A Secret Weapon for Doing Competitor and Supplier Research

March 9, 2018 in Blog, Buying Products, Chinese Importing, Finding Suppliers
A Secret Weapon for Doing Competitor and Supplier Research

A Secret Weapon for Doing Competitor and Supplier Research

If you’ve been importing long enough you’ve probably found a competitor (probably on Amazon) selling the exact same product as you but at a lower price. You wonder if your competitor is simply sacrificing margins or if they’re getting their products for cheaper, and if so, from who.

Or perhaps you’re just beginning working with a supplier and they tell you that they supply Walmart/Home Depot/<insert huge retailer here> and you wonder if they’re in fact being completely honest and really export to these companies.

Guess what? Using an Import Records software tool (both free and paid options available) you can find out the answers to all of these questions.

Related reading: How to Import from China Cheaply, Safely, and Quickly (Mega Guide)

How to Do Competitor Research the Smart Way

Thanks to public U.S. customs records, information about your competitor’s import history and your supplier’s export history is easy to find. In the United States, customs data is public information. That means that any company that imports something into the U.S., and any company that exports anything to the U.S., leaves a paper trail behind them that is open to nearly anyone’s eyes (actually, you can request your information to be hidden but few, if any, companies do this.  You can get access to all of this information through a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Homeland security and paying thousands of dollars. However, thanks to some clever SaaS products, getting this information is much easier than dealing with government bureaucracy.

jungle scout supplier database

Research tools which lean on public U.S. customs records can be extremely valuable for finding and verifying Suppliers.

Before Spring 2019, th only ways to access this information was through ImportGenius or Panjiva, which are about $200-300/month or PortExaminer for free but has out-dated and incomplete information. As of March 2019, Jungle Scout now offers the exact same information as Import Genius or Panjiva but for just $39/month.

You can simply enter the name of the supplier or competitor you are researching and you will be returned, theoretically, all of the recent import/export activity for that company. Why theoretically? Well there’s some serious gaps in the information:

  • Most websites only give you access to U.S. import/export information
  • Information is only as good as the information filled out in the Bill of Lading (describing something on a customs declaration as Auto Parts doesn’t exactly tell you what type of auto part it is being imported)
  • Many Chinese companies hide their activities by exporting under the name of another company/trading companyImport records like Bills of Lading are largely public information in the U.S.

Import records like Bills of Lading are largely public information in the U.S.Even with these shortcomings though the information you can get about suppliers and competitors can prove very valuable. I like to use it in a number of ways including:

  • Finding a Supplier for a product that I can’t seem to locate on Alibaba or other channel
  • Verifying a Supplier’s claims and legitimacy
  • Seeing the average order size of a Supplier to see if they’re open to smaller orders

Related Listening: Episode 66 – Importing Insights with Dave Bryant

How to Use Import Record to Creep Your Suppliers

Let’s pretend you are in the automotive industry. One of your competitors is very likely to be Autozone Inc, the second largest retailer of after-market auto parts in the U.S. You notice that Autozone is selling wiper blades for extremely cheap and you wonder a) how they get them for so cheap and b) where they get them from. By accessing free customs data information through a website such as PortExaminer.com you can find out this information easily. See the image below.

Public copy of Autozone

Public copy of Autozone’s Bill of Lading

Paid tools like JungleScout or ImportGenius give you even more complete and better organized information as seen from the screenshot below listing over 20,000 records for Autozone Inc.

import-genius-autozone

By simply searching for Autozone on PortExaminer I have been able to find dozens of copies of Bills of Lading that Autozone has used to import various products into the U.S. From the Bill of Lading shown above I have been able to determine that Autozone has imported from Unipoint Electric MFG Co. LTD in Taiwan. Further down (not shown above) it says that they imported 1262 wiper blades.

