2023 Buying on Alibaba Guide: How to Get Low Prices & Easy Shipping
Alibaba is the place to go when looking for suppliers of private label products in China. On the surface, using Alibaba seems relatively straightforward. But how do you find reliable suppliers, negotiate with them, and get your products shipped? In this article, we’ll cover all of these things.
What is Alibaba?
Alibaba is the largest ecommerce company in the world – yes, even bigger than Amazon. This is mostly because of an ecommerce site in China that Alibaba owns called Taobao. However, Alibaba also owns Alibaba.com which is a supplier directory of factories, mostly located in China. Alibaba is the number one website that most importers use to start looking for products (including myself!)
Alibaba also owns Aliexpress.com which allows foreigners to buy cheap individual products from China. That's the key difference between Alibaba and Aliexpress – Alibaba is for buying many products for your business, Aliexpress is for buying one or two products for your personal use.
Can You Drop Ship from Alibaba?
Most suppliers on Alibaba want you to purchase a Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) of at least $500 or more. Therefore, Alibaba is not very good for drop shippers.
If you want to drop ship, it's better to use Alibaba's sister site, AliExpress.
You can also check out our article on how we use AliExpress to validate products before launching them on Amazon.
Is Alibaba Safe?
The question I probably hear the most about Alibaba is, “Is it safe to use?” Alibaba is incredibly safe if you follow some basic precautions (see below). The biggest issue you will run into is poor quality products, which I'll address below.
These are some of the basic precautions to follow when buying on Alibaba:
- Verify their export history using a tool like Jungle Scout's Supplier Database.
- Order from Chinese companies only.
- Buy from Gold Suppliers only.
- Pay via Trade Assurance or PayPal when you can. Making payment via wire transfers for larger orders is normal, but always make sure the beneficiary name matches the company name.
- Order small at first and gradually increase your order size.
Before I send any money to a supplier in China, I always verify that supplier's export history using Jungle Scout's Supplier Database. This is an affiliate link but Jungle Scout is by far the cheapest and most complete option for viewing supplier import records. You can see all of shipments that supplier has exported to America. You can even see what factories your competitors are buying from. If you can see that a supplier is making continuous exports to other companies, the chances are fairly certain they are a legitimate supplier.
You want to make sure the company you're sending to matches their Alibaba trade name and Jungle Scout supplier database name – if a Chinese supplier all of a sudden asks you to send payment to an individual in Nigeria, this should be a red flag!
If you order from Alibaba, as long as you follow some normal precautions, you will almost certainly always receive your products. In nearly ten years of using Alibaba, I have ordered millions of dollars worth of products from dozens of suppliers, and I've never been scammed.
Now, the caveat I mentioned regarding quality. Receiving inferior quality products in China is a very big concern when ordering on Alibaba. Stereotypes are sometimes true, and the crappy “Made In China” products stereotype will be true for you if you do not follow some fairly easy best practices. When you're reading to order products, review our article below on ensuring quality products.
Related reading: How to do a Quality Inspection and Why You Need One
What Types of Products Are Best to Buy on Alibaba?
You're probably looking to source on Alibaba because you want to find products to sell via Amazon or your own website.
There are factories in China selling nearly every product imaginable and you'll find them all on Alibaba. This doesn't mean that you should import every single type of product.
I personally focus on large and heavy items and often with fairly low demand. I call this method the Cockroach Method (full blog article). It's not the only way to source products but it works for me.
As a general rule, the simpler the product the less quality issues you're going to run into. For instance, a table is very simple. A hoverboard is very complicated. If you can't understand exactly how a product works, you increase the probability that you'll run into problems.
There are a few product categories you want to avoid, specifically as a new importer. These are baby products, consumable products, electronics, and electrical items. All of these have a lot of import restrictions and/or dangers associated with them.
Gold Suppliers vs non-Gold Suppliers on Alibaba
On Alibaba, there are two types of suppliers: Gold Suppliers and non-Gold suppliers.
|Gold Suppliers||Free Unverified Members|
|Quote to inquiries in message box||Instantly||No|
|Talk with buyers on Trade Manager||Yes||No|
|Access to buyers' contacts||Full access||No|
|Receive recommended inquiries||Yes||No|
|Set preferred inquiries||Yes||No|
A Gold supplier pays a premium for increased ranking, marketing services, etc., and Alibaba does some limited identity verification of these suppliers. However, take note that just because a supplier is a Gold Supplier on Alibaba does not mean that this supplier has good quality products. It does, however, give some indication that this supplier is a legitimate and invested one.
I personally try to work only with Gold Suppliers simply as a filter mechanism, but again, remember that a Gold Supplier does not mean they are an excellent supplier.
If you find a supplier on Alibaba that is not Gold but has the exact product you want and otherwise looks good, you shouldn't dismiss them entirely. Instead, just scrutinize them a little bit more i.e. review their import records, make sure their company name matches the payment name, etc..
Factories vs Trading Companies on Alibaba
Suppliers on Alibaba also come in the form of trading companies and factories.
A trading company does not manufacture the products they produce and generally have slightly higher prices but also slightly more consistent quality and a larger product selection. Factories have slightly lower prices and more limited selection and more unpredictable quality.
Neither is good nor bad inherently, but know the differences between these types of suppliers.
How to Find Great Suppliers on Alibaba
Before even worrying about MOQ and freight costs, you need to find the right supplier first. In order to look for suppliers on Alibaba, you first need to create an account. If you don’t have a registered company, don’t worry. You can put in whatever you want as the company name.
With your account set up, the next thing to figure out is what product you want to search for. Once you know what it is, go ahead and search for it on Alibaba. Your ultimate goal when looking for suppliers should be to find 3 to 5 potential suppliers, contact them, and get price quotes for your product.
The first thing I do when starting a search is to have my results sorted by supplier, not by product (which Alibaba will do by default). Otherwise, the top search results will be dominated by just one or two suppliers. See the image below.
