Most people making the plunge into importing will begin with Alibaba. The Alibaba website is very easy to use and you’ll find countless suppliers in no time. There’s other websites as well but the advice here more or less transfers to these other websites as well. Even if you’re familiar with Alibaba, this section will help you with some things maybe that you didn’t know and reminders of things you did know.
What is Alibaba?
Alibaba is essentially the eBay of international suppliers. A supplier that signs up gets a page briefly giving an overview of their company and then, the heart of Alibaba, a listing of all of their products. The biggest difference between eBay™ and Alibaba is that, for the most part, you cannot actually purchase products through Alibaba (more on that later). You use Alibaba to find a supplier and then communicate with them in private to negotiate a sale.
Here are two key points on Alibaba:
Alibaba has varying levels of subscriptions ranging from free memberships to paid memberships. To the buyer (you) there’s not a huge decipherable difference between free and paid members but, in theory, paid memberships give a higher degree of certainty that the company is real and not some scam artist sitting in a Nigerian internet café.
For the most part, you cannot buy products immediately through Alibaba- you have to negotiate a sale privately with the supplier. However, more and more suppliers are making their products available directly for purchase but this is still a very small fraction of suppliers.
Finding Three To Five Suppliers
Now that you have an idea of how Alibaba works, your goal is find three to five candidate suppliers for your desired product. You’ll begin by going to the Alibaba homepage and searching for your product. Most likely you’ll be returned dozens, if not hundreds, of search results for your products. You need to go through these search results and find three to five good candidate suppliers who you will then contact afterwards and requesting prices from. Use the checklist below to filter the good candidates from the not so good candidates.
Alibaba Profile Checklist
-Make sure you are dealing with Chinese suppliers only
-Ensure they are a “Gold Supplier”
-Look at the company name
-Look at the product pictures
-Google the company’s contact information
-Call the supplier if you have any doubts
Make sure you are dealing with only Chinese suppliers only: Beside each search listing is the country the supplier is from. Western companies from the U.S., Canada, etc. are now beginning to sell their products on Alibaba and they are way too expensive for us.
Ensure they are a gold supplier: Once you’ve found a Chinese supplier and clicked on their profile, ensure they are showing the “Gold Supplier” icon on the top left of the page. Gold Suppliers need to pay an annual subscription fee to Alibaba and have to remain in good standing to keep this badge.
Look at the company name: Take for example, a company name like “Xiamen Uway Import & Export Co., Ltd.” (this is a real company on Alibaba). The fact the company name includes “Import and Export Co.” generally means they are a trading company and not a factory (more on that later). It doesn’t apply 100% of the time, but it’s a good indicator. This may or may not be consequential to you but at least you now know what type of company you are dealing with.
Look at the product pictures: Are these amazing looking photos that you swear you’ve seen on other websites? A lot of trading companies recycle pictures of the most popular products sold by other brands because they could potentially manufacture a similar product if a company came to them with a huge order. By Chinese standards this isn’t necessarily a deceitful practice but it means these products are not really available for immediate import by you. By comparison, somewhat lower quality photos (especially with Chinese writing on the packaging) normally means the company has manufactured these products already and they are ready for immediate export.
Google the company’s contact information: View the supplier’s contact information and copy a piece of their address and search for it in Google. In the case of Xiamen Uway Import & Export Co. I searched Google for this part of their address “Room708,Baotuo Building,Sishui road 617#”. Google returned dozens of pages referencing of Xiamen Uway Import & Export Co.. This likely means the company has been around for a while and is a real company. If you get no results or only a couple of results, you should be alarmed and should definitely, at the very least, call the phone number listed.
Call the supplier if you have any doubts: If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a company, call them! Even if you don’t speak Chinese, wait for someone to pick up. Secretaries throughout the world all seem to have similar greetings which are decipherable no matter the language, “Xiamen Uway Import and Export Co., how can I direct your call?”. If you get something like this, hang up and take some comfort this company probably does exist somewhere in China. If you can never get an answer to your phone calls, red flags should be raised.
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