Setting the bar low: AliExpress user flow and design patterns

So today I was looking at my phone. Specifically my phone case, and I got annoyed with it. It’s amazing how beat up they get in short order, and how much we ignore it. So I open my goto place for cheap electronics: AliExpress.

Now if you have ever used it, you’ll know how annoying the experience can be. It mostly looks and feels like a standard e-tailer selling anything that can put in a box. But the devil is in the details, and this devil is too smart for it’s own good.

Check out this card:

Free return next to the shipping price. A name so long it doesn’t even tell you what it is. It’s 4.6 rating looks good, but it’s one of the lowest on the page. The kicker? I bet you didn’t notice the AD sign in the bottom right. The basic product details page is not much better:

Now, the way the platform works, you will always have lots of choices, and they have done a decent job of presenting them well. But sellers love to circumvent the intention of the design: what kind of material is a “for oneplus 6”?

Imagine I manage to run the gauntlet of their login system (oh god.) and get to their checkout process. First you must pick which item in your cart to checkout, AliExpress decided users don’t want to checkout everything at once. They also have duplicate CTAs for checkout with different labels that go to the same place and add confusion. The rest of the checkout flow is bog standard, and uninteresting for our purposes.

Now the truth is that I love AliExpress. I use it often and deal with it’s quirks and flaws because it’s simply the best way to get products for a rock bottom price. Many of the design choices are not for the consumers benefit (similar to most e-tailers in that) but it lets you find something you want, charge you a bargain basement price and you’ll get what you asked for. But if you don’t look to close, you might not have asked for what you want. That is part of the AliExpress experience.