Reviewing My Experience With Ordering A Rooftop Tent From Alibaba – Would I Recommend It?
It seems that if you see any kind of built-out overland SUV, be it a 4Runner, Jeep, or even a new Bronco, it will likely have a rooftop tent (RTT). Those builds have spent thousands of dollars on the purchase price, along with shipping and the LTL freight delivery. Those that don’t have an RTT mounted are likely saving up to drop a similar amount of cash, and most of the name brands feature a price point that’s unrealistic for many builds out there.
I was in the latter camp. I had seen RTTs all over the place and looked at so many review articles on rooftop tents, always dreaming of when I could get my own. I’m a young guy and not fully established in my career field yet. That means that I didn’t have thousands of dollars to purchase the type and style of tent that I wanted.
What Is Alibaba & How Does It Work?
So how do you order an RTT through Alibaba? If it’s cheaper, why doesn’t everyone just buy their goods directly from China, instead of from a US Retailer?
To summarize, it’s kind of a pain. Alibaba is a website that allows direct B2B connections. They facilitate negotiations between manufacturers and sellers and oftentimes you deal direct with the manufacturer. There are many rooftop tent websites out there that specialize in tents, however, they really just specialize in ordering rooftop tents through Alibaba or direct with the manufacturer. Once the companies agree on how much a product should cost per unit, they make a deal, and process payments.
Ordering sounds pretty easy, right? Well yes and no. The next thing you have to worry about is how you are going to get your new products from a manufacturer all the way in China to your door in the United States.
After all of the research that I had put in, I decided that the Condor from RoofNest would suit my needs the best.
The only problem was that the tent retailed online for about $3400. That was before tax and shipping. I was at a loss. That was more than I spent for my bumpers and full skid plates combined, and it was just a folding piece of fabric and aluminum. I love camping and off-roading and would love to just set up wherever I park and pass out until the morning. However, I could never justify spending that much money on something that will probably only last 5-10 years.
So, I sat down at my computer one night, thinking, “Maybe someone bought this tent and it didn’t fit their car. Now they need to sell it quickly because their spouse is angry that it’s taking up too much space in the garage.”
Basically, I was hoping for a miracle. I searched ”Used Hardshell Rooftop Tent”. I immediately saw ads from Alibaba. My friends and I had played around on Alibaba once or twice thinking that we could buy bulk goods and sell them at markets or on Amazon as an easy side hustle, but I’d never seen a posting for something this big.
As I scrolled through all of the manufacturers, I stopped on a set of photos of an RTT that I would recognize anywhere. This tent looked exactly like the RoofNest Condor. This was nuts! I went into a frenzy comparing the exact dimensions, materials, waterproof ratings, struts, and colors. I was certain that this was the RoofNest Condor.
Finally, I decided to look up where RoofNest manufactures its tents. Lo and behold, they were made in the same province in China where this manufacturer was posting their ads from. This was my chance to get an RTT! The same tent that was listed for over $3000 was being shown for a mere $800.
After all of the details with the manufacturer have been hashed out, you’ll then need to find yourself a freight forwarder. I’ll skip international business and shipping lectures and just say that there are many ways to get stuff from one place to another.
If you are buying an item for yourself and not looking to distribute it across the country, you are looking for a DDP (Delivered Duty Paid) Freight Forwarder. They will get your tent from the manufacturer onto a ship, through customs with all of the fees and documentation, onto a domestic carrier, and direct to your door.
Once you find the manufacturer you want, expect about a dozen quotes from different freight forwarders. You can then wire the money and begin playing the waiting game.
I will warn you, this is not a fast process.
My first experience took roughly a week to organize everything and negotiate rates. That was followed by two weeks for the company to assemble my tent and get it to my freight forwarder. After it reaches the shipper, you then have to wait for the next ship to leave for the US. I was lucky and the ship left that same week. However, it had to turn back due to COVID, where it sat in a Chinese port for another week.
On the day it finally set sail for real, I was excited and would check the position of the ship twice daily. The thing is, the average sailing time for a large cargo ship from China to Long Beach Wharf in LA is about 25-30 days. Patience is key here.
Once the ship finally reaches a port stateside, it takes time to unload, clear customs, and get picked up by the local carrier. For me, this process took about another two weeks.
All in all, I would say the process from start to finish was about 2 months. I also had no idea what I was doing, aside from a few international business classes I took in college.
Once you have paid your manufacturer and organized with your DDP Freight Forwarder, it really is just about patience. What’s great about this process is that once all of the work is done upfront, you really do just wait until it shows up at your door.
Notes & Good-to-Knows
- Take your time and research once you find something that you want. There may be other companies that have a similar product that is better, and maybe even cheaper.
- All of your freight forwardings are done in metric. For large items like RTTs, the actual weight is not what the shipper is going to charge you for, but the volume weight.
- To get volume weight in KG, the dimensions (Length x Width x Height) in cm are all multiplied together, and then divided by 5000.
- i.e. 200cm*150cm*30cm = 900,000 | Then, 900,000/5000 = A volume weight of 180kg
- It would be beneficial to have a forklift available for final delivery. Some freight forwarders will charge you a fee to deliver with a truck that has a lift gate. Plus, these things are heavy!
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to whoever you’re working with any questions! Remember that you are basically purchasing a sample, and they are hoping to do business with you in the future. This also might play into your ordering process in working them down on price. If you sell the fact that you might buy more, they may reduce your price even more. And, you’re likely not lying as many of your friends might purchase from the same re-seller or manufacturer if the price is right.
So was it all worth it? Absolutely! I got a solid tent on par with popular US brands and saved myself over $2000 by just putting in a little research and waiting patiently. To me, the process was fun to be a part of. Seeing what really goes into the global market that we live with was eye-opening. I’ve already gone on three trips with the RTT and I am so happy to have it.
Set up and take down of my RTT take less than 5 minutes. Now, I spend my nights on a king-sized mattress up and away from everything on the ground. I am now the envy of all of my friends. They’ve already asked me to walk them through this same process so they can get their own. I only wish that I had a friend with a traditionally purchased Condor RTT to see how closely they compare! For the time being, I’ll just have to wait until I run into someone on the trail.