Blog Buying Products Chinese Importing Product Sourcing

8 Secrets to Picking the Perfect Product to Wholesale from China

One of the hardest things for entrepreneurs looking to start their import business is choosing the right product to import. My focus on this site is on products that can be purchased off-the-shelf from China (i.e. wholesaled), not invented, so this article will help you to choose one of these products.

China is the factory of the world and every product you can imagine can be sourced in China. The key is to find the right product that can be profitable for you.

A visit to a trade show such as the Canton Fair confirms nearly any product you can imagine can be sourced in China- but what

A visit to a trade show such as the Canton Fair confirms nearly any product you can imagine can be sourced in China- but what’s the best product for you?

Secret #1, #2, #3: Know Your Niche!

The first step in picking the right product to import from China is critically important. You must know your niche! (we’ll discuss niches shortly)

The biggest mistake I see new importers making is to pick a product that they think will sell well, normally because they’ve seen someone else selling such a product with success. An Australian who has never seen an ice rink in their life sees someone selling thousands of hockey skates on eBay and wants in. Or a vegetarian sees a duck call consistently being one of the top selling Sports Goods on Amazon and decides to get into importing hunting supplies.

If you don’t know the niche you’re looking to get into front and back you will not be able to create effective marketing, you won’t know how to price your product, you won’t know how to do quality inspections, and so on and so on. Even if you somehow manage to achieve short term profits, you will eventually be eaten alive by someone who knows the niche they’re operating in.

Most everyone has a hobby or an area of interest they’re interested in. These are normally the best starting points to identify a great product to import from China. If you don’t have any suitable hobbies or interests then try and identify an area you don’t mind learning about. If you’re really having a hard time, in my Importing Course I go into a lot of detail about how to find a niche and also offer a free Niche Brainstorming Guide with hundreds of potential niches to help you pick the best niche.

There’s a saying that if you read 10 books on something you’ll be smarter than 90% of the population on that subject and in reality I think the number of required readings is really more like 2 books! So if you don’t have a hobby or interest that’s a good candidate to source products from, find a hobby or interest!

 

Secret #4: Choose a Niche that Doesn’t Compete with Amazon or Walmart

If you’re a small entrepreneur looking to succeed in importing, you must pick a relatively small niche. Recognize that all of the major retailers like Walmart and Home Depot, import directly themselves from China. If you don’t believe the scale of which they are importing from China, take a look at the Customs records I retrieved from Import Genius after doing a search for “Walmart”. You can see that Walmart recently has imported over 24,000 different shipments from abroad, with China being the largest source country. Don’t let this burst your bubble though. These retailers only import the most popular products, things like furniture and gardening gloves.

import-genius-resuls

Walmart has over 24,000 import records returned from Import Genius

The best niches to be in are areas that the major retailers don’t sell products in. An example I routinely bring up is Horse Riding equipment. Walmart does not sell any Horse Riding equipment nor does Home Depot the last time I checked. I don’t know about you, but I would love to be in a niche where I’m not competing against companies like Walmart!

My test for identifying a good niche is simple: I go to a magazine stand at my local grocery store and I see if that niche has a magazine devoted entirely to that subject matter. Things like model railroading are great potential niches. If the niche has an entire magazine devoted to it then it means a) there’s obviously a fanatical audience for that niche, b) magazines normally have to sell advertising so that niche likely has a wide product assortment that can be advertised.

I’ve seen very few entrepreneurs start importing businesses where they are sourcing products that compete directly with some of the largest companies in the world. I’ve known many entrepreneurs to have successful companies sourcing products that might seem relatively small and mundane but making considerable incomes from it.

Secret #4a: Using the Amazon Category Tree to Find a Niche

Another great way to brain storm for a niche is to use the Amazon Categories Tree. Almost all major retailers have some sort of category tree, but Amazon conveniently publishes theirs to be used by Third Party Sellers, listing over 13000 potential categories to import from.

The First Level amazon category hierarchy – you must drill down lower than this.

Amazon’s categories follow a certain hierarchy. For example, here’s the hierarchy for Rice and Potato Servers:

Kitchen & Dining  /  Tableware  /  Flatware  /  Serving Utensils  /  Serving Spoons  /  Rice & Potato Servers

I’ve seen some sites recommending new importers to look at Amazon’s first level categories (i.e. Kitchen and Dining) and looking for a product to import from this category. This is far too broad. You should narrow your niche down to a fifth level category or lower, i.e. Serving Spoons. This helps you to focus your area of expertise, and more importantly, most mass-market retailers will only stock 1 or 2 items in a fifth level category (if any) and therefore there’s a great opportunity to add variety to that category.