You want to look for suppliers who have products similar to what you're looking for. Keep in mind that many suppliers simply steal photos of Western brand's products. I like to look for signs that the photographs are authentic, such as
- Signs the photo was taken in China (i.e., Chinese people or Chinese writing in the photograph)
- Company watermark on the photo
- Average quality photos (most suppliers don't take retail-quality photographs)
You can also check out Supplier Blacklist to make sure the company you’re dealing with is not among the recognized bad suppliers.
How to Contact Suppliers on Alibaba
Finding the right supplier involves both skill and luck. Make sure to do a quick Google search about the company. Look for red flags by adding the words scam, warning, or beware in the search bar.
Aside from this, suppliers on Alibaba can be very picky with what buyers they choose to work with.
You will see on the search results page the Supplier Response Rate. You will almost always see that this Response Rate is far lower than 100%. Alibaba suppliers will often simply ignore many buyer requests.
There are several ways to increase the likelihood that a supplier responds to you. Consider asking the following questions:
- Do you know exactly what products you're looking for? Or are you fishing for an entire catalog and price list? Ask for details regarding one specific product only.
- Are you clear, concise, and to the point? Or does your supplier have to put a lot of thought into answering your email, which is especially hard for a non-native English speaker? Ask clear questions in bullet points.
- What country are you from? Certain countries are more desirable to suppliers such as countries the supplier doesn't currently do business in. Your supplier can see what country you are emailing from via Alibaba.
- Are you a big buyer with brick-and-mortar stores?
The most important thing that you can do to improve your communication with suppliers is to ask for your supplier's WeChat ID. The Chinese do most work through WeChat and not through email. You'll improve your success rate if you can get their WeChat ID and talk to them over WeChat.
Keep in mind that most people who you are going to communicate with at a company are younger university graduates with reasonable English but little technical knowledge of your products and often very little authority. You're not dealing with the factory owner or manager most of the time.
How to Get & Use WeChat as a Foreigner
Yes, there are some privacy and censorship concerns with using a China based app like WeChat but this affects China based users mostly.
To download WeChat, download it from wherever you download apps (it's basically exclusively a mobile app only). You'll need to get someone else with WeChat to give you an invite – ask a friend or get your supplier to give you the invite.
My goal is just to get a response. I avoid mentioning MOQs, which may scare off a supplier. It's easy for a supplier to simply ignore an initial email. But once a supplier has actually responded to you, it's difficult to ignore future emails. If they add you to WeChat, it's almost impossible for them to ignore you.
The Great Firewall
Chinese censorship is prevalent and can affect your emails from getting through.
The Great Firewall blocks access to common services like Google (including Gmail), Whatsapp, Facebook, and Dropbox. Avoid using any links to these services.
Also, the internet in China is very slow, and large attachments can take a very long time to download.
Given the unpredictability of email, it's best to use WeChat whenever possible.
How to Negotiate with Alibaba Suppliers
The key to negotiating with suppliers is to determine the market price of your desired product.
Unless you know your product extremely well and the cost to manufacture it (VERY few people do) your absolute only way to know the fair price of your product is to receive competing offers which is why you need to contact several suppliers.
You should at this point start to receive prices from your suppliers. If they ask you how much you will be importing, let them know your ideal annual order amount (be an optimist but don't promise the moon) rather than the individual order amount.
Beware of suppliers that have very low prices relative to others. Normally, there is a catch to this. Typical catches include:
- Shipment terms are EXW as opposed to FOB, which makes it much more expensive.
- The material is of a much lower quality, e.g., 150 denier fabric instead of 600 denier fabric.
- They only accept extremely large orders.
Once you are comparing apples to apples, i.e., you know each supplier is quoting a product constructed of similar materials and with similar shipment terms, then ask the other suppliers if they can match the lowest offer. There's a temptation to lie and say “Your competitor Ningbo Saddles offered me these saddles for $24” when in fact they offered them to you for $34. Your supplier will smell you out, and you'll lose credibility. There is not as much room for price negotiation in China as there was previously. A 10% price discount is often huge.
At this point, you will likely have two or three suppliers with comparable prices and comparable products. You want to find a supplier that can accommodate your smaller order size.
Shipment Terms: What's the Difference Between EXW, FOB, and CIF?
As you're getting quotes, pay careful attention to the shipment terms. These are especially important if you're shipping your items via sea freight.
There are three common shipment terms that essentially determine who pays for shipping:
- EXW (Most Expensive for You): You have to pay for the cost of freight directly from your supplier's factory to your desired destination. Essentially you're paying the cost of Chinese Land Transportation and sea freight.
- FOB (Most Common): Your supplier will pay for shipping from their factory to the closest Chinese port. You will pay for the sea freight but your supplier will pay for the inland transportation in China.
- CIF (Least Expensive for You): Your supplier pays for the cost of Chinese inland transportation and sea freight to your desired port.
Read more on our article All About Shipment Terms.
How to Negotiate Low Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ)
When I'm first launching a product, I try to get as low of Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) as possible. Every supplier will have an MOQ which is really a Minimum Order Amount. Normally it's around $2500 to $5000. On a first order, the MOQ is quite flexible if you negotiate though.
For me, on my first order I like to order $500 to $1000 of an item and try it on Amazon and then proceed to a larger order. Again, for your first order most suppliers will be willing to ship such a small amount. I describe these to my suppliers as a “few samples”.
Very few suppliers can say no to having money paid to them in full.
Using Import Records to Find and Vet Suppliers and Snoop Competitors
One of the best things an importer can do is to use import records to help them find products to import and vet suppliers.
As mentioned, in America, import and export records are public information, however, the government does not catalog or give easy access to this information. However, there are tools that do allow you to easily search this information, the most popular and cheapest being Jungle Scout (others include Import Genius and Panjiva).