By simply googling the name Unipoint Electric MFG Co. LTD I’ve found their website at http://www.unipoint.com.tw. The information above doesn’t tell me what exact type of wiper blades they imported or how much they paid. However, I do know that Unipoint Electric MFG Co. LTD likely sells a reasonable quality product at a reasonable price by virtue of the fact that they’re selling to a major retailer like Autozone. Chances are, Unipoint Electric MFG Co. Ltd would likely be happy to sell to you directly as well provided your order is large enough (and we know their MOQ is likely not any higher than 1262 pieces).

Tools like PortExaminer and JungleScout prove their weight in gold when you can find a Supplier that isn’t listed on Alibaba. The vast majority of importers use Alibaba exclusively to find Suppliers, so if you can find a Supplier who doesn’t advertise on Alibaba, you’ve automatically reduced the amount of competition you’re going to have for that product.

Conclusion

There’s a serious lack of tools and apps related to importing. And while public customs data information isn’t the be-all and end all for doing competitive research, for the limited time and money it takes to perform, it’s an excellent place to start.

Have you had any luck using customs information to find suppliers or do verification on Suppliers? If so, please comment below.

  • About The Author: Dave Bryant

    Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He's also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.

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46 Comments

  • Joanie K.
    March 21, 2016 Reply

    What is the reason that "Many Chinese companies hide their activities by exporting under the name of another company/trading company"?

    • David Bryant
      March 23, 2016 Reply

      Mainly to protect their buyers but often these companies have such a web of subsidiaries and trading companies they operate under that it happens inadvertently.

  • Dave S
    November 1, 2017 Reply

    Do any of the services show what is the cargo value for individual shipment records? For example, the value of 1 container widgets imported from China. I've used Import Genius before and wasn't able to find this this information.

    • Dave Bryant
      November 6, 2017 Reply

      I really can't remember but if import genius isn't revealing it then it's probably not available.

  • ALVARO RUBINO
    January 9, 2018 Reply

    Hi, Do you recommend Panjiva? How it compares to ImportGenius? Thanks.

    • Dave Bryant
      January 9, 2018 Reply

      Hi,

      They're both pulling from the same data source so they're pretty comparable IMO.

  • Northridge
    August 4, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    How recent is the data? Since Port Examiner is free, do they get older data or more incomplete?
    With all the tariff talks, this type of info will be more important.

    • Dave Bryant
      August 6, 2018 Reply

      Yes, Port Examiner's data tends to be far less complete/older.

      • Kay
        July 3, 2019 Reply

        I’ve tried this method with a few services and always hit a dead end. I’m trying to find the source of one of my suppliers but their name is never found in these databases. Any suggestions ?

        • Dave Bryant
          July 24, 2019 Reply

          They likely either have their records blocked, are buying domestically, or have another company they import under.

    • Ed
      August 13, 2019 Reply

      As far as I can tell, Port Examiner doesn't have any data after 2016.

      • Dave Bryant
        September 3, 2019 Reply

        You may be right.

  • Fernando
    November 24, 2018 Reply

    Hi, Import genius provides information about who imports them from china to Venezuela and who are their suppliers? Thank you.

    • Dave Bryant
      November 29, 2018 Reply

      Hi, I don't think Venezuela is included at this time.

  • Karoline Moser
    December 19, 2018 Reply

    I just learning about ECommerce, I love this blog, it's another piece in a great puzzle, thank you.

    • Dave Bryant
      December 20, 2018 Reply

      Thank you!

  • Luuk
    January 4, 2019 Reply

    Great info! Very helpful, im currently sourcing for good suppliers which I am having a bit of difficulty with, many of the sample products I have been made though ALibaba are below quality and is costing me quite a lot of money.

    • Dave Bryant
      January 8, 2019 Reply

      It's a wide spectrum of quality with China in general. Many great suppliers and many not so great.

  • Brendan
    March 15, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave, great info, thanks. I'm doing a bit of research on how to source this data for myself. There seem to be two access points, and I can't figure out how to get to either:
    1. The companies selling data from shipping companies, such as manifestdb.com
    2. The companies selling customs data, like Import Genius, Panjiva, PIERS, etc.

    Besides US customs data, do you have any idea how these guys are sourcing their data, and how I'd get ahold of it myself? Thanks in advance.