You can download an Excel Document with a list of all fifth level categories or lower from here: Listing of All Fifth Level Categories

Not all of these categories are necessarily great potential categories to import products from, however, many of them are. Here are some categories that immediately spring to my mind that could be good opportunities and warrant further research:

  • Electronics /   Camera & Photo /   Accessories  /  Photo Studio  /  Storage & Presentation Materials  /  Slide, Negative & Print Pages
  • Electronics  /  Camera & Photo  /  Accessories   / Photo Studio  /  Storage & Presentation Materials  /  Storage Binders
  • Home, Garden & Pets  /  Pet Supplies  /  Houses & Habitats  /  Accessories  /  Aquarium Décor   / Plastic Plants
  • Home, Garden & Pets   / Patio, Lawn & Garden   / Gardening  /  Watering Equipment    Automatic Watering Equipment  /  Drip Irrigation Kits
  • Home, Garden & Pets /   Furniture & Décor  /  Furniture  /  Other Furniture /   Chairs    Directors Chairs

Secret #5: Pick a Product that Retails for More than $50

This applies especially if you’re just starting out. I’ve seen many first-time importers ecstatically import 100 $2 widgets that retail for $4 in stores, only to be burned when those $100 widgets ended up costing them $800 in freight. Higher ticket items give you more margin for error. As you get more experienced and have a better idea of your true costs you can explore lower ticket items, but in the beginning your best advice is to steer clear of them.

More so, even if you sell a product for $5 that normally sells for $10, most people will not go significantly out of their way to save $5. They will not wait for it to be shipped and they will not hunt around Craigslist. They will simply buy it at Walmart or another big box retailer. However, many people will exert considerable effort to save $25 or more.

Secret #6: Pick a Product that is Low Risk

The scariest thing for someone importing from China is importing a product that ends up hurting someone. Not only will you have the moral burden of harming someone you’ll also likely be sued for every penny you have. If you want to see an example of how product liability can ruin your business and potentially your life, see this article on Bucky Balls here. Many new importers start off their companies as sole proprietorships or similar entities, meaning you ultimately bear unlimited liability.

Most products you can source are low risk. Dining room furniture, for example, has very little risk. A baby crib, on the other hand, has very high risk simply for the fact babies are involved. Soccer balls aren’t inherently dangerous but skateboards are.

We live in an extremely litigious world so avoiding any possible product liability lawsuits is in your best interests.

Secret #7: Pick a Product That is Labor Intensive

China’s competitive advantage in manufacturing is their near unlimited supply of cheap labor. So the more time a person needs to spend in manufacturing a product and the less likely it is that it can be automated by a machine, the more likely it is going to be far cheaper to be sourced in China than it can be in a Western country.

A lot of new importers want to import electronics from China (which is generally a horrible idea in my experience if for no other reason than the amount of competition one faces). However, electronics are normally designed by very highly skilled computer scientists and engineers and the amount of assembly line labor involved is a low cost relative to the cost of research and development. Therefore, electronics are often not a good item to import. In fact, if you go shopping in China, you might be surprised to find that while clothing (a very labor intensive item) can be as much as 90% cheaper than in the West electronics are relatively comparable in price.

Do a survey of a few products in your house and look at where they were made. You’ll find the very high tech products are made in countries like the USA, Japan, etc. and the simplest products are made in countries like China.

Secret #8: Pick a Product That Isn’t Counterfeit/Trademarked/Patented

Hopefully this point makes sense without explanation but for some it may not. More over, it’s easy for even the most intellectual property conscious individual to run into problems when importing from China.

Do not import counterfeit products. This goes without saying. If there is a brand name attached to a product that you recognize in the west, i.e. Apple, Samsung, Gucci, Rolex, etc. then this product is almost certainly counterfeit. If you see a little ® or ™ sign beside a product, then it is trademarked and therefore a counterfeit product. Most individuals do not accidentally import branded products (but quite a few try to deliberately import such products) so hopefully this will not be an issue for you.