These tools allow you to:
- Find out what Chinese supplier a competitor is using (great for finding products)
- See how much a supplier exports
- Find out what suppliers export specific products
See our article A Secret Weapon for Doing Supplier Research
How to Order and Pay on Alibaba
Once you've picked a supplier and they've agreed to send your desired quantity, you're ready to pay for and ship your order.
Most suppliers will send you something called a proforma invoice, which is just a fancy word for an invoice.
If your order is smaller (under $5000 or so) use Alibaba's Trade Assurance or PayPal. This will more or less guarantee that your items are shipped but will not give you quality guarantees (despite what Alibaba claims). Once your orders get larger, most suppliers will expect a 30% deposit via wire transfer and the remaining 70% payment when the goods are ready. Suppliers don't typically like PayPal unless it's for smaller orders.
Order Several Samples Instead of One Sample
Many books and websites say that you should always order a single sample from a supplier and inspect it for quality. There are some problems with doing it this way:
- Your first sample is guaranteed to be of good quality. i.e., you will get the “Golden Sample.”
- The freight costs to get a single sample is outrageously high and shipping a few samples may not cost much more
- One sample gives you no chance to try and sell the item on Amazon, eBay etc.
Therefore, I always recommend people to order at least 10 of an item if possible at first. At the very least, this gives you a chance to sell the items on eBay or Amazon. If you import one sample and sell it the very first day on Amazon, you may have simply lucked out. Selling ten is a far better sample size.
How to Ship Your Products from China
If this is your first time ordering from China, it's often best just to ask your supplier to arrange for shipping and to add the charges to the invoice.
If you're shipping under 200 lbs, ship it via air with a courier such as UPS, FedEx, or DHL. Expect to pay $6 to $15 per pound with a minimum charge of $75 or so. Shipping air is easy and you basically just tell your supplier the address you want your items shipped to.
If you're shipping over 200 lbs, you will want to go via sea freight which can be quite a bit trickier to organize and you'll need a freight forwarder to help you organize. It's only tricky the first couple of times though, so don't be too intimidated. Check out our full length blog post on how to ship via sea freight.
If your goods are being shipped to the US and are valued at under $800, then there will be no duty charged because of America's very generous de minimis rules.
If you're shipping your products to Amazon FBA warehouses then check out our article How to Ship Your Goods from China to Amazon FBA.
Why is Shipping from Alibaba and China So Expensive?
Shipping items from China overall can be very expensive due to the distance. Overall, shipping via air from China is very expensive but quite quick. Shipping via sea is quite cheap but very slow (typically 30 to 60 days).
If an item is under 5 lbs it can actually be shipped for quite cheap from China but very slowly using something called ePacket.
If your item is heavier then normally you can expect to pay around $6-15 per pound with a minimum of $75 or so.
How to Review Your Shipment for Problems
If you've had your order shipped via air, then it should arrive in anywhere from 3-10 business days. If via sea, this will be more like 30 to 60 days. When your shipment arrives, here are some things to inspect, which may be talking points for future orders:
- Quality. Is the product the quality you expect? Use and abuse the product for a bit of time. Does it hold up how it should? If not, remember that you've likely received their best quality samples and quality is only expected to be the same or decrease on future orders.
- Packaging: Is the packaging sufficient to ship to your customer? Or was everything lumped into one box and you need to purchase all new shipping boxes? If so, request your items to be boxed on future orders.
- Instructions. Did it come with instructions (if applicable)? If not, does your supplier have instructions? If they don't, you should start creating or borrowing some and include them with your product.
- Does your item have “Made in China” marked somewhere on the box? If not, you should request this on the next order as it's a legal requirement
Once you've received your order, you should email your supplier to let them know that you received everything but you have not had a chance to review the products yet and let them know that you will contact them shortly to discuss things and to hopefully make another order. There's no rush to do the above. Just like in dating, playing hard to get is sometimes a good strategy.
How to Buy Wholesale from Alibaba
While there are companies in Alibaba that allow buyers to purchase as few as one item, this e-commerce giant is designed mainly for wholesalers. As opposed to retailers, wholesalers purchase in bulk and generally do not sell to end-users.
Here’s a quick summary of the steps to successfully buy wholesale from Alibaba.
Determine the exact product you want to buy wholesale. Find a niche first, then pinpoint the exact products you want to buy. Be particular about the specifications, quality, and features of the product.
Search for the right suppliers and negotiate with them. The last thing you need is having to deal with a scammer. Once you find a reliable supplier, it’s time to talk about important factors such as the MOQ, product quality, and manufacturing lead time.
Ask for samples. Don’t take their word for it. Pictures are easily manipulated and you will be hard-pressed to find a supplier that will bad mouth their own products to potential customers. When asking for a sample, make sure to consider not only the product but also how it is packed.
Pay your suppliers. Fortunately for wholesalers, Alibaba doesn’t release the payment without a go signal from your end that you’ve received the products in good condition. You can always pay suppliers privately, but you will have to do this at your own risk. If you’ve already established a good relationship with them, then this wouldn’t be much of a problem.
Alternatives to Alibaba
There are several alternatives to Alibaba that exist, although none are anywhere near as exhaustive as Alibaba. We have a post that lists down 10 Alibaba alternatives for you. Some of these options include:
- 1688: This is the Chinese-only wholesale version of Alibaba for Chinese buyers. Use Google Translate if you don't know how to speak Chinese.
- Global Sources: Not as exhaustive as Alibaba and has more Hong Kong trading companies. However, the quality of supplier skews higher.
- AliExpress: If you want a small number of products, AliExpress is a good option although you'll pay slightly higher prices.
This covers most of the basics of using Alibaba to find suppliers and products. If you want a more in-depth guide to starting an importing and private label business, I strongly suggest you check out our mega guide on How to Import from China.
Do you think Alibaba is still a good place to find suppliers? Let me know below or share any other questions you have about buying from Alibaba.
Great blog and a lot of useful information.
How do you handle the case where the supplier cannot give you more than 1 sample ?
