The Better Business Bureau is generally considered to be a well-respected resource for consumers trying to assess a company's reputability. Unfortunately, the BBB's ratings don't always reflect common consumer sentiment. Recently, the BBB awarded Ali Express with an A+ rating; however, there are numerous online complaints regarding an Aliexpress scam. To determine which source is most reputable, consumers should understand how the BBB came to its decision.

What is Ali Express?

Owned by a Chinese investment holding company named Alibaba Group, Aliexpress.com is an online marketplace that claims to provide bargain products from various Chinese wholesalers. Consumers can find virtually any type of product at this website, and most prices tend to be much lower than those associated with brand-name merchandise available at brick-and-mortar department and specialty stores.

Aliexpress unpopular with some consumers

At most of the more popular consumer complaint forums and websites, you'll see lots of chatter about an alleged Aliexpress scam. Most of these complaints center on the company's perceived inability or refusal to police its vendors, which many say allows numerous so-called scam artists to use the marketplace as a means to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

To protect buyers from potential fraud, the company offers an escrow option that holds payment until shipment is confirmed via tracking. Unfortunately, according to several angry customers, although this may ensure a successful delivery, it cannot insure against damaged merchandise or bait-and-switch schemes. To encourage customer satisfaction, Aliexpress.com provides a mediation process to resolve disputes between vendors and consumers; however, the burden of proof is usually placed on the customer, and many complain that the process is heavily slanted toward vendors.

The BBB's take

To the surprise of some angry consumers, the BBB has awarded Ali Express with an A+ rating, saying its complaint history reveals that the organization has given proper consideration to an acceptable number of complaints. Although the BBB bases its rating on 16 different factors, it prioritizes five particular determinants, including the age of the business, complaint volume as it relates to the company's size, responses and resolutions to said complaints, and what it terms as having "sufficient background information" on the company.

That said, the BBB only considers complaints filed directly with the organization of which there are only 39, and it admits that there is at least one outstanding complaint that has received no attention from Alibaba Group.

What consumers should know

Online complaints are common amongst online marketplaces that allow third-party vendors to sell products using their platforms. Still, there are a surprising number of bad reviews posted by angry former customers. Whether this is due to the company's large size or its inability to police vendors, consumers must decide. In the end, although the BBB currently stands behind the Alibaba Group, its ratings can change quickly; and buyers would be well-advised to supplement the BBB's recommendations with their own online research. Buyers should also research individual vendors prior to making purchases from this type of online marketplace.