However, it is sometimes easy to accidentally import patented products, which are in essence counterfeit products. China takes intellectual property laws like patents quite a bit more liberally than we do in the West, which is probably no surprise to many. That aside, a patent valid in the USA or other country is not necessarily applicable in China, which muddies the water even further. A Supplier will not hesitate to sell you a product that is patented in your home country and more importantly, they won’t research whether a product is patented in your country. That’s your job.

coffee sleeve

The incredible cylindrical, cardboard, PATENTED, Starbucks coffee cup sleeve.

Determining whether a product is patented is simple. Most patented products clearly say on the product packaging that they are patented.  If you’ve seen many different brands of a particular product being sold in stores, then it probably is not patented. If a product has been around for a very long time (generally 20 years or more) then it probably isn’t patented.

 

 

EcomCrew Course

Interested in creating your own million dollar brand importing products from China? Mike and Dave will show you exactly how you can do it to with their Importing Kick @#$ Products from China Course. Read more about the course.

You Might Also Like

46 Comments

  • Reply
    naomi bennett
    December 3, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Hi, your site is so helpful–thank you! My question is about product customization. I want to purchase a product that I see dozens of on alibaba, but I want it to have a different feature that I haven’t seen anywhere. This is my selling point. How feasible/common/expensive is it to change specs on an existing product? Does this throw me into “inventor” world instead of importer, even if I’m not starting from scratch?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      December 3, 2014 at 5:58 am

      Hi Naomi,

      It depends on the level of customization that you are talking about. Of course any factory is happy to do it given the quantities are high enough but I suspect you would probably like to start with a smallish order. If the customization would require an entirely new mold and retooling the machinery that makes it, then you will be looking at quite high MOQs. If you want to add, for example, a third back pocket on a pair of pants that simply requires the seamstress to sew that extra pocket on, you should be able to find a factory happy to oblige.

      If your customization is a product improvement that the factory thinks will be an added selling feature, they may also be happy to build it so they can sell it to other clients. You might request they not sell it to your market, although these requests may or may not be honored.

      Feel free to give a vague description of the customization (you can make a close example to avoid revealing too much) and I can give you my thoughts.

  • Reply
    Bryan
    March 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

    Hey David,

    Great article…especially insightful to pick niches the big boys aren’t in.

    Two questions:
    1. How do you suggest a new seller such as myself approaches a manufacturer or agent on Alibaba? Should we have a signature with a fake title like “brand manager” or something similar to convey some sort of authority…or will they see through that kind of stuff?
    2. Once a potential product is chosen, what is your preferred method of market testing? (if any)

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 4, 2015 at 6:48 am

      Hi Bryan,

      1) If you pretend to be a fortune 500 company, they’ll read through you pretty quick :-) Plus, once you ask to import 10 widgets (instead of 10 containers) the act will be up. The truth of it is, even in medium sized businesses, the owner will often have a major role in importing products so there’s no need to hide that you’re the owner. You can even omit your title and put something as simple as Bryan, xyz company.

      2) It depends how you plan on selling the product. If you’re selling it online, you can simply put it on your website, Amazon, ebay, etc. and trying selling a few. Asking customers for feedback after they’ve received the product is also extremely helpful. If selling brick and mortar, you should be more careful to ensure the product is completely up to snub. Retailers will often only give you once chance- so if you’re selling a product with low quality standards (i.e. missing parts, instructions, etc) you likely won’t get a second chance to improve it.

  • Reply
    Ahmed
    May 4, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Hey David

    Great post here on dealing with a chinese product selection.
    I have been living in Guangzhou for the past 3 years,and all what you’ve written is amazingly to the point and true,but i think the best way to approach this as well is to modify or merge a current product adding a feature or two,even then a congested marketplace will note a product with a new or extra feature.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 6, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Yes- great point. Improving on a product is the logical evolution from importing a completely off the shelf product, but the latter is a great first step for the former :-)

  • Reply
    Mae
    June 11, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I find when i’m on Alibaba or DHgate it’s really difficult to tell the ranking of quality for their clothing. A lot of the pictures they use are from successful fashion companies. Are their ways to specifically find good quality clothing? My company is quite small so i’m also ordering small quantities which throws another problem into the mix. What would you suggest for a small business looking for small quantities of high quality women’s clothing?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am

      Hi Mae,

      Alibaba and Dhgate won’t tell you about the quality of a Supplier’s products- for better or worse you have to order samples and/or build a relationship with your Supplier. You’ll want to order a sample of the fabric the Supplier is using at the very least. I did an interview with Steve Chou recently who imports handkerchiefs and you might find some useful information in the interview there: http://www.chineseimporting.com/interview-steve-chou-from-mywifequitherjob-com/

  • Reply
    Danny
    June 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Hi David,

    Do you have any experience in custom molds?
    I’m being quoted 3 to 5k for a simple enough mold if a rubber object that is 12cm X 4cm X 6cm. Does that sound right to you?