Looking forward for you next post
Are you asking for paid samples or free samples? In the rare cases they refuse to give more than 1 paid sample, just about the only thing you can do is to import the 1 sample and then do a larger order with their MOQ or find another Supplier who will be more accommodating (normally a trading company).
I am asking for 1 paid sample which they quoted it in RMB at a price 5 times bigger than an order of 1000 MOQ.
So they said, for example, 1 sample is $500 or if you order 1000 pieces, it is $100 each? Am I correct to assume that it is a higher ticket item? ($100+?)
Some suppliers have been known to do this in cases where consumers may just want to buy a one-off item for personal use and have no legitimate commercial interest in the product. You can ask to have the sample cost paid back on your order over 1000 pieces, which I’m sure they’ll oblige to. You’re definitely going to pay more for 1 piece than 1000 pieces, although 5x seems as a little high (I’ve personally paid around 2.5x more for one sample though)
Thanks David, this info is golden!
Hi i had read many email template and i try to come up with my own version of template which combine all the things that i read. Would you kindly tell me what need to fix or remove from these. because i dont want to appear un professional toward the supplier.
My name is _ from _ We are in the process of adding a _ to our product line and your product seems to be what we are looking for.
I have a few questions.
1. Do you offer samples and how long to receive 5 – 10 samples to Shenzen?
2. Can we pay using Paypal and do you accept Escrow payments?
3. Can we make a minor change to the products like the color. shape and size?
4. Can we brand with our logo?
5. Can you do custom packaging?
6. What is the cost of 500 – 1000 unit including shipping by DHL Air Express to United States?
7. How long for manufacturing once we place order?
8. Do you do label print and are you able to put the label and logo on the packaging?
9. Can we order 500 units for the first order?
Our first order of 500 unit will be a small test order and in the future will be ordering between 1,000 to 5,000 units. We are hoping the samples are up to our customer’s
expectations and quality standards. If we can begin ordering at least a few thousand per month minimum.
We are looking forward to hearing from you soon.
These are a lot of good questions to ask, but not in your first email. Your first email should be short and sweet, “I’m interested in this product, can you give me more details including price and MOQ”. Suppliers can get dozens of emails a day and they’re lucky if 1 of those emails results in a sale. Subsequently, they can’t spend an hour answering each email, so they may ignore a long email like this (which they rightly assume is a form email that you’re probably sending to a lot of Suppliers). Also, keep in mind, the Chinese HATE to say no. Your answer to many of these questions will almost certainly be ‘yes’ which doesn’t mean anything (“Sure, you can change the shape and size, if you order 100,000 units”). IMO, you need to get really specific on many of these questions, and you can get to that level of specificity until later in negotiations. For example, what do you mean branding with your own logo? Do you know want your logo on the actual mold and imprinted on the product? Do you want their full color stock packaging to incorporate your logo? Or do you simply want a sticker of your logo applied to the product?
Just viewed your blog and thought it was great however I have just 3 questions for you personally
1. How much roughly will my import tax + VAT cost if I was to order 500 – 1000 units each unit about £0.80p each
2. How do I pay all of these expenses vat + import tax etc through post office ? Or do they charge me at my front door when the good are delivered I’m very confused about this part
3. The last and main question is do I basically need to up my price tags on my items for me to actually make money if I’m paying so much in the first place to just receive it ?
Depends. Whatever VAT is where you live and typically 0-100% in duties. Really varies though depending on the product and location.
If it’s under $1000 normally UPS or the carrier will bill you directly.
3. Up your price tags?
Once again thanks for your information.
If I’m looking for a custom designed product, should I request a sample of the similar product or should I wait until they customized the product and ask for around 10 samples?
It depends how customized you’re getting. If you’re changing the color, sure, one sample of a similar product and then a few of the finished product works. If it’s a completely new product with a custom mould, CAD designs, etc. you’re probably going to have several sample iterations from start to finish. There’s a really good podcast here: http://www.ecommercefuel.com/product-manufacturing-process/
I want to start buying items from China much better to Vietnam, India, Thailand or other countries aside from.China. Do you have any information where I can find it? I like to start selling products via on-line but I dont know how to start. I’d been reading many article about it. I want my order be a door to door delivery. Do I need to say that I dont have necessary papers or business papers because I’m just testing the water. If profitable. If profitable, that’s the time I will apply for a permit
Glad to hear. Check out some of our other articles here :)
Thank you for sharing your insight. I wanted to ask for your advice. When is the right time to negotiate the price for my first commercial bulk order? Right before I buy their sample or right after I received their product sample?. I have found a supplier in China thru Aliexpress who can do private label on the product for a much lower MOQ vs Alibaba. $17 is the listed price on Aliexpress and the sample is $35 excluding shipping. I have not given a go signal yet to buy their sample.
I’d definitely wait until after you receive the sample. Once you’ve paid for and received a sample it indicates a lot more seriousness by you and they’ll in turn negotiate more seriously :)
Hi, I am actually researching to buy a laser cutting/engraving industrial machinery. I have seen similar products with a huge variant of price range. Most of the product has MOQ of 1 so it is different to the products mentions in this site. But it has price range listed in the Alibaba.com site. So my question is for this kind of product, can you negotiate below the quoted price range?
Of course you can, especially seeing it’s a relatively high ticket item. For something like this, a 10% discount might be huge though.
Thanks for the reply David. I’ve tried to contact some of the company and gotten some of the response. And I noticed that the company name is not clearly specified although with some effort you could figure out what the company is. So I wonder if it to prevent buyer going directly to the seller bypassing Alibaba. Do you have any idea on this? Is there any advantage for buying through Alibaba site warranty or something like that?
And I purchase a smaller ticket item, a plot cutter, for my brother in the past in Guangzhou. I didn’t research the product but I was in town, so through several sources I check out a couple of local source. My experience was that some of the similarly priced product has a lot of different features. The plot cutter that I finally bought was capable of handling 30%-50% wider material, come with a stand and look newer & stronger than the next best offer which was similarly priced. So I think there can be a lot of variance in product quality. It seems to me that sometimes pricing depend on how aggressively your seller is doing. And for the product I am currently looking for there seems to be a lot more possible variance of feature. I am not sure of what is the general strategy here. Any tips?
