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A Secret Weapon for Doing Competitor and Supplier Research

September 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 might be wondering if your competitor is simply sacrificing margins or if they’re getting their products for cheaper, and if so, from whom.

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

Guess what? Using an Import Records software tool like Jungle Scout, 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 US 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 US and any company that exports anything to the US leaves a paper trail behind them that is open to nearly anyone’s eyes.

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, the only ways to access this information was through ImportGenius or Panjiva, which are about $200 to 300/month or PortExaminer/ImportYeti, which you can use for free. However, these tools are outdated and have incomplete information. As of March 2019, Jungle Scout offers the exact same information as Import Genius or Panjiva but for just $39 per month.

You can simply enter the name of the supplier or competitor you want to research on and you will be given information about all of the recent import and export activity for that company. Well, theoretically, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Why theoretically? That’s because there are some serious gaps in the information:

  • Most websites only give you access to US import and 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 or trading company.Import 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 US. And even with their shortcomings, 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 channels
  • 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 Hide Your Import Records: Vessel Manifest Confidentiality

Want to hide your import history from competitors? It’s easy and straight forward.

You can email a written request with your business name and address to [email protected]

You can also use CBP’s new automated form on this page: https://www.cbp.gov/trade/automated/electronic-vessel-manifest-confidentiality.

Requesting confidentiality is free, and YES you should do it immediately if you’re importing into the United States.

How to Use Import Record to Creep on Your Suppliers

Let’s pretend you are in the automotive industry and you’re looking to sell wiper blades.  You notice that a seller on Amazon 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 customs data information through a website such as JungleScout.com you can find out this information easily.

With Jungle Scout’s Chrome plugin, all you need to do is pull up the product detail page and then within the Jungle Scout plugin, click the “Suppliers” icon like below.

 

How to find amazon suppliers

To find what suppliers your competitors on Amazon are using, use Jungle Scout’s Chrome plugin.

This will then bring up a page on Jungle Scout that shows the exact supplier this seller is using for these wiper blades.

amazon competitor research

It shows that this seller is using Yancheng Teda Drilling and Product for these exact wiper blades. A simple search on Alibaba or Google for this supplier name allows you to source the exact same products.

Not only does using import records allow you to find what products your competitors are using. It’s also great for verifying suppliers before you purchase with them. For example, I can simply click the supplier name above and see a full record of their export history to the United States.

supplier verification

Using import records is also great for verifying suppliers.

Now we can see that this supplier has five customers in the United States (if you scroll down further, you can see their actual names). This gives you some certainty that this supplier is legitimate and, if you wanted to take things even further, you could contact those buyers for trade references.

Are Import Records Available for Any Other Countries Besides the United States?

Currently, the United States is the only major economy that makes import records publicly accessible. That means that, unfortunately, you can’t easily find import histories for countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and others. Sorry!

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 verify 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 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 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 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 Reply

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

  • ALVARO RUBINO
    January Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      January Reply

      Hi,

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

  • Northridge
    August 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 Reply

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

      • Kay
        July 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 Reply

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

    • Ed
      August Reply

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

      • Dave Bryant
        September Reply

        You may be right.

  • Fernando
    November Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      November Reply

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

  • Karoline Moser
    December Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      December Reply

      Thank you!

  • Luuk
    January 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 Reply

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

  • Brendan
    March 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 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 Reply

    Very helpful Dave. Thank You.

    • Dave Bryant
      May Reply

      You're welcome :)

  • Al
    June 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 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 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 Reply

      Don't think so :(

      • massimo
        September Reply

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

        • Dave Bryant
          September Reply

          Not off the top of my head unfortunately.

  • Matt
    August 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 Reply

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

  • CESAR
    September 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 Reply

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

  • Adam
    September 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 Reply

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

  • Peanut
    October Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      October Reply

      Not available unfortunately.

  • Jimare Exim Solutions
    October 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 Reply

      Thanks!

  • Len
    November 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 Reply

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

  • Jerry
    November Reply

    Very helpful info! Thank you Dave.

    • Dave Bryant
      November Reply

      You're welcome.

  • abdul
    December Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      December Reply

      No.

  • John Kilmartin
    March 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 Reply

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

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