    I keep reading about customisation and changing spec, but do we really need to pak 3k for custom mold?

    Thanks

    Ps. Love your blog
    D

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 29, 2015 at 3:35 am

      Hi,

      I’m by no means a molds expert, but IMO it doesn’t sound entirely off. Here’s an American plastics company’s overview of mold costs: http://www.rexplastics.com/faq.php. I would try and get a competing quote from another Supplier though. It should be noted, things like mold costs often go hand in hand with MOQs- if you order enough, they may offer to subsidize that mold cost a bit.

      • Reply
        Don Root
        June 30, 2015 at 5:50 am

        My two cents worth regarding Danny’s question about having custom molds made for a new product. I had the same issue a couple years ago on a product that I eventually had patented, but needed some down and dirty cheap plastic parts made.
        I scoured the local Craigslist and business directories and found a little old guy who had an injection molding machine in his garage of all places! Albeit primitive, he also had the metal working tools he needed to make the mold set that I needed for just a few hundred dollars using a mold set from a previous project he just made some modifications to.
        Scour the local industrial complexes where there are tiny mom and pop sheet metal and machining companies… likely someone will know somebody who can get this done for you! Hope this helps, all.
        -Don

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          July 3, 2015 at 5:30 am

          Totally agree Don- I think it’s a sign of the world we live in that people think the only place to get something manufactured is China :)

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          August 10, 2015 at 5:47 am

          Hi Don,

          I’ve heard of similar stories. Some cities even have ‘open shops’ where you can pay an hourly fee to produce your own items. Here’s a great podcast episode to listen to regarding this: http://www.ecommercefuel.com/the-roost/

  • Reply
    charlene simboo
    September 29, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    hi! im looking for gilmour gardening tools and spray cans,

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      September 30, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      Hi charlene,

      This is a trademarked product and you would have to contact Gilmour directly.

  • Reply
    John
    November 10, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    I thought that finding good “wholesalers” on the Internet would serve me well, Well, not so fast. I went to local wholesalers, some who don’t have websites, and their prices for goods are insanely cheaper than those on the web. A dozen pair of diabetic socks for FOUR DOLLARS less than web sellers, no shipping too, since they are local.

  • Reply
    Terry Johnson
    February 9, 2016 at 1:42 am

    I was wondering how you decide on what is a great, profitable product ?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      February 9, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      Now that is way too broad of a question! :)

  • Reply
    Mel
    March 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Dave,
    I have a niche in mind, but there are already a lot of on-line stores in the arena. My question is, how do you decide if your idea is viable? For example, why did you c your niche? Was there no, or little, competition when you started?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 1, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Hi Mel,

      I chose my niche because I had a fair bit of knowledge in it and I was passionate about it. I simply started ordering small and seeing if things stuck. In fact, this is what I do today. With a Supplier I’ll try and order as few of items as possible, list them, and hope to get sales traction. In today’s Alibaba day, there’s competition for nearly any products, but hopefully you’re able to give yourself a competitive advantage on either marketing it better (great pictures are an easy way) or slightly improving the product.

      With that being said, it’s much more important to chose a good industry opposed to product IMO.

  • Reply
    paul
    August 8, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Hi,dave, i wanted to know if its normal lose money on your trial order from alibaba as i am paying a lot of money for shipping. i understand that it is air freight, however will future orders shipping price be different. thank you

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      August 10, 2016 at 4:30 am

      Hi,

      Personally I never expect to make money on a trial order – but I always import with the expectation that I would be able to make a profit on the order if it was a larger quantity on subsequently lower freight costs.

  • Reply
    mohammed rafee
    August 21, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Doing bags business in india. Well I’m not going to import any branded bags . I’m a new guy going to Guangzhou on October end for Canton fair . So it might be useful for me ¿¿¿¿ . And I’m buying bags from a importer which they are a sourcing agent they doing lot of stuffs here so they are filling a container with bags machines furniture automobile&etc . So my question is if I can could be direct importer from china which my goods can be cheaper wen I import fr my self Bt a main thing is I hav a small quantity of customer here .