There’s no advantage/disadvantage to the seller bypassing Alibaba. Alibaba charges a flat annual fee to sellers, not a commission so they don’t care if a buyer contacts a seller outside of Alibaba. Is it a Gold Supplier who has the ambiguous name?
Like any country, some sellers may price their product more aggressively than others but more often than not, everyone is similarly priced. 20% variance between Suppliers is normal I would say, but 50% seems like a lot. You want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples though (if two machines have different features, even if the differences are small, it makes it difficult to compare prices).
I think it is a Gold Supplier. On the company profile tab the name of the company is not written, just it’s company type and location. I had to ogle the image for the brand to find out the company name.
It seems that there is actually certain standard for each competitive price point and some seller is trying to pass their product at higher price point. I wanted to inspect the product if I can to try to get the best product at an affordable price point. Next week, I am planning to go to Guangzhou so I thought of looking for the stuff along the way. However most of the product’s company so far is located in Shandong which is pretty far away. I have to check out for stuff at a closer distance from Guangzhou if I can. Yet I am not sure how to do this with Alibaba site. If their headquarter in Shandong, it is difficult to find out if they have a showroom in Guangzhou using Alibaba site. I am not sure if the port can usually be used a guideline as mostly are in Qingdao, Shanghai and Guangzhou; I could probably fly to Shanghai or try the express 6 hours train. Also for now I am not sure if it is necessary to look all the way to Shandong or simply check around Guangzhou.
Great website you’ve got here, lots of very useful info! I’m a newbie to importing and have just started to find my way around Alibaba. I have a question about the “Business Identity’ on there…how important is it that it gets verified before I contact potential suppliers? Will they take me less serious if my business profile is ‘unclear’? And does the same go for my member profile? (not sure what the difference is actually…?) Should I upload a personal photo and my address details etc to the website or does it not really matter? I’m a little hesitant to put all my personal information out there if I’m not sure who I’ll be dealing with yet… I have a name and logo for my business but it’s not an official company on paper at the moment, can I still use the logo etc in my profile on Alibaba?
Hope you can help me shed some light!
thanks and best wishes, Sofia
You should be fairly selective with what informat ion you put up there. If you readily post your phone number chances are you’ll have Suppliers calling you the next day :) If you’re having difficulty getting responses, then you can start to add some more information.
Every time someone messages a Supplier it shows the location of the buyer via their IP, so a Supplier can verify if you’re from a ‘good’ country. So in other words, they’ll likely look more at your country location than anything that you post in your profile.
Hi, just an additional question after some more research today :-) : I have established a list of 7 potential suppliers now, of which 5 actually have their own websites. Is there any advantage in approaching them through their own website initially or best to go through ALibaba? Thanks :-)
There shouldn’t be any advantage to going direct. ALibaba Suppliers pay a flat fee and not a commission, so they’re prices should not be any lower or higher on either.
Hi, I am new to private labeling. I found a product which I would like to import from China but I have many questions regarding this and was hoping if someone could help me.
1. I have contacted many suppliers and a trading company gave me best price rather than a manufacturing company. Is it okay to order from a trading company (with registered capital of RMB 30000 and 1 year gold supplier)?
2. My supplier wants me to pay 50% of paypal handling fee. Should I accept this?
3. If I pay the 30% of the order value before manufacturing then when should I pay the remaining?
4.Should I ask for any certificates or some proof of warranty??
5. Should there be a contract written for the current order ?
6. I am planning to start with a small order. How to start the negotiation process for it?
7. There is very little information about the product in Alibaba. Is that normal?
1) Yes, nothing wrong with a trading company. Some people think you get a higher price from them, but this isn’t always the case.
2) What is the handling fee? Shipping fee? If so, then you’re lucky they’re only asking you to pay 50% and not 100%
3) Once they send you a copy of the shipping documents.
4) Sure, although none of it will really be enforceable.
5) You don’t necessarily need a formal written contract but you you need a document very clearly listing specifications et al. i.e. type of packaging? How are the items boxed? colors? instruction manuals? Shipping terms? (FOB?)
6) Try and get a 10-20% discount. Might be tough for a small order though.
7) It depends. Is it patented?
This was a really good post. I was wondering about the packaging. If you want your logo stickers on the packaging, how do you go about it? Are they able to produce the stickers and attach them if you supply them with the vector file?
Of course – it just comes at a price. Stickers are by far the cheapest and many will do it for free. Full color packaging you’ll almost always pay for unless you order a very large quantity.
Thanks for the wealth of information! I recently purchased your ebook too, what a great resource for my startup ecommerce business. One question I have, which I can’t seem to find an answer for, being from Canada, do we need to have both english and french on the packaging? And on the instructions? Will the suppliers add both languages? Thanks!
I would expect your Supplier to add no instructions let alone translate them :) They might provide in English if you’re lucky. The retail packaging laws in Canada are complex and I don’t understand them completely – with that being said, from experience, it’s not something Canada customs is aggressive about looking for. I could be wrong but I don’t think they check for it at all – its regulated after import by another agency.
I am new into this import business, I found the products, but how to make sure these products are in compliance with USA CPSA, CPC regulation. Lot of seller gave me certifications from EU standard, but no one is providing any certification related to USA regulation.
Can you help me if there are any specific regulation which needs to be present during custom verification and I should be aware of if product is for kitchen or kids toy category, since most of products contains plastic parts.
Thanks for your help
Yes, it’s quite common they have EU certification but not U.S. certification. I believe in the U.S./Canada there’s a lot of onus on the importer and not just the manufacturer. Unfortunately I’m not confident enough on the regulations on certain products like toys to give you any advice.
Thank you for such a great information.
