Many importers, even those new to the business, have heard of the twice-yearly Canton Fair in Guangzhou. But less well known is Yiwu, a city home to the largest wholesale market in the world. This market contains nearly 40,000 shops wholesaling nearly every commodity you can think of. One of the best things about it is that they can accommodate very low order sizes – just one or two cartons is completely normal (try requesting that at the Canton Fair!).
In this guide I'll explain who Yiwu is good for, who it isn't good for, and give you some helpful advice for visiting the market.
What Is Yiwu?
Yiwu is a wholesale market. What does that mean? It means that it's THOUSANDS of shops focusing on every niche imaginable from Christmas decorations to hair extensions. Each shop displays a few dozen or few hundred items with the catch being that you don't purchase the items for immediate purchase, you order them in bulk and get them delivered to you at a later date.
These are NOT factories at the market. These are trading companies who buy the goods from other factories. This is both good and bad. It's bad because it means that you're getting non-factory prices and have less control over customization. It's good because you get more variety, there are very low MOQs, and many shop owners keep stock and have short lead times.
How to Get to Yiwu and Where to Stay
Yiwu is about 2 hours west of Shanghai via high speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao. It is what is described as a “Tier 4” city meaning it's basically one of the smallest types of cities possible in China with just over a million people.
Yiwu train station is very small, especially compared with ultra-modern Shanghai's Hongqiao train station. All foreigners and “ethnic minorities” will be stopped for an identification check upon leaving the train station.
The city center and wholesale market is located about 20 minutes from both the train station and airport (about 30 RMB). Taxis are plentiful.
Most of the city's Western Hotels are located very close to the market. As with any travel accomodations in China, I recommend you to use Trip.com to book your hotel. The most popular hotels for foreigners (and that are within walking distance to the market) are:
- Yiwu Marriott
- The Shangri-La Yiwu
- Best Western Yiwu
Expect to pay $80-$120 per night.
The market is open nearly every day, 9-5, barring major Chinese Holidays.
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Importing from China
What Products Are at Yiwu?
The scale of the Wholesale market is nearly unimaginable. The wholesale market was formed in the 70s and over time has grown to become 5 “districts” (which are basically twice the size of any large shopping mall you can think of) containing around 4000 shops each. To walk from the start to the end it will take you nearly an hour. In reality, you'll need the better part of a day to really navigate the market. If you're buying many items, you'll need at least 2-3 days.
It's important to remember that Yiwu's slogan is “A city of small commodities”. In relation to Yiwu, a commodity is basically any relatively inexpensive, non-technical, mass-market item. Think things like stationary, Christmas decorations, picture frames, tourist gifts, suitcases, bags, and this type of thing. If you're looking for the next top of the line cutting edge solar product, Yiwu probably isn't your place.
Many shops at Yiwu are tailored for non-Western buyers. This means Yiwu's shop owners are trying to be everything to everyone – and it doesn't matter which God you pray to, everyone needs padlocks and keychains. For non-commodity items targeting various niches (i.e. automotive products, kitchen faucets, etc.) shows like the Canton Fair are a much better option than Yiwu.
The market has almost every single commodity you can think of. There's an entire floor for padlocks alone, an entire district is dedicated to jewelry, and hundreds of shops for stationary. Remember, there's over 40,000 shops!
Related Reading: How to Find the Perfect Product to Import from China
How to Navigate and Buy at Yiwu
Yiwu is massive and while it is somewhat organized into sections (i.e a section for jewellery, a section for toys, etc) it is very difficult to navigate. Fo
Yiwu shop owners are surprisingly non-aggressive. More often than not, when you walk into a shop no one will acknowledge you. Most shopkeepers also have limited or no English.