    • Dave Bryant
      March 18, 2019 Reply

      Hi Brendan - my understanding was that it only comes from U.S. customs directly. I do not think the shipping customers are selling manifest data.

  • J K
    May 19, 2019 Reply

    Very helpful Dave. Thank You.

    • Dave Bryant
      May 19, 2019 Reply

      You're welcome :)

  • Al
    June 6, 2019 Reply

    Jungle Scout only works a small % of the time. So I'm trying to find a better way. This is great info you're sharing. Thank you dave

    • Dave Bryant
      June 10, 2019 Reply

      Yes, all of them unfortunately only have the data SOME of the time. They're all using the same data pool though.

  • Massimo
    August 22, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave, I am another competitive intelligence researcher, is there a database website that can give information of shipments/manifest between two foreign countries like Greece and Netherland? Thanks

    • Dave Bryant
      September 3, 2019 Reply

      Don't think so :(

      • massimo
        September 14, 2019 Reply

        Thanks for responding Dave.
        Do you know in which country importers`s bill of ladings are public information?

        • Dave Bryant
          September 17, 2019 Reply

          Not off the top of my head unfortunately.

  • Matt
    August 23, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,

    I found this article really interesting. Do you know if there is anything similar if my competitor is in the UK? I know 100% they purchase their product from china but I cannot for the life of me find it.

    • Dave Bryant
      September 3, 2019 Reply

      I could be wrong but I don't believe it's public information in the UK.

  • CESAR
    September 8, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave
    Piers, Panjiva and others only has exporters but I can't find a database of Chinese Import or Europe Importers.
    please, Can you help me?

    • Dave Bryant
      September 10, 2019 Reply

      I'm not sure that information is public in those regions.

  • Adam
    September 29, 2019 Reply

    I saw a new result popping up called ImportKey. It seems similar to Panjiva and ImportGenius. Have you looked at this one before?

    • Dave Bryant
      October 2, 2019 Reply

      I'm not familiar with it but there's a few similar tools ot there.

  • Peanut
    October 3, 2019 Reply

    Do you know of any way to gain this information from Canadian bill of ladings etc?

    • Dave Bryant
      October 3, 2019 Reply

      Not available unfortunately.

  • Jimare Exim Solutions
    October 14, 2019 Reply

    Indian trade data of Import& Export plays a very essential role in defeating and chasing the competitors in the same business because in this competitive world, a person who has knowledge of current market trends always wins. It is the success key for the growth of Indian economy. It shows the current up & down trend of Indian trade market.

    • Dave Bryant
      October 17, 2019 Reply

      Thanks!

  • Len
    November 1, 2019 Reply

    Very useful article. Ive just applied for the data to be hidden via government request and I’ll be setting up another company to show on the BOL as well. My question is, is there anyway to remove the information that Panjiva and others have on their site or is it there forever? On a personal directory you can “opt out” so your information is not displayed but I’m wondering if it’s possible to get in touch with these companies and have them remove this import data somehow as it’s pretty detrimental.

    • Dave Bryant
      November 13, 2019 Reply

      Don't think there's a way to retroactively remove it.

  • Jerry
    November 20, 2019 Reply

    Very helpful info! Thank you Dave.

    • Dave Bryant
      November 24, 2019 Reply

      You're welcome.

  • abdul
    December 6, 2019 Reply

    hi is it possible to track your competetor,s supply from united state if it was by road thank you

    • Dave Bryant
      December 10, 2019 Reply

      No.

  • John Kilmartin
    March 4, 2020 Reply

    Dave - Interesting article. Thanks.
    We are trying to identify the HS Codes that competing importers use for their imported products. We believe there is a high level of mis-classification in our industry. We subscribe to Panjiva and there is some HS data listed for shipments but I am told that this data is a "guess" by Panjiva and is, thus, not very accurate. Do you have any comments or advise?

    • Dave Bryant
      March 14, 2020 Reply

      Hmmm, I thought the HS code was disclosed (at least the first 6 digits. Could be wrong though.

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