I am a new online retail store owner. I have selected a supplier in china. I have been advised that the supplier can drop ship directly to my customer. The supplier will charge me $16 for drop shipping to customer and $2 to process PayPal. Is this a good deal or not. Most of my product orders will be around $100 or more.
Only you can be the judge of this. Is it still profitable for you? If it is, then it would appear to be a good deal.
This was really informative, Im new to this world and took away some really good stuff. One question – Is it normal practice for them to want to discuses the order over whatsapp? Almost all of the suppliers i have contacted have requested my number to talk on whatsapp? then pay through paypal. I have placed two orders this way and the packages are indeed on there way as i can see them via the tracking but this form of contact seems a little off?
YES. Every Supplier wants to talk via Whatsapp or WeChat. I hate it – email keeps things much more organized, but that’s just the way they do it.
Hi David, I am from Toronto and new to online selling. I have identified a product and contacted several suppliers from Alibaba. However, I plan to buy a few samples from AliExpress as they have good product-specific reviews. Once I receive the samples, I will connect with the supplier for bulk. Is this the right way to approach.
Also, AliExpress does not have PayPal option, what would be the safest payment mode?
You can do it this way but the person on Aliexpress may not be the manufacturer and/or be able to offer a lot of discounts. I’ve never purchased through Aliexpress actually so I can’t confirm what the best payment method is.
My first Amazon order I did not have to deal with customs. Everything was smooth from China to FC. My Alibaba supplier handled everything. Is that called FOB?
I am worried that there might be future misunderstandings and my product will get stuck somewhere in US or get rejected by Amazon due to customs.
My second question is related to Amazon Canada. I am based in Vancouver – should I just ship it to me first and then ship it out to the warehouse (I think its in Surrey?)
If it shipped into Amazon directly from China that would be closer to CFR. Assuming it was going to the USA, your order was likely under $800 or your supplier undeclared the value on the invoice. Be careful if your value starts to exceed that $800 “de minimis” threshold and be aware that in Canada that $800 threshold is $20. Yes, if you’re in Vancouver and shipping to Amazon.ca probably easiest to ship to you first although Amazon will very likely have you send the goods to their Ontario warehouses but you can use their cheap partnered carrier discounts.
I am currently in the process of ordering 300 t-shirts from an alibaba supplier. They have offered a great price and samples. However, when I ask how much for shipping they tell me they cannot quote the shipping charge until they list the cargo. They have offered the PI but with no shipping cost. I am wondering if this is a normal thing or is this a scam? This is my first time purchase through alibaba.
Hmm, scams are rare but it sounds odd. They should be able to ballpark a shipping charge – chances are there’s some confusion somewhere in the line. If you get the dimensions and the weight you can estimate the shipping charges on your own.
Hi Dave. Thanks for this article. I really learned a lot. I have now selected my supplier and asked them to send me 3 invoices (PayPal, Western Union, and Bank Transfer) They are charging me an extra “handling fee” for Bank Transfer and Paypal. Is this normal? Thank you so much in advance.
Yes, fairly normal nowadays although it can be a point of negotiation.
why is the supplier contacting me through his personal email – not via alibaba? should I answer?
Not sure why they do it but it’s not that unusual. Take the usual precautions though.
Nice info sir kindly tell tell me is the supplier listed on Ali baba aap reliable 2.is it good to pay 25dollar for samples via West union on the individuals name.
Too many variables in this question to answer it.
I found my supplier through Alibaba and am using Trade Assurance for my initial order.
I drafted a PO and the supplier agreed to the terms. I found after paying the 30% to get the order started, the supplier is less responsive and is not sticking to the terms (production run has exceeded agreed upon 30 days and the supplier is very non committal to providing a ready date).
(And now they’ve shut down for Chinese NY!)
Have you had a similar experience with a supplier not maintaining the terms of the agreement? Would you recommend complaining to Alibaba? What recourse is there?
I’m starting to think the purchase order agreement is not worth the paper it was printed on..
The general rule is to take whatever delivery time your supplier gives and double it. You should have penalties written into your PO next time- when you ask for that they will probably quote a more reasonable delivery time of 45 days (30 days is very short and unrealistic). You’re money is almost certainly safe but delays are the number one annoyance in manufacturing, especially in China.
Hi Dave, first, thanks for the blog post. While I’ve successfully ordered once through Alibaba, there’s clearly a lot to learn. I’m getting ready to place a second order, and I’m wondering if there are options to consider with shipping cost. The items I’m ordering this time are small (food packaging bags) and relatively light-weight. I estimate that the entire package would be roughly ~50lbs. The problem is that shipping effectively doubles the cost. Are there slower shipping options that I should request that might lower the cost?
At 50 lbs you can only really do air shipping. Even up to 500 lbs or so air is probably going to be cheaper for you. You will simply have to factor this into your cost. If you can’t be profitable with those shipping costs, unfortunately there won’t be a lot you can do to reduce the your shipping costs unless you plan on order 100x as many bags (possibly even more!).
Thank you for all the info you have provided for Alibaba. I wanted to buy an angel monument for my parents cemetery plot. Prices here in the US are 3 or 4 times as much and I believe they get the same item from china. Is there a specific company you would know that others had experience with for a granite monument. We are looking at about 8k cost or more. People here at monument companies tell me if I don’t go through them I’ll lose money or it’ll get stuck in customs for a year and I won’t be able to get item. They tell me they only deal with one or two places out there…but how can I find these? I have been looking at gold members who say they have been in business 9+ years… but I don’t know. I’d hate to lose 1/2 dep…and never hear from them again. I live in boston … I don’t even know if there’s a port in boston (I think it may be NY where they ship from). Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
There’s too many questions for a blog comment, but the best place to check is Alibaba. If you’re only looking to purchase one though then it will likely be very difficult for you to import it affordably.
Hi, we always ship the item to oversea but always facing the problem, due to customer order item like cosmetics etc, most DHL, FedEx, there don’t ship the sensitive item, does any idea solve this?
