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Is It A Good Idea To Buy An Alibaba Vending Machine?

Discover the pros and cons of purchasing an Alibaba vending machine. Make an informed decision before investing in this business opportunity.


China is the factory of the world, and it is no coincidence that Alibaba is one of the world’s biggest online marketplaces for new equipment. That said, is it a good idea to buy an Alibaba vending machine? If you are contemplating importing vending machines from Asia through Alibaba, you need a sound strategy to ensure you get value for your money. In this post, I will take you through all you need to know about sourcing vending machines through Alibaba.

Can You Buy Vending Machines on Alibaba?

Yes, you can buy vending machines on Alibaba. Many reputable manufacturers and wholesalers are selling modern vending machines on the platform. You can find many types of vending machines on Alibaba, including machines to vend snacks, drinks, gumballs, stickers, hair extensions, coffee, water, sanitary products, and ice cream, among other products.

Buying an Alibaba vending machine may provide the following advantages to a business based in a Western country:

  • Lower prices. Chinese-made vending machines are often less expensive than those made in the United States. Moreover, some retailers in the United States source machines from China, brand them and sell them at a significant markup. You can save money by buying a vending machine directly from a Chinese manufacturer.
  • Modern capabilities. China is on the cutting edge of technology. Features such as remote management, contactless payment methods, and touchscreen displays come standard in many affordable Chinese vending machines.
  • For custom vending machines. When you want a custom vending machine to sell specific products, such as tools in an industrial complex, getting the machine custom-made affordably in China may be a good idea.

Note, however, that buying a vending machine on Alibaba will require a bit more due diligence on your part. Consider doing the following when dealing with suppliers.

  • Research and compare suppliers. Only do business with suppliers who have built a good reputation on Alibaba. Prioritize Gold Suppliers. All legitimate suppliers will have Gold Supplier Membership.
  • Contact a supplier using a secondary email address. Do not use your primary email address to contact suppliers on Alibaba. The chances of being sent random promotional emails from several Chinese manufacturers are high.
  • If ordering in bulk, order a sample unit first. If you intend to order several vending machines, it helps to order one unit first to gauge their quality. Most vending machine manufacturers have a minimum order quantity (MOQ) of one.

Working with only Gold Suppliers and taking the following actions will eliminate most scammers:

  • Only pay with PayPal and Trade Assurance for your first order - you can explore other payment options only after you have built a good relationship with the supplier
  • Don’t buy vending machines in bulk from a supplier before seeing a sample
  • Don’t let a supplier convince you that they can’t ship one vending machine - there are several suppliers with reasonable MOQs on Alibaba

Do I Need a License to Buy from Alibaba?

If you are in the United States, you don’t need a license to buy from Alibaba. Alibaba is an online marketplace, competing with the likes of eBay, where independent sellers connect with buyers with minimal bureaucratic hindrances. You can import a vending machine from a supplier on Alibaba into the United States without an import license.

What Are the Risks of Buying from Alibaba?

Sourcing a vending machine from a supplier on Alibaba comes with certain risks and disadvantages, including long shipping times, the possibility of damage, shipping fees, and incorrect product information.

Long Shipping Times

Most of the vending machine suppliers on Alibaba are based in China. Shipping a product by sea from China to the USA typically takes 15 to 35 days, depending on the Chinese and American ports in question and the shipping lane used. If you are in a hurry to launch your vending business, waiting more than two weeks for your machine to arrive may be unideal. If you can wait, however, an Alibaba vending machine is a great option.

Shipping Fees

You should account for the cost of shipping when comparing vending machine prices. If the cost of the machine plus the shipping cost is equivalent to the price of a comparable machine available locally, it makes sense to get the machine already in the country.

When shipping by sea, fees are mainly determined by whether your shipment is Full Container Load (FCL) or Less Than Container Load (LCL). If you buy several vending machines, you can have your own dedicated container and ship by FCL. Otherwise, you will share a container with other customers (LCL). It costs around $1,200 to ship a Full Container Load from Shanghai, China to Los Angeles, USA, and around $2,300 from Shenzhen, China to New York, USA. The cost of shipping an LCL is calculated per cubic meter or ton. It will cost between $15 and $60 to ship one cubic meter from China to the USA by sea, depending on the ports used. A normal-sized snack vending machine will typically be about 1.6 cubic meters.

