5 Proven Tactics to Cut Alibaba Shipping Costs in Half (2024)

by Stanley

5 Proven Tactics to Cut Alibaba Shipping Costs in Half (2024)

Alibaba tops the charts of e-commerce websites to source products and equipment in bulk. The wholesale prices on the platform are incredibly affordable and most suppliers also offer value-adding services such as customization and branding.

Unfortunately, Alibaba’s shipping costs can be so high that they almost negate the bargains the platform offers. Thus, the question begs the question: Are there cheaper ways to ship goods from Alibaba?

Yes, there are. So, say goodbye to your days of exorbitant shipping and read on as we share tips and shipping alternatives to help you reduce your Alibaba shipping costs. 

Shall we begin?

Alibaba shipping costs

Why Is Alibaba Shipping So Expensive?

Alibaba shipping costs can quickly become a notable expenditure when sourcing products for your business. Various elements contribute to the high shipping prices, making it important for you to understand and manage them wisely.

Distance and Weight

Distance is a significant factor in calculating shipping costs on Alibaba. Products often travel long distances from manufacturers in Asia to destinations worldwide. 

Naturally, the further the distance, the higher the shipping cost. Additionally, weight plays a crucial role; heavier items cost more to transport and may require freight shipping, escalating expenses.

Shipping Method

Your chosen shipping method affects cost. Express shipping offers faster delivery but at a premium price. Standard shipping is less expensive but takes longer. 

Deciding between air freight, sea freight, or even rail freight will have varying impacts on your final costs.

Logistics Services

Logistics services that facilitate shipping also add to the overall expenses. Services such as Alibaba shipping charges may include handling, warehousing, and expedited customs clearance. Each service, while increasing efficiency, can also inflate the bottom line.

What Do Alibaba Shipping Costs Include?

Freight Charges

This is the core cost of transporting your items from the seller to your destination. Depending on the size and weight of your shipment and the type of shipping method chosen—sea, air, or courier—this charge can vary.


Protecting your goods during transit is crucial. Alibaba shipping costs often include a fee for cargo insurance, which might range from $50 to $100, to cover against potential loss or damage.

Packaging Costs

The materials used to package your goods for safe shipment, such as boxes, bubble wrap, or pallets, also factor into the overall shipping cost.

Handling Fees

These are the costs associated with picking, packing, and preparing your goods before they are shipped. This will include the labor costs of the warehouse staff handling your order.

Dimensional weight

Dimensional Weight

Shipping costs may be influenced by the dimensional weight—also known as volumetric weight—which is a pricing technique for commercial freight transport which uses an estimated weight that is calculated from the length, width, and height of a package.

Freight Forwarder Fees

If you’re using a freight forwarder, these third-party service providers will charge for additional services they offer, including storage, consolidation, and customs clearance.

Top Alibaba Shipping Methods

When you’re ordering from Alibaba, choosing the right shipping method can significantly affect your costs. Understanding the pros and cons of each option will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your budget and timing requirements.

Express Shipping 

Express shipping means that your goods will be shipped as a priority so that they arrive in the shortest time possible.

On average, express shipping takes about 3 to 5 days and the goods are usually shipped by air. Shipping is done through a courier such as FedEx or DHL, among others.


  • You do not have to wait for weeks to receive your goods.
  • The courier services used for express shipping are reputable and effective.
  • You can opt for door-to-door delivery; this means import clearance and last-mile delivery will be handled for you.


  • Express shipping costs considerably more than both air and sea shipping.
  • Couriers emphasize a maximum weight of 100kgs.

Air Freight 

Air freight entails shipping goods via cargo planes. It takes about 5 to 10 days depending on the airline, location, and whether or not it is peak season. 

Air freight is cheaper than express shipping mainly because it does not offer priority shipping. It is also done through standard air freight providers as opposed to premium couriers.

It is equally essential to note that air freight is billed based on whichever is higher between the volumetric weight and the actual weight of your goods. So, be sure to factor this in as you calculate shipping estimates. 

Air freight


  • Air freight offers an affordable compromise to express shipping.
  • You can ship goods over 100kgs.
  • It is fast.


  • Air freight is only cost-effective until about 500kgs. Shipments that weigh more than that can be overly costly to ship. 
  • Your shipment has to meet air cargo safety regulations.

Sea Freight 

Sea shipping is done via water transport. It is the most affordable way to ship bulk goods from Alibaba but it also takes comparatively longer. 

It may take about 30 to 45 days for your shipment to arrive at your port and a couple more for the goods to be cleared. 

Sea shipping also offers 2 different shipping approaches with unique advantages.

Full Container Load (FCL)

FCL shipping entails hiring a container to exclusively ship your goods. It is recommended when you are shipping goods that are:

  • Bulky enough to fill a container.
  • Uniquely shaped and would take up lots of space.
  • Sensitive or fragile and would fare better if shipped separately.

However, if you would like to make a decision based on the size of your load, FCL offers the most value when used for shipments above 10 CBM. 

While it may seem costly to hire a full container, it is quite economical when done under the right circumstances (like those listed above). 