Yes, products with hazmat issues can be a problem. Unfortunately I don’t have an easy answer for you.
Only Gold Suppliers are allow to reply to enquiries. Non-Gold suppliers can read the enquiries, but are not allowed by Alibaba to reply. The enquiring customer is not told this when they message, so it can make the supplier look bad when they don’t reply. One would have to find a way to contact the supplier outside Alibaba. I would only do this if I were planning to visit and vet the potential supplier in person. Here is a link to Alibaba FAQ: https://service.alibaba.com/ensupplier/faq_detail/20435526.htm
Thanks Kevin for the great advice! Never knew that.
Hope you are well. Thank you for all the information. I am so glad I found your website!
I have found a product and now I want to buy it from Alibaba. I would like to use PayPal for payment but the payment options say “PayPal for offline orders” Does this mean that I will not be buying the product on the Alibaba platform? To me it sounds a little risky but I am not sure I want to use my credit card. What would you suggest?
Any advice will be greatly appreciated! Thank you :)
Yes, Alibaba does not support PayPal for payments through their platform. PayPal has a lot of buyer protections though.
I submitted an request for a sample of 1 product and so I paid $50 as the seller asked me to. There’s a Trade Assurance Contract. After I paid, the seller said that the minimum is 1000 pcs, which is not what I was looking for. I’m still hoping to receive the sample since I paid for it, but I was wondering if I will be charged for the 1000 pcs after the ‘initial payment’, which was the $50. I’m worried about being charge +$10000.
No, you won’t be charged for 1000 pcs unless you want to buy them.
Great blog! Discovered you guys from a mention on the Tim Ferris Show from Allen Walton, and have been reading and listening to the podcast since. Not currently involved in the Ecom-world, but your site paints a realistic picture of what is involved. Keep up the great work and hopefully I will be able to meet you guys one day and have an ecomm business to show you based off of what I have learned from EcomCrew.
All the Best!
Thanks Matt- love to have new readers and listeners :)
Great article Dave! This is incredible free content. I’ve already been through the process but picked up a few things that I can definitely do better. Thanks!
Thanks Mike – appreciate the comments.
Hellow, I want to ask a question about the collection account holder in citybank Singapore, which is int he name of Alibaba.com Singapore E-commerce Private Limited. I am a buyer and after all the negotiation process with the provider under the trade assurance method, i need to deposit the money via bank transfer under trade assurance, in this bank account. I want to know if it is Alibaba account number, and if are they going to retain the money until the goods arrive to my place, and then, alibana can deposit the money to the provider. The collection account holder is with alibaba.com singapore e-commerce private limited, and, account name is with the provider´s name. is it trusworthy or not? can i make the deposit or not, and if so, who is the right holder of the account? Many thanks.
Sounds legit but I don’t want to steer you one way or the other.
Very insightful post. why do i have to make sure my product are marked with ‘made in china’ though
Country of origin markings are required by law.
I am a solo Land Survey company and I purchased a GNSS system last year. In looking through this same seller’s ads(and a few others) – I see that similar whole systems seem to be advertised at half or less of what I paid and what is being quoted now. By weight and the pictures on the ads it is clear that there is either a big mistake or that some are getting these systems at basically half of my price as a small customer. I found two separate ads from my previous dealer that clearly show that this is a 1+1 receiver system for half of my quotes. I mentioned this and supplied the images and info back and this seller claims that these quotes are only for a half system, one receiver. Any advice is appreciated!
Hmm, too many variables for me to make much of an assessment.
Thanks for the great info, Dave.
I’m finding that sellers on Alibaba are currently not very responsive to my requests (not following up/seem interested with my questions/ RFQs); do you know if this is due to the corona virus or is this typical? What’s going on over there in the factories?
Yes the Coronavirus will definitely be impacting both their staffing and interest in working with new clients. Make sure your initial requests are easily answered – not in-depth questions about customizing xxx product in 43 different ways – save those for future emails :)
Hi Dave, I have setup my store on shopify and have agreed a 30% discount with my supplier through aliexpress. I am using Dsers to process shipping and order management. My question is once I receive an order from a customer and go to fulfill it it and pay the supplier on AliExpress how do I get my agreed discount price and not be charged the standard prices displayed on their shop. Does the supplier provide me a discount code or will they change my cost on AliExpress?
Haven’t used it in a while but I believe the supplier can send you an invoice with the discount reflected.
I live in Canada, i am comming up to start mu business with alibaba with 50 pieces of one item, but i don’t know for selling them would better to work with Amazon in US or in Canada? Second, if i started with my logo and in change pay $50 to supplier makes sense or not? Third, wiring the payment to suppliers via any bank of canada is advised and doesn’t bring any charge? Forth, having sample is advised befire buying or based on review and market background of that item would be enough to waste the time . Fifth, if we wanted to reduce the price of our item in amazon, is it a complicated process or like a editing in kijiji, in amazon as well we can do it? Sixth, if something that i sell in amazon is selling with others, then i go under their umbrella or i can be independent in the amazon site?
Lots of questions here, check out our FBA for Canadians group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FulfilledByAmazonForCanadians/
how do you sold issues like – the shipping fee is higher than product itself? Is there some sort of 3rd party person or what? How? :(
Too vague of a question.
Thank you for this post. I will be checking your podcast too. We definitely benefit with such good support. Thank you again!
Great post! I am placing an order that requires an expensive custom mold, and they are asking for the entire payment upfront. Fortunately, they are not asking for an unreasonably large MOQ, but I am concerned about the resulting product quality, especially since there is a substantial upfront cost. I was hoping you could expound on one comment regarding Trade Assurance:
“This will more or less guarantee your items are shipped but will not give you quality guarantees (despite what Alibaba claims).”
So should I completely discount the quality guarantee? I don’t see I how I can place the order if this is the case. My plan was to be super specific in the order details so as to avoid any issues with quality. Will this give me some measure of certainty that my order will be covered in case there is an issue? What do you suggest? Thanks.