This difficulty in navigating Yiwu combined with the language issues is why many people elect to use a guide to navigate Yiwu. Search Google for “Yiwu guide” and you'll discover there's no shortage of guides. Almost all guides are free with the hope you will buy some products from the shops at some point and the guide's company will take a 2-5% commission. Here's what guides will help you with:
- A Yiwu guide will help you to navigate the market
- A Yiwu guide will help to translate and negotiate with shopkeepers
- A Yiwu guide can help to photograph and document products you're interested in
- A Yiwu guide will help to consolidate shipments and arrange shipping
Do you need a guide? No, but it will help you a lot. Personally, unless you are based in China and/or have someone managing Chinese suppliers full time I'd suggest getting a guide (I used guides from Partner Yiwu). You can do it on your own like anything, but at some point delegating work for any entrepreneur allows you to focus on higher value tasks.
Like I mentioned, shop owners are surprisingly not pushy at all. You were free to walk in and browse without being hassled to any serious degree (the fact that few of them spoke English makes aggressive selling difficult I guess!).
When you inquire about an item, most shop keepers will conveniently list the case pack number and the case dimensions. You must ask for prices and they're relatively fixed. Even if you're buying a container of goods, you can expect a 5-10% discount at most. Prices are quoted in RMB and with shipment terms EXW which is in contrast to the normal FOB quotations we normally get in USD.
When you find products that you want to purchase, payment will generally be made in full and you will be responsible for arranging logistics. Most people will be buying several products from several different shops – this again is where a Yiwu guide will help you in arranging logistics unless you have a freight forwarder who can help you with consolidation. A guide will also help do some minimal quality control like ensuring counts and colors. They can also bar code ($0.50-$1USD per 100 labels approximately) and package your items according to your specifications which is especially good for Amazon FBA sellers.
Should You Go to Yiwu?
So what are advantages of Yiwu over going to the Canton Fair and/or shopping off Alibaba?
Compared to the Canton Fair, easily the biggest advantage is the small order quantities allowed. Rarely will you be quoted more than 50 pieces for an MOQ. At the Canton fair you need to add at least one or two zeros to that number.
- Low MOQs
- Lots of variety
- Small lead times
- Low sales pressure
- Lack of selection for niche items
- Items skew towards lower quality
- You're not dealing with factories
- Little English from shopkeepers
With Yiwu the normal buying strategy is to buy several products from several shops. It's not uncommon for a buyer to purchase from 50 different shops and have them all shipped together in one shipment. With Alibaba, you may be able to buy a few pieces from a single buyer but you can't buy multiple items from multiple buyers (at least not as easily as Yiwu).
The biggest disadvantage to Yiwu is that it is focused purely on mass-market commodities. Things like soccer balls, pencils, jewelry, etc. Finding more niche items is very difficult. Most successful people I know selling online are selling more niche items, and Yiwu is probably a poor fit for them, myself included. In my businesses, I sell boating products and automotive products and these are nowhere to be found at Yiwu.
If you're running a website, some of the items here could make good add-on items. For example, my company has some decorative bottle openers we throw in for orders over a certain amount- this is a perfect Yiwu item. Most of the items also tend to be so ‘cheap' (I use this with both meanings of the word) that they probably would not make great standalone, home-run Amazon products. However, case packing many items together, i.e. a set of 10 bracelets, or bundling with other products, could potentially result in some profitable Amazon items.
As I alluded to, the items at Yiwu tend to skew towards the low-quality side (again, think dollar store items). Quality isn't always critical for commodities though, such as the bottle openers we import and I'm sure with enough hunting you could find reasonable enough quality products.
Visiting Yiwu confirms the sheer scale of Chinese manufacturing. The wholesale market is staggering in its size! No other country besides China could have a wholesale market like Yiwu and barely be on the radar of most importers.
Yiwu isn't going to be a haven of products for some people or maybe even most people. But any buyer who currently buys or will buy cheap commodities could definitely make a small fortune, especially compared to buying the same products from distributors and other middlemen locally. If you're unsure if Yiwu has products you may be looking for, reach out to a guide and they'll often be happy to let you know before you make the trip to Yiwu, free of charge.
The market is a fair distance from Guangzhou and Beijing, however, it is under 2 hours from Shanghai. If you're in the Shanghai area and you have a day or two to kill, it's definitely worth the trip as for some buyers it will definitely have a lot of potential.