Light in the Box vs. MiniInTheBox vs. AliExpress: Virtual Malls Compared
Although there's no replacing the bright lights, fast food, and wild children found in normal physical mall locations, shopping at online 'malls' have certainly found their way into the American mainstream, thanks to their ability to gather every category of product imaginable under the sun, into one sleek, easy-to-use website. This Consumer's Guide takes a look at three sites comprising of two major online retailers: LightInTheBox (and its related site, MiniInTheBox) and AliExpress, comparing the pros and cons of all three sites.
Some things to remember when shopping online at these retailers:
- Always make sure to use a secure connection when paying. When you're on a payment page, make sure the secure 'https' prefix is attached to the webpage in your address bar.
- Utilize social networks: Retailers use these frequently to post sales, special deals, and temporary sales you might otherwise miss.
- Visit frequently: if there's a specific product you're shopping for, watch both sites for a couple weeks, checking out their clearance/deal sections, which change often.
When first visiting LightInTheBox, MiniInTheBox, or AliExpress, obviously the first thing to be seen is the home page. For all sites, there is a certain emphasis on accessibility: both LightInTheBox and AliExpress's home screen is dominated by white space, with a pull down menu on the top left that expands across the screen as users narrow down their category and product type.
All three sites utilize long front pages, to highlight the various categories and sales they currently are having. The goal again, is accessibility: although for LightInTheBox and AliExpress, their wide ranges of products, categories, and styles make their lower sections overly dense, and hard to parse out specific links. MiniInTheBox has a smaller, mostly electronics-focused selection, which allows their front page to be adorned primarily by popular electronic products.
When navigating sites, LightInTheBox's clean, uncluttered sub-pages have a clear advantage over MiniInTheBox (which uses a similar, but less visually appealing system) and AliExpress, which quickly throws shoppers into a convoluted sub-pages eerily similar to eBay's, except more crowded and difficult to navigate.
Where Light/MiniInTheBox aim to highlight a range of products with distinct titles, easy to read prices, and large photos, AliExpress's are just as informative, but much more cluttered. Titles for products are unnecessarily long in many cases, and the sheer amount of text on the outside columns can make navigation a tricky set of sub-menus and ads for related products.
Though all three sites serve the same general purpose - a one-stop shop for online consumers - there are distinct differences in the categories offered on each site beyond the general overlap the three sites may have between the millions of different products they offer.
Here are a few categories exclusive to each site:
LightInTheBox: Cosplay costumes & accessories, security systems (closed circuit monitors, baby monitors, etc), eyewear, tattoo kits
MiniInTheBox: Pet supplies, video game accessories (controllers, memory cards, etc), LED lights/flashlights
AliExpress: electronic health monitors, an adult toy section, baby clothing/shoes
In terms of variety, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the three sites, though they each have their own specialty highlighted on the front page. For example, MiniInTheBox distinguishes itself from its big brother LightInTheBox by featuring dozens of electronic products on their home page (in particular, gaming accessories).
LightInTheBox puts a big focus on their women's apparel, with images and sales dedicated to ladies fashion. They also put a particular emphasis on the formal, with links to their wedding and event dresses printed in large font on the front page.
AliExpress has an actual wedding section within their site - but of the three, they take the most general approach to front page selection, displaying the sheer variety of products they offer, complete with a small 'best-sellers' widget, and dedicated 'brand showcase' section.
Whether it's products for the home, garden, man cave, closet, special events, or organization, LightInTheBox and AliExpress are neck and neck in the amount of products they present to shoppers. Due to their specificity with electronics, MiniInTheBox doesn't quite have the range of the other two sites, but makes up most of the difference in their unique categories and selection in what areas they do offer.
Product Selection Rankings:
The best thing about wholesale retailers like these is the wide variety of sales, discount prices, coupons, and promotional offers each site offers. In this section, I've ranked the three sites in terms of the quality/variety of sales and opportunities for extra savings.
1. AliExpress: the biggest advantage AliExpress has over other pages is its massive coupon sub-page, where hundreds of discounts are listed, organized by category for shoppers to use. Clicking on a coupon will often bring users to the page with items the coupons can be used on, saving shoppers a lot of unnecessary navigation towards the items they want to save on.
