Both Alibaba and Aliexpress belong to Alibaba Group and both of them have rich products you can choose which is Chinese characteristics as it has powerful supply chains. But they have different orientations.
Alibaba is a B2B (business to business) platform. In the early days, Alibaba was just a platform for commodity display. There are many companies usually they are the manufacturers offering their products to other companies to be marketed in their respective countries. In common parlance, it’s a wholesale business. Usually it asks a minimum order quantity and doesn’t have products in stock. You need to communicate with the suppliers to confirm the MOQ and price, then place an order. Payment is usually made through bank transfer, letter of credit. After finishing production, products will be shipped by air or sea. Containers usually are shipped by sea. On Alibaba price for per piece is cheaper but you have to order in huge quantities, maybe thousands of items. As a whole, Alibaba is more suitable for large trading companies. For big order transaction, buyers and sellers tend to meet offline to sign contracts. Buyers also want to make an on-the-spot investigation to make sure the manufacturer is reliable and competent. It’s not very friendly for small wholesalers, no matter on price or customer service.
Aliexpress is a B2C (business to customer) platform, that is, it’s a platform for retailing. Think of Amazon, that is what Aliexpress is. There are no minimum order quantity and products are usually in stock. On Aliexpress you can buy individual or small amount. Usually you buy from Aliexpress is for yourself use not for resale. You may be dealing with an independent merchant who bought wholesale but the large factories also have Aliexpress stores if it’s worthwhile. The purchased products can by paid by credit card or Alipay and shipping methods are more diversified, usually via air freight.
But Alibaba and Aliexpress are just platforms. All suppliers on platforms are independent. That means you can’t bundle all things into one package from different vendors. With the development of e-commerce, the mode of e-commerce has become more flexible and diversified. Some platforms are especially for retailing, and they can bundle different products from different vendors. Some platforms are especially for dropshipping and wholesale, and they support to connect with some popular apps, like shopify, woocommerce,bigcommerce and so on, to achieve automatic synchronization.