When it comes to sourcing your product overseas, Alibaba.com can help you navigate any language or cultural barriers.
Alibaba is the world’s largest sourcing site. It is mostly based in the Asian market (where most manufacturing happens), and you can find just about anything in their huge database — products from all around the world.
The Alibaba interface has changed over the last couple years, with new features that make it easier to refine your searches. Plus, they now offer services for sourcing, escrow, finance, inspection, and more. They’re trying to provide a complete customer experience, and they’ve really come a long way. By the time you visit, the interface may have changed again.
Alibaba has checks and balances in place to make sure manufacturers are legitimate so all transactions go smoothly. But things do happen, so YOU NEED TO DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE.
You may want to participate in Alibaba’s trade assurance program, which offers certain guarantees and protections. To learn more, go to Alibaba.com and click “Trade Assurance” at the top right. If at first you do not see the link, try widening your browser window.
Click on the Help dropdown menu at the top right, and select Help Center for Buyers to read about:
■ Ordering products
■ Inspection of goods
■ Shipping and delivery
■ and more
Click on the Help dropdown menu at the top right, and select Help Center for Buyers, then click Safety and Security to read about:
■ Account safety
■ Making payments
■ Ensuring the quality of products
■ Choosing suppliers
■ and more
Sourcing a Product
You can find products using any of the following methods:
■ Browse by category along the left.
■ Search by keyword in the bar at the top.
■ Scroll down to browse spotlights on wholesale, verified suppliers (by region), and hot products.
For example, a keyword search for silicone spatulas returns more than 50,000 results.
When you see a smaller MOQ, you’re usually looking at a supplier or wholesaler rather than a manufacturer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
You can get a better per-piece price from the manufacturer, at a higher MOQ. But when you’re just starting, wholesalers can be a better option. You pay a little more, but if you’re ordering 200 units or less — just to get started for your first order — that’s a good way to get started. Over time, as you ramp up your sales, you can find other suppliers for that product or source out the actual manufacturer.
There are several filters underneath the search bar:
You’ll see a box for minimum order, but that’s usually negotiable.
You’ll also see options to filter for suppliers with trade assurance or different Alibaba verification levels. To learn more about these, read the information located under “Verified Suppliers” on the main page:
Here’s an overview:
Suppliers can pay Alibaba a membership fee to become Gold Suppliers and go through up to three levels of verification for increased credibility.
To qualify for the first level, they must pass a third-party authentification and verification (A&V) inspection.
For the next level, suppliers can invite an onsite check by Alibaba personnel and a third party. This is required for Gold Suppliers in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Finally, suppliers can apply for a third-company (e.g., Bureau Veritas, TUV Rheinland) inspection and verification. This level of supplier assessment is optional for Gold Suppliers in Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
To see a checklist of what supplier information is verified at each level, go to: http://www.alibaba.com/help/safety security/products/verification services.html
You may want additional verifications. For example, when sourcing a food-related product for sale in the US, you may want to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Product listings contain the following information:
■ OEM (ability to add a private label)
■ Contact information
■ Trade assurance limit (if relevant)
■ Average response time
If these look good to you, click to open that listing and see more details.
Once you open a listing, you can also see:
- Payment terms
- How many pieces they can make per month
- Minimum work order
- Port location
- Whether pricing is Free on Board (FOB) or Ex Works (EXW)
Note: With FOB pricing, the factory will produce the item and deliver it to the port. From the port, it is your responsibility to ship it. EXW pricing means the factory just produces the item, and you have to arrange to transport it from the factory. In general, it’s better — especially when you’re just starting — to choose only FOB products.
When you find a product that appears to meet your needs, scroll back up and check the company’s contact details (e.g., phone/fax numbers, address) at the top right.
Does the company seem legitimate? Look for a link to the company’s Alibaba catalog page and a .com or .net website. Check those sites. How do the sales pages look? Read the About Us page. Take a look at the Contact page. Make sure they provide appropriate details (e.g., phone/fax numbers, address). For the most part, if you do a little bit of investigation, you’ll be able to tell if something doesn’t seem right.
As you find products that look good, you can use the “Compare” function to get a side-byside view of product-listing details. This makes it easy to evaluate products against each other.
If you want to eliminate a product, just click the little X in the top right corner.
To contact the supplier, just click the orange button to open an email form.
In order to contact suppliers, you need to create an account.
Note: Once you start contacting suppliers (after a few more course modules), you’ll want to check the Message Center in your My Alibaba account DAILY so you can respond to suppliers as soon as possible.