Full containers also take a short time to clear through customs because there is no need to consolidate or deconsolidate the cargo. The container is cleared through customs as a whole.

Less than a Container Load (LCL)

In LCL shipping, your goods will be packaged separately but they will be packed and shipped in the same container (this is known as consolidation) as those of other consignees. 

LCL cargo

LCL is recommended if you are sourcing a small to medium quantity of goods. In more specific terms, this would be a load of about 1 to 10 CBM. Preferably, the goods should be regularly shaped such that they do not take up more space than usual.

When the goods arrive at the port of destination, the container is deconsolidated so that each consignee can clear their own package(s) through customs. Subsequently, LCL cargo can take longer to clear than FCL cargo. 


  • Sea shipping is very affordable.
  • You can choose and even alternate between FCL and LCL depending on the specifics of your shipment. 
  • There are no weight limitations and stringent rules on what type of goods you can ship via sea.


  • Sea shipping is slow.
  • There is often a risk of goods getting damaged especially if they are not optimally packed for the rigors of sea shipping.

Regular Post

Regular post involves sending parcels via China Post in the same way you would mail a letter. It is commonly referred to as ePacket and is recommended for small shipments, like samples, that weigh no more than 2kgs/4.4lbs. 

In most cases, an ePacket delivery from Alibaba takes less than 30 days — typically within two weeks. 


  • Postal shipping is very affordable. 
  • ePacket can now be used to ship parcels to over 40 countries.


  • You can only use this shipping option for small parcels.
  • The ePacket service is not reliable in regard to delivery timelines. Packages also tend to get misplaced rather often with no reprieve.    

Tools to Calculate Alibaba Shipping Costs

When importing good Alibaba, staying on top of your shipping costs is vital to maintaining your budget. Thankfully, there are several tools at your disposal to estimate shipping costs effectively.

Tools to calculate Alibaba shipping costs

Alibaba’s Freight Calculator

Alibaba offers an integrated freight calculating tool on its platform, which allows you to get a quick estimate of the logistics cost right from the product page. All you have to do is input your desired product, quantity, and destination country.

  • Estimated shipping cost to the USA: Display in the product’s trade terms.
  • How much it will generally cost: Provided upon inquiry.

Third-Party Shipping Websites

You might consider using a third-party service for potentially lower rates. Websites such as Freightos can give you comparative rates from different shippers, helping you make a more informed decision.

  • Express Air Shipping: Ideal for goods under 45kgs.
  • Standard Air Shipping: Suited for goods between 100kgs to 500kgs.

CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight)

Always ask your supplier for the CIF price to get an inclusive quote that covers the cost of your goods, insurance, and freight.

It is crucial to note the difference in shipping options:

  • Express: Fastest but expensive, charged by actual weight.
  • Air Freight: Slower than express, charged by volumetric or actual weight (whichever is higher).
  • Sea Freight: Most economical for large volumes, charged per container size.

By utilizing these tools, you can get a good approximation of the shipping costs for your Alibaba orders to the USA or other destinations. 

Remember to factor in Alibaba’s Trade Assurance as it adds a layer of security to your transactions and could impact your overall shipping costs.

How to Choose the Best Alibaba Shipping Method

When purchasing from Alibaba, selecting the right shipping method is crucial for cost efficiency. Here’s how you can make a smart choice:

Choosing the best Alibaba shipping method

1. Assess Your Delivery Needs.

First, consider the urgency of your shipment. If you need your goods quickly, air shipping might be your best bet, although it’s usually more expensive. For less urgent deliveries, sea freight offers significant savings.

2. Calculate the Costs.

To understand how much is shipping on Alibaba, you can use Alibaba’s Freight Calculator. Remember to factor in the size and weight of your shipment as these will impact your costs.

3. Decide Based on the Nature of Goods.

Are your items fragile, perishable, or of high value? Air freight is faster and typically has better handling, reducing the risk of damage. Bulky or heavy items may be better suited for sea shipping.

4. Understand the Different Alibaba Shipping Methods.

  • Air Freight: Quickest but can be costly.
  • Ocean Freight: Slowest, cost-effective for heavy goods.
  • Courier Services: Ideal for smaller, time-sensitive parcels.

5. Look for Savings.

Consider picking up your own shipments at the port if feasible, to cut down on delivery costs.

How to Manage Alibaba Shipping

There are 3 main ways to ways handle Alibaba shipping: 

  • Through your supplier
  • By yourself
  • Through a sourcing agent/company

Each of these methods works differently so let’s delve into them a little deeper. 

Managing Your Shipment through Your Supplier

In this approach, you either choose one of the shipping methods that your Alibaba supplier recommends or request an option that works for you. 

The upside here is that Alibaba suppliers are more familiar with various freight forwarders that can get your goods to you. Delegating this task to them also frees up your time to handle other business matters. 

On the downside, you may end up paying more and the shipping service provider that the supplier chooses may not meet your expectations.

So, if you go this route, make an effort to negotiate for shipping Incoterms that suit your needs and fair shipping costs. 