Along with that, AliExpress offers discounts to new customers, available right on the home page. They also offer potential to earn money through their affiliate program, very useful for bloggers looking to make a little extra on the side.
2. LightInTheBox doesn't have the huge coupon database AliExpress has, but it's no slouch in the discount department. Along with a 'Deals' page for sale products, LitB has a large, colorful page dedicated to 'Today's Sales', complete with real-time countdowns of when the sales will end for a wide variety of products. They also has a special section on their home page for products currently offering free shipping, useful for a shopper just trying to snag one or two items in the moment.
For new shoppers, there aren't any explicit discounts on the front page, but I did unearth a nice bonus for new customers: liking their Facebook page automatically awards a discount coupon, good on your first purchase through the website.
Additionally, they offer a similar affiliate program to AliExpress, and also provide easy access to a Clearance page to their largest-discounted products right on the front page.
3. MiniInTheBox: being under the hood of LightInTheBox, there are expected similarities in the sale offerings between the two sites. MiniInTheBox's discounts are mostly offered through their 'deals' heading on the front page, with another section for accessories currently listed under $1.99. But outside of an affiliate program similar to its counterparts, there aren't a lot of visible ways to squeeze extra discounts out of the already-low prices on the site.
To examine the prices of every product on all three sites would take years - but with a little digging around and comparing, there wasn't much to glean between the three sites in terms of who provided the best value. With all three sites utilizing wholesale contracts with Chinese warehouses, there's a distinct similarity in terms of the listed price vs. the retail price.
When it comes to getting the best price, a combination of common sense and patience are the best tools to approaching these three sites. MiniInTheBox is usually going to hold a small advantage when it comes to electronic products versus the other two, simply because its extreme specialization in the category gives a wider range of products (and thus, a wider range of prices).
The key here is to pay attention to the home page: the higher the category you're looking for is listed on the front page, the more focus that particular retailer has on a certain product; the more variety there is in terms of fitting into your price range.
Using the women's swimwear (currently a popular product) as an example, here are the comparsions in terms of sheer amount of products and price range:
LightInTheBox: 1,098 products, ranging from $16.99 - $110.49
AliExpress: 769,932 products, ranging from $10 to $1000+
MiniInTheBox: doesn't sell clothing
I also repeated this experiment, instead typing the word 'iPhone 5' in the search bar at the top of each page. Here's what i was greeted with upon pressing Enter:
LightInTheBox: around 700 products, mainly cases and affordable accessories. Prices range from about $2 for a bumper case to a $70 dual-USB power pack for iOS devices.
AliExpress: 1,021,510 results, from $1 USB cables to generic iPhone clone smartphones available for around $150 (i.e. the Screen Hero H2000+).
MiniInTheBox: Over 2,000 products, neatly organized by category and best sale offered. Products range from camera lenses, to cords, cables, cases, and touch-friendly hand gloves.
The biggest difference to distinguish is that LightInTheBox organizes everything under one roof: AliExpress's listings essentially organize the listings of individual stores under the site's umbrella, which leads to a lot larger product selection and range. In simple terms, it's easier to find a sale on LightInTheBox, but a better one may be hidden deep within AliExpress's 40 million product database.
* A Note On Shipping: shipping widely varies on all three sites, which all ship to over 200+ countries around the world. Since many of these products are shipped from different locations, the cost, form of shipping/shipping & handling time, and cost of choice is in a wider range than a simple table or comparison chart would explain. All three offer every option under the sun (from DHL to UPS to USPS to FedEx, they all feature 7-8 different ways to ship), so the time a product is ordered to the time it arrives at your door can range from weeks to months.
With over 40 million products listed, AliExpress certainly holds the advantage in terms of pure stock - but when it comes to providing the greatest savings, Light/MiniInTheBox make up the difference in their well-organized, easily-accessible sale offerings.
In terms of ranking, there isn't a true 'winner' between AliExpress and LightInTheBox (MiniInTheBox being part of LITB): each site has a wide variety of advantages and disadvantages, depending on a shopper's preference, experience and savvy while shopping online - and course, the product in particular one might be hunting down on a given day.
For experienced online shoppers who have a talent for bargain hunting, AliExpress may prove more beneficial in the long run: for the more impatient or casual online shopper, LightInTheBox is a great way to go (and of course, anyone looking specifically for electronics should head right to MiniInTheBox's home page).