I would assume Alibaba will not cover quality at all. If you specify the product needs to be 11.5mm wide and they make it 11.4mm wide, Alibaba isn’t going to police that.
Hi Dave, I’m a US based Sourcing agent of about 12 years. I developed a custom web based software to replace my using Google Sheets to manage all my suppliers, interactions, quotes, product specs etc. Spreadsheets are great, but limited. I’m now trying to get feedback from other experienced agents. I was wondering if I could give you a login so you can see it for yourself and let me know what you think.
Looks like an interesting site and servivce!
Hi Dave thank you for the value provided in this post.
In one comment you mention that Canada has a $20 maximum to not pay duties?
I am wondering because I am about to order from Alibaba and I have a 16kg package of wooden nickels with shipping that will only cost $75USD DDP (duties, all included) to my house in Vancouver, Canada.
Is this price too low—does it sound fishy?
Hi, can you tell me why some sellers from alibaba. Com. Want to use Wats up instead alibaba chat?
Thank you very much for the informative article.
My question: Should I be skeptical when two suppliers use pics that are exactly the same?
Could mean one or both have never made the product and are waiting for orders before producing.
Hi, just placed my first order with a supplier through trade assurance on Alibaba. I am new at the game so excuse what might seem like a silly question. So I have paid a 30% deposit with balance on shipment. My question is how do I get an invoice covering this initial amount as I need to reconcile this payment within my accounts. I have a proforma from the supplier for the whole amount but have paid through Alibaba which includes a small fee. So do I get an invoice from Alibaba at some stage?
You normally only get an invoice for the full amount.
Hi, thank you for the article. I was just wonder how do I keep the shipment cost down? I want to buy something in bulk moq is 2000 pieces at .20 cents each but shipping price goes up to almost 4000,00.
If I send a sample for myself to vancouver, then Is it cheaper to buy the moq and ship it to Amazon warehouse?
How can I start fba with buying products I think will be good profit. The only thing stopping me from ordering is the shipment cost. How does Amazon handle the receiving of your products and packing them? For example if they’ll products come in a big box 150, how do you get them to pack only 6 or 12 to ship to a customer?
There are huge economies of scale in shipping. You might be paying $4000 for 2000 pieces, but there’s a good chance you wouldn’t pay much more for significantly more units. The key is to try and get as close to 67CBM (a 40′ container) as possible as this will be your absolute optimal shipping cost.
It’ll likely cost more to ship it to you in Vancouver and then to Amazon FBA USA, however, I’d still recommend this as there’s a lot that can go wrong trying to ship direct from China to the USA.
The reason I’d like to ship to myself is because I’d like to use some of the products for my line of work but also want to start selling on amazon. What steps did you take and how do you go about this issue yourself when you first find a product? Do you have a video or article to help work with this? Id like to start but because of the shipping experience that I don’t have and limited money, I am afraid to go ahead. It would be my first product but I am desperate to make it work since it is my last attempt at building a good future. I appreciate your transparency!
1. you placed order and bought the items from China;
2. you need to find someone who lives in China to collect these parcels/packages;
3. who will open the cartons to check the quality and repack them according to your instruction into new parcels/packages
4. this packages or parcels will be not larger than 50*45*45cm, or something large like it;
5. then send these small /saperate parcels to you.
I could do these works for u
You mention to avoid baby products as there are a lot of restrictions that come along with them. Ironically, the business I am interested in starting would be marketing baby/mom items. Would you recommend staying away from this area all together, or just avoiding Alibaba when looking for inventory?
Hi Patricia – the biggest thing is to make sure you find out any import restrictions and testing requirements.
I’m new to this and I’m about to placed and order of $1,900 and my shipping cost is $810 is this correct . I honestly think is way over charging. Please help me . Thank you in advance.
Depends on what it is, but assuming it’s over 50kg or so, it wouldn’t sound absurd.
Hi im new to this and im planning to order to dubai what would suggest the shipping charges should be and which shipping method should i use.
Depends on the size of the shipment more than anything.
Thanks for this great article.
I am wondering about something that isn’t often discussed – is it ever possible to buy products from Alibaba with legitimate certifications (e.g. a product that is fully FCC certified)? I keep finding that no suppliers have a legitimate certificate for their electronics-based products (some have a certificate but it seems fake).
This is something that I am really struggling to find an answer to. It would seem to me that I would need to get every new product lab tested to ensure compliance, which will set me back about $200-$300USD per product. Maybe it is the case that most online sellers are selling technically illegally (maybe they think the risk is too low to worry about being certified properly).
Any guidance on this would be really appreciated, because most guides never touch on this subject.
Yes, very possible, but takes some time to weed out the poor quality suppliers.
buen dia david, me gusto mucho el como describes lo refeente a las compras en china por medio de alibaba, mi pregunta es … ? y de antemano tedoy las gracias por tu atinado comentario, puedo comprar en china por medio de alibaba y vender ahi mismo tambien en alibaba ?
¡Hola, Severino! Alibaba es un directorio de fabricantes y proveedores, no realmente una plataforma de ventas. Tu puedes comprar productos a traves de Alibaba y los puedes vender en otras plataformas como Aliexpress y Amazon
Iam planning to start selling on Amazon from Toronto, my biggest challenge is to figure out hie the whole shipping works fir small items by air and hiw custom is cleared on these??
Hi, i am ordering items from 5 different suppliers on alibaba. Would it not be cheaper if they placed all goods in one box? If so, how can this be arranged?
Yes it would be cheaper but arranging it is difficult – it requires the other 4 suppliers to ship to 1 supplier and consolidate there.
Hi, I used Alibaba coupon codes and promo codes but able to use a single code only on a single order. Is it possible if I can use more than one coupons on a single order ?
Hey, John! Typically, most e-commerce websites, including Alibaba, allow the use of only one coupon or promo code per order. This means that you can apply only one coupon or promo code per order.