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      August 26, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Hi, I’m not sure what the question is? Are you asking if you can import directly instead of using a sourcing agent?

  • Reply
    Viswanath. P
    August 26, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Hi David,I want to know about the adult diapers importing business may I know how is that businesses please send me the details to my gmail

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      August 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      Yes, I will email you a white paper on the strengths and weaknesses of importing diapers along with the full details of exactly how to do so shortly.

      • Reply
        Marcus
        September 3, 2016 at 6:40 pm

        :-)

  • Reply
    Ash
    September 1, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Hi, I have limited experience in any aspect involving business but I have been thinking is importing a product a viable business. I have been thinking what product would be a good product. I have been thinking about storage cardboard boxes and other storage materials as I have come into problems with storage in my personal life and have trouble finding anything conviently. Do you think this type of product could be profitable?

  • Reply
    Melissa
    September 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Dave,
    I ordered something my children really wanted from China. There was only one U.S. Seller and they wanted thousands of dollars for the product. I was able to get it from China for 1/3 the cost. It took me a longtime to source a reputable manufacturer. Now I am inundated by people who also want one. I would like to start a business importing this new on the market product but where do I begin? I found the factory in China and my import customs agent to be outstanding and very legitimate. Now what do I do?
    Thanks,
    Melissa

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 11, 2016 at 4:02 am

      Hi Melissa,

      Way too broad of a question but the Chinese Importing course is a good place to begin :)

  • Reply
    John
    November 16, 2016 at 4:07 am

    Hi Dave, your blog is great. I want to refer to your articles/comments about finding a niche, and the one about starting with a product that retails for over $50. Referring to the articles about Model Railroading supplies and serving spoons … great ideas! And I feel my ideas fit your comments regarding those niches; however, the expected retail for my first few items will only be $15-30. Am I destined to fail? … or do I have a chance if they are niche products? (and certainly won’t be available at the Big Box stores)

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      November 22, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Hi John,

      There’s plenty of people who do extremely well in that price range. For me personally it’s not my target – especially with paid advertising costs per click often exceeding $0.5 for ANY product it doesn’t leave a lot of room for error, but that’s just my safety zone :)

  • Reply
    Edward Francis
    May 11, 2017 at 1:23 am

    Hi Dave,
    Great blog, I wish I had read your article before I made some serious blunders.

    I am looking for some building products, for construction company’s meeting green house agenda, what do you recommend.

    Kind regards,

    Edward Francis

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 15, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Are you asking for what building products I recommend to import to make a bunch of money from?

  • Reply
    Zack Gzouli
    May 28, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Hi David
    I want to import a product from China, maybe in hardware or kids toys, What do you think is the best product I could import from China to USA that has less risk and have consistent base of buyers please?
    Thank you

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 1, 2017 at 4:10 am

      Hi Zack,
      If I knew those products I would be importing them myself :)

  • Reply
    Rob
    June 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Dave-great info!
    I’m in the stage of targeting an item. Regarding marketing, Amazon & EBay, amongst others, are certainly viable avenues but would you not rule out, in addition, having your own website as well?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 19, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Rob,

      Yes- for sure you should have your own website as well. See the latest blog post on eBay for a summary of the channels I suggest and the order I suggest in launching them.

  • Reply
    Jason
    June 22, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Hi David,
    I’m going to be joining your Chinese Importing Course. Do you offer feedback as we go through the modules? I would like to run a product idea/niche by you for any obvious pitfalls. Thanks,

    Jason

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 27, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Jason – yes just send me an email (instructions from within the course to make sure I see it :))

      • Reply
        Jason
        June 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm

        Thanks, David. Will do. :)

  • Reply
    Med
    August 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Hi dave, I’m planing to import from china to Australia. I want to go there myself and inspect the quality. My question is which city should I go ? Which city of china is the best for importing high quality products such as shoes, mobile accessories,

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      August 24, 2017 at 6:30 am

      You should start by visiting a fair like the Canton Fair – see our guide for it on this site :)

  • Reply
    wtf
    October 20, 2017 at 9:12 am

    step 3: dont choose a niche that competes with amaon
    step 4: use amazon category tree to find niche.

    ……………………. lol

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      October 22, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      There’s no contradiction – the Amazon category tree lists every category – it doesn’t mean they’re aggressive sellers in that category, especially with Amazon basics.

    Leave a Reply