How to source, pay, and manage products from Alibaba.com

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Economic globalisation, the removal of cross-border trade barriers and advances in transportation, mean it has never been easier to find a manufacturing or wholesaling partner halfway around the world.

China has experienced exponential growth over the past few decades, breaking the barriers of a closed economy to evolve into a manufacturing, exporting, and consumer hub of the world. Doing business with this large and complex market has become critical to many companies buying and selling internationally.

For decades vast trade fairs such as the renowned Canton Fair were Chinese exporters’ main link to foreign buyers. UK buyers could touch and feel the products on offer to gauge quality, gain direct contacts to the suppliers/manufacturers in their industry, and start to build a relationship.

This traditional way of doing business, however, faces growing competition from companies such as the Alibaba Group, which not only connect buyers and exporters 24/7 online, but also provide new avenues to support the development of trust and peace of mind.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions as well as  trade fair cancelations (such as the Canton Fair which was cancelled for the first time in 63 years), resulted in an accelerated shift towards digital and remote engagement.

According to recent findings from McKinsey1, 70%~80% of B2B buyers now prefer remote human interactions and digital service, because of the ease of online scheduling, savings on travel expenses, and safety concerns. The research also shows that 70% of B2B buyers are now open to place high-ticket orders that exceed $50,000 online through end-to-end digital self-serve.

In this article, we look at how you can use Alibaba to find a new supplier for your product in an efficient and secure manner, whether you are purchasing from Alibaba for the first time, or are an established and experienced importer.

Disclaimer: Before making any purchases from Alibaba.com, be sure you read the most up-to-date information and safeguards to protect your purchase.

What is Alibaba?

If you have decided to source your products from abroad online, Alibaba is likely to be your first stop. Since its launch in 1999, Alibaba has become the leading platform for global wholesale trade, and one of the largest ecommerce companies in the world, earning $78.6 billion in revenue in 20202 . It is also the most comprehensive business directory, connecting millions of buyers and sellers from all over the world.

It’s not just China based sellers either. Quality wholesalers from all over the world now use alibaba.com to sell their products. If you are interested in finding out how you can sell YOUR products on Alibaba, click here for more information.

As one of the world’s largest global B2B marketplaces, alibaba.com has 150+ million registered members, 26 million active buyers , more than 150,000 sellers, and receives in excess of 340K product inquiries daily3 . There’s not much you won’t find in its directory.

You can also use Trade Assurance, a free transactional protection service, to secure your purchases made via the alibaba.com payment portal.

Things to consider when choosing a supplier

Review the company profile

You can assess sellers by looking at the information in their profiles. The information is both verified and unverified by Alibaba, whose verification program includes several levels of authentication. Badges on a seller’s profile help you know what steps they have taken to prove they are a trusted partner.

  • Gold supplier: alibaba.com members that have been verified as businesses with commercial or industrial capabilities.
  • Verified seller: a gold supplier whose company profile, management, production capabilities, product, and process have been assessed, certified, and/or inspected by third-party institutions.
  • Trade assurance supplier: gold suppliers who accept payment through alibaba.com, enabling Alibaba payment and order protection.

If you are making a large purchase, it would also be worthwhile considering an independent third-party service located in Asia that will visit factories on your behalf to verify the supplier and product quality. When dealing with a new supplier for a large order, a few hundred dollars extra for added piece of mind may be well worth it.

Dig deeper by sending a message

Unlike other platforms, you can speak directly to sellers on Alibaba to customise your order, negotiate prices or learn more about their business.

Once you have created a short list of sellers, it’s time to reach out. Be sure to ask a lot of questions about their company and goods. Request whatever will make you feel more at ease doing business with someone halfway around the world, for example:

  • Ask for a copy of their business license
  • Ask for a phone number—and actually call it
  • Have a Skype meeting with your contact
  • Ask for photos of the factory and sample products

 

Ways to connect with sellers

  • Write a detailed message. Start an inquiry by clicking “Contact Seller” on the product detail page.
  • Keep track of conversations. Find all your messages within “My Alibaba” in the Message Center.
  • Use the mobile app. Simplify communication with real-time translation and video chat features.
  • Attend online trade shows. Save time and money by attending category-specific digital events to network and assess industry trends.
  • Download WeChat. Talk with potential suppliers in real-time and get a better sense of what the working relationship will be like. However, it is important to note that once you decide on a supplier you should keep 100% of your communication within the Message Center – otherwise your Trade Assurance protection may not be upheld.
Communication tips

  • Suppliers will often use software like Google Translate to translate both your email and their answer back to you. Remember that online translation is still a work in progress, so expect some errors.
    Keep your emails short, succinct, well-formatted, and free of spelling errors to ensure that correspondence is as straightforward as possible. This will not only benefit the supplier but will also provide you with more valuable responses.
    Number your questions when asking them and format your emails to suppliers so they can quickly respond to each one – this will help keep communications neat and tidy.

 

Attend an online trade show

Social distancing doesn’t mean businesses need to compromise on building connections with sellers, or sharing knowledge and insights. Virtual trade shows can be accessed via the top menu bar on alibaba.com.

Online Trade Shows provide real-time interactive, curated experiences designed to help buyers and sellers meet online. Participating sellers present their capabilities and products to interested buyers live streaming from around the country.

Buyers can also attend pre-scheduled 1:1 meetings with sellers to continue the conversation.

Get samples

It should go without saying that you should get samples to review and verify consistency and quality before investing any substantial amount of money in inventory. Some buyers even contact a particular supplier using a different name and contacts details to source additional samples for comparison.

Early on in the negotiating process, you’ll want to inquire about sample prices. Some suppliers can charge full retail prices for them if they receive a lot of sample requests, while others may sell samples at a reduced rate or even provide samples for free if they believe you are a serious buyer.

Check for Trade Assurance

Trade Assurance is the safest way to buy products on Alibaba. In the event that either product quality or ship date varies from what you and the supplier agreed to in the Trade Assurance online order, Alibaba will offer you assistance in reaching a satisfactory outcome, including getting your money back.

Look for the Trade Assurance icon on product listing pages or ask your seller if it is offered. Adhere to all Trade Assurance rules to make sure your protection is valid, including messaging within the Message Centre instead of third-party apps.

This is not to say that working with suppliers outside of the Trade Assurance programme is bad, it just means you will have to do more research.

Find out more about Trade Assurance in our FREE guide.

Production monitoring and inspection

If you have opted for a Trade Assurance order, you can also add additional services such as production…

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