Managing shipment by yourself

Managing Your Shipment by Yourself

Taking charge of your shipping options means that you would have to: 

  • Find out the weight and dimensions of your shipment.
  • Choose a suitable shipping mode for it.
  • Choose a shipping carrier and negotiate shipping rates. 
  • Make arrangements for the transportation of your goods from the factory to the shipping carrier (if your supplier does not provide this service).
  • Figure out how to handle export clearances.
  • Arrange for the loading of your goods. 
  • Handle import clearances when the goods arrive at your destination. 

All these processes can seem very complex but they are manageable. This is because your main role in all of them is to identify, evaluate, and choose the best service provider for that shipping task. 

Moreover, doing this yourself gives you a chance to negotiate directly and work with shipping service providers that meet your standards. 

On the flip side, finding, evaluating, and dealing with shipping service providers can be challenging if you are not experienced in shipping matters. These tasks also require lots of time to get through.

Managing Your Shipment through a Sourcing Company

Sourcing companies can help you: 

Sourcing agents are experienced in shipping matters. They can find you shipping solutions that suit your needs and budget, do the required due diligence, and present you with the best options. 

Simply put, they do all the hard work. All you have to do is pick an option and pay. 

The main drawback here is that you would incur the extra cost of paying the sourcing company. It is also crucial that you find a reliable and effective one.

Tips on How to Save on Alibaba Shipping Costs

Tips on how to save on Alibaba shipping costs

When you’re looking to save on Alibaba shipping costs, planning and strategy are key. Shipping costs can quickly add up, but with the right approach, you can significantly minimize your Alibaba shipping expenses.

1. Consolidate Shipments.

Instead of shipping items separately, wait until you have a larger order to send. This consolidates your shipping costs and may lead to lower per-unit shipping rates.

2. Choose the Right Shipping Method.

If you’re not in a rush, opt for sea freight over air, as the costs are typically lower. Air express is about $5 to $10/kg with a delivery time of 3-5 business days, whereas air freight is around $4 to $8/kg and takes about 5-10 business days.

3. Order in Bulk.

Increasing your order quantity allows you to negotiate better per-unit shipping rates with suppliers. Often, larger orders will reduce your overall shipping costs and give you more negotiating power.

4. Talk to Your Suppliers.

Communication is crucial. Discuss shipping options with your suppliers as they might have suggestions or exclusive deals for shipping that you aren’t aware of.

5. Economical Packing.

Ask your supplier to optimize product packaging. This reduces the weight and size of your shipment, leading to lower shipping costs.

Remember, don’t shy away from negotiating with suppliers to reduce Alibaba shipping costs. Suppliers are often willing to work with you to secure a deal that benefits both parties.

Lastly, seeking advice from financial blogs and shipping consultants can offer you more cost-saving tactics tailored to your unique needs.

Economical packaging

FAQs about Alibaba Shipping Costs

Navigating Alibaba shipping can seem complex, but understanding the logistics can significantly cut costs. Below are the most common questions related to Alibaba shipping to help you manage your expenses effectively.

What Documents Do You Need for Alibaba Shipping?

For Alibaba shipping, you will typically need a Bill of Lading, Commercial Invoice, Packing List, and often a Certificate of Origin. 

Complete and accurate documentation is essential to avoid delays in customs and additional fees. 

It’s advisable to check with the supplier or a freight forwarder to ensure all required documents for your specific shipment are prepared.

Does Alibaba Have Free Shipping?

Alibaba itself does not offer free shipping. 

Shipping costs are usually determined by individual suppliers and can vary based on the weight, volume, and distance of shipment. 

Some suppliers may offer free shipping promotions, but these are not standard and should be confirmed before purchasing.

What Do I Need to Get a Shipping Quotation?

To receive an accurate shipping quotation, you need to provide details such as product weight and dimensions, quantity, Incoterms (shipping terms), and the destination address. Providing precise information can help avoid unexpected charges. 

Who Pays for Shipping on Alibaba?

Typically, you, the buyer, pay for shipping costs on Alibaba. However, shipping terms can be negotiated with the supplier. 

Terms like FOB (Free on Board) imply the seller covers costs until the goods reach the port of origin, and you cover the costs from there onwards. Always clarify shipping terms before finalizing a purchase.

Do You Need Shipping Insurance?

While not mandatory, shipping insurance is highly recommended. It safeguards your cargo against loss or damage during transit for a relatively low cost, which is a smart investment if you’re shipping valuable goods. 

Depending on the order value, insurance rates can vary from 0.11-0.33% of the cost of your goods. 

Summing Up: How to Optimize Your Alibaba Shipping Costs

All things considered, sourcing goods from Alibaba is worth it; you only need to consider more cost-effective shipping alternatives like those listed in this guide. 

At NicheSources, we prioritize our clients’ shipping requirements and budgets. We capitalize on our networks with carriers to negotiate the most favorable rates and work with you throughout the shipping process. 

Ready to ship your Alibaba orders? Simply send us a brief of your shipping needs and request a free quote, and we will promptly get back to you with suitable solutions.

About the Author

stanley nieh ceo


Over 10 years of experience in foreign trade
Helped 2k+ clients improve their eCommerce businesses

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