers can be intimidating because the funds are not retrievable, remember that you still have leverage, as you haven’t released the full payment.


Product Inspection:

    • After your supplier completes the manufacturing process, it’s advisable to hire a product inspection company in China. You can seek recommendations from your private members’ community for reputable inspection companies.
    • Provide your product inspector with the same detailed specifications you shared with your supplier. Any terms stated in your contract with the supplier are enforceable during inspection.
    • For instance, if your product is advertised as a leak-proof water bottle, ensure the inspector tests it for leaks. Similarly, if durability is a feature, have the inspector drop the product from shoulder height. Be thorough in checking moving parts and potential points of failure.
    • Expect the product inspector to document the inspection extensively, including dozens of photos and possibly videos. Inspection reports can be quite comprehensive, often spanning 25 pages.
    • This inspection process typically costs between $200 to $500, a small price to pay compared to the potential loss from a batch of faulty products. Learn from past mistakes; don’t skip this vital step.


Negotiate Fixes if Needed:

    • If the product inspection reveals issues that require correction, approach your supplier. Maintain a firm yet courteous stance. Remember, you hold leverage since 70% of the payment remains pending.


Request a Commercial Invoice:

    • Ask your supplier for a commercial invoice, distinct from the proforma invoice. This invoice serves as international proof of your purchase and contains more detailed information than a proforma invoice.
    • The responsibility for creating the commercial invoice rests with the exporter, i.e., your supplier.
    • This document is valuable in case of audits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You can use it to substantiate your business expenses, particularly when claiming tax write-offs. Additionally, Amazon may request a commercial invoice if issues arise regarding product authenticity or if you seek entry into a gated product category or programs like Brand Transparency.
    • The optimal time to request a commercial invoice is just before making the final 70% payment.


Translation and Payment:

    • Your supplier will provide the commercial invoice in Chinese. Translate it using Google Translate or similar tools to have both Chinese and English versions.
    • In the end, proceed to wire the remaining 70% of the funds to your supplier. Request a tracking number from your supplier or freight forwarder to monitor the shipment’s progress from China to Amazon’s fulfillment center(s).





Summary of the 1688.com vs Alibaba:


  • In summary, if you are an international buyer looking to source products from China, Alibaba is usually the better choice due to its international focus, language support, and emphasis on product authenticity.


  • However, if you are a domestic buyer within China, 1688 might offer a broader range of products at competitive prices. Or, you can consider hire a 1688 sourcing agent to help you buy from 1688.com. 


According to our experience, if you are looking for a variety of products with a small Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ), 1688 is undoubtedly a good choice. You just need to add the products you are interested in to the link provided in the table, and then let an agent take care of the next steps in the process for you.

Regardless of the platform you choose, always conduct thorough due diligence when selecting suppliers to ensure product quality and authenticity.



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