Missing or Incorrect Product Information

Product research can make or break your Alibaba vending machine shopping experience. It helps to have clarity on the type of vending machine you want and all its necessary features before contacting a supplier. While most product descriptions on the platform are correct, there are instances where critical information is missing, incorrect, or misrepresented. Therefore, always get explicit confirmation from the supplier that the vending machine available for shipping matches the provided description. To be sure, ask the vendor to send clear pictures or videos of the machine.

Damaged Items

A vending machine bought through Alibaba will be handled by several people in both China and the USA. The manufacturer/supplier ships it to the port, Chinese port staff load it to the ship, American port and customs staff handle it when it arrives in the USA, and you get to ship it to your warehouse or vending location. Given the many stops, there is an increased risk of damage. Most vending machines are made tough, though, and the probability of them getting significant damage due to shipping and handling is low.

A good supplier will take measures to reduce the possibility of damage, including:

  • Putting the vending machine in suitable packaging. The vending machine should be the same size as the packaging box with no voids and spaces. Additionally, bubble wrap or foaming can help reduce the effects of impacts.
  • Labeling the equipment properly. Proper labeling allows the port staff to know what they are dealing with. Handlers can take good care of your machine as a result.
  • Sealing the vending machine packaging properly. To avoid moisture damage during sea shipping, the vending machine should be adequately sealed. 

You shouldn’t worry too much about damage, though. Shipping companies handle equipment more fragile than vending machines, and they routinely arrive safely.

Lack of Parts in the United States

One of the main downsides of sourcing vending machines from China is that the brand may lack ready spare parts in the United States. When you can’t get spare parts quickly, your vending machine will sit idle for days while waiting for parts to arrive. You can mitigate this problem by getting a simple vending machine whose parts can be replaced with generic aftermarket parts.

Quality Control Problems

As you cannot inspect the machines physically, you can’t ascertain the build quality of the specific vending machine you are buying. You can reduce the chances of importing a lemon by working only with suppliers/manufacturers with many good reviews. Avoid suppliers who haven’t built a solid reputation on Alibaba.

Language Barrier

Most manufacturers in China targeting Western customers have staff who have adequate proficiency in English. You may, however, find yourself dealing with a company where this is not the case. Language barriers can distort communication, cause frustration, and even mess up your order.

Is Alibaba or AliExpress Better for Vending Machines?

While Alibaba has business-to-customer (B2C) offerings, it mainly serves as a B2B company. Businesses looking to buy products in bulk will find Alibaba more useful than AliExpress. AliExpress is designed to serve the B2C segment.

That said, for vending machines, you will be better served on Alibaba than AliExpress for both bulk and single purchases. Alibaba has a bigger selection of all kinds of vending machines, including those for snacks, drinks, combos, gumballs, stickers, and custom items. Most vending machine suppliers on Alibaba do not have a minimum order requirement and will gladly ship even one vending machine to you.

Should I Buy an Alibaba Vending Machine?

The decision to buy an Alibaba vending machine depends on your business needs and your assessment of the costs and benefits accruing from the decision. As far as safety is concerned, it is unlikely that you will get scammed if you source the vending machine from a well-reviewed Gold Supplier. Consider the following factors when evaluating whether to buy a vending machine locally or source one from Alibaba:

  • The total cost of importing the vending machine (add shipping costs, insurance, and import taxes) and how it compares to the prices of vending machines available locally
  • Technical support, or lack thereof
  • Shipping times and whether you are willing to wait for more than two weeks for your vending machine to arrive in the United States
  • Vending machine specs, features, and build quality
  • If you are buying in bulk, is the manufacturer/supplier willing to ship a sample?
  • Payment options - Trade Assurance and PayPal preferred

Ultimately, the decision to buy an Alibaba vending machine is about the expected rewards and savings. You should be able to independently do a cost-benefit analysis based on your specific circumstances to determine if the decision is worth it.

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