So, you’re thinking of buying a roof top tent from Alibaba? The appeal to skip Australian sellers and go “direct” to the manufacture in China is very tempting. Hell, who doesn’t want to save a couple of grand? However, the reality is you’re entering yourself into a world of unknowns, limited to no protection and dealing with people in a different country.
Buying a roof top tent from Alibaba is a risk. You forgo almost all buyer protections that you would have in Australia, it’s difficult to verify the quality you’re getting, and you also will get slogged with importation costs that can quickly add up. My advice is to stick with an Aussie seller who has done the hard work for you and know you will get buyer protection via ACCC.
To find out more about the process, I placed an order for a roof top tent through Alibaba and worked with a reputable logistics company to get it to my door. It was stressful to trust someone overseas without reviews or much information about their presence. Let me share with you, my experience and some questions you might have.
Where do I even get started when buying a roof top tent off Alibaba?
The best place to get started is to jump on Alibaba and look for variations of the roof top tent that you’re after. Once you’ve got a strong list, do a lot of research into the manufacturers. Find out who actually manufacture the products, who are middle companies and who are just plain scammers.
Is it safe to order a roof top tent through Alibaba?
Ordering through Alibaba will always be a risk, especially when you can’t just drive to the warehouse and talk to the people you’re dealing with. There are some payment protection layers that Alibaba has in place such as Trade Assurance, but that process is long and sometimes might not go in your favour.
When dealing with sellers on Alibaba, I am in the belief that prevention is better than a cure. That is, doing your research ahead of time to find a reliable and authentic seller is better than dealing with a dodgy seller or having to raise claims with Alibaba.
Will I get what is pictured?
Not always. After hours and hours of research, I’ve seen so many Alibaba ads of roof top tents that are simply not the product that the seller is actually selling. Lots of sellers on Alibaba will use products made in Australia, South Africa, or America to catch your interest but the product they sell is very different.
The best way to verify this is to look at all the photos in the ad as well as the description of the product. If it doesn’t add up, then it’s not legit. You can also ask the seller for more photos and even a video.
Is there much saving buying through Alibaba?
In short, yes. The product you buy will be at shelf value much cheaper than what is available in Australia. However, a lot of the cost will come back in the form of shipping, logistics and importation fees. There’s also the “cost” in quality in the product you receive.
What is the quality like of a roof top tent from Alibaba?
My assumption is that manufacturers aren’t making one-off roof top tent to order. Instead, the products that people buy as one-offs are sample runs, orders that didn’t meet quality control or are orders where the original buyer failed to pay.
This means that they might not have gone through rigorous quality control and can have a number of defects.
Think of it logically. The manufacturer will have a bunch of non-branded goods that might have imperfections or defects that they wouldn’t send out to bigger buyers (as not to disturb their relationship). The manufacturer has money to recover, and one-off buyers are an easy way to move these with little to no risk of them coming back to question what they got.
How hard is it to ship a roof top tent from China?
It’s a little daunting when you look online at all the terms, how it works and how many hands it passes through but if you have a solid freight forwarding agent, they do all the heavy lifting for you. This means that they coordinate the whole thing with their shipping partners.
This however is also how the price of shipping stacks up. You have so many fees, handle costs, taxes and costs that pop up during the course of leaving the factory to the tent arriving at your door. Because you’re not shipping an entire container, you’re using space inside a shared container and typically pay a premium on it to cover the costs.
Find a reputable freight agent with who you feel comfortable working. Ensure they have good reviews. Get a number of quotes and find someone with who you are happy.
Personally, I would recommend people buy their roof top tents from Australian retailers. Here’s why:
- You’re “guaranteed” to get what you’ve ordered. What they say they’re selling you on their website or instore is what they need to deliver. Should they not honour this, or the product be of great different, than you can utilize your buyer rights and work with the ACCC to fix it.
- Post sales support. Another huge reason why to buy locally is for support after you’ve purchased your tent. You might need to ask questions or replace a part. Having the retailer in Australia will make communication easy and you can pop into their store to resolve any issues.
- Warranties. You will not have any warranties, no refunds and extremely limited protection when buying via Alibaba. Although they have Trade Assurance and other controls, these are known to drag out, not go in the favor of the buyer and be a headache.
Again, the ACCC will help you in situations where the retailer in Australia has wronged you, although it’s also painful, you’re in a better position with everyone being domestic.
- Reputation. Retailers in Australia have a reputation and want to keep it. You have a better chance of finding a reputable business in Australia and relying on them than you do with a seller on Alibaba.
- Research. Australian retailers have done the research for you AND imported the product already. They’ve spent the time to buy samples, make changes and all you need to do is buy it. There’s little risk and you’re getting exactly what you’ve asked for.
There are some instances where it’s totally viable to buy directly through Alibaba. The main reason to go this route is if you’re looking to start importing your own product, branding it your own and then starting a business/company in the camping space.
Overall, it’s viable to buy a roof top tent off Alibaba. However, the costs stack up and you are likely only going to save a couple of hundred dollars and lose important buy protections. I recommend buying domestically from an Australian retailer as they’ve done the hard work on research, vetting, and importing.
*NOTE* Do all your research, you’re taking all the risk. This has just been general advice.
Check out some of the best roof top tents in Australia today.