10 Tips On Importing Wholesale Products From China Using Alibaba Or GlobalSources

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This post was written by Josh Nacol, a student in my Create A Profitable Online Store Course.

Recently Josh started importing goods from Asia for the very first time and wanted to share his experiences with my readers. Now in my class, I have an entire module dedicated specifically towards helping students import goods from overseas.

However, it’s one thing to learn and another thing to actually go out and do it. And Josh’s experiences just go to show that the best way to learn is to be aware of the guidelines, know what to expect and just take action!

A quick disclaimer: Josh had never done this before prior to joining my class and he was a bit intimidated early on by the process. But after going through it once, he realized that it wasn’t that bad.

10 Tips On Importing Wholesale Products From China Using Alibaba Or GlobalSources

As Steve mentioned above, I recently completed the sample sourcing process and wanted to share some tips and mistakes I made along the way. Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Tip #1: Never Assume Anything

When it comes to communicating with your vendors, you should never make any assumptions about product availability.

On multiple occasions I had vendors try to sell me products that were not displayed on their website. In contrast, I also requested samples of products that were displayed online but no longer available from the vendor.

Often times, a vendor’s website is not up to date and some vendors are better than others at maintaining their online offerings. I even had one instance where after paying for samples the vendor came back and informed me that 6 of the 9 samples ordered had been discontinued.

Moral of the story – Don’t assume something is or isn’t available. Make sure to ask and confirm prior to ordering and especially paying for any samples.

Tips on questions to ask:

  • Are there any new products or designs that are not currently displayed online?
  • Are there any products displayed online that were discontinued or no longer available?

Tip #2: Don’t Be Intimidated By Your Vendors

Most vendors that I dealt with responded in a quick and friendly manner, which reinforced the importance of relationship building. While in a few instances vendors seemed a little cold, most vendors were very eager to engage in conversation, answer questions and discuss samples.

For the most part, their written English skills were pretty darn good. Their ability to both send and receive emails exceeded my expectations. Also, make sure to be complimentary without overdoing it. For example: “I was looking at your catalogue and noticed you have some very nice products…”

Moral of the story – Vendors are real people just like you and me. Don’t be afraid to jump in and start a conversation.

Tip: All the talk these days is about Alibaba, but I actually had better luck with Global Sources. Make sure to give both websites a shot.

Tip #3: Trust Your Gut

Some vendors are almost too friendly. This is probably due to the cultural differences that exist but when I say too friendly I mean 2-3 emails a day, asking if you want to look at or buy something after you’ve explicitly declined or said no 3-4 times.

Editor’s note: I never use my main email address for Alibaba correspondence to avoid getting spammed by vendors.

While I’m sure most of these folks have good intentions, this behavior definitely raised a red flag due to the used car sales pitch (no offense to any used car salespeople)

Moral of the story – Trust your instincts. Give people the benefit of the doubt but go with your gut.

Tip: If you’re trying to source leather bags and the vendor is trying for the 4th time in 5 days to sell you cat beds, time to hit the spam button.

Tip #4: Be As Specific As Possible

Tailor your vendor inquiries for specific product categories. This might sound obvious but it’s important to be very specific from the start about what you are looking to buy including types of products, materials, size, color, etc.

As an example, I was searching for a variety of bags including leather bags. When I sent an initial email to one vendor who specialized in leather, I accidentally included photos of non-leather bags which caused some confusion.

I would also advise using an email template (I used the one provided in Steve’s course) but make sure to customize 10% of it to each vendor. If you want something made of polyester, specifically state in your email that you are looking for a polyester widget.

Otherwise, like me you might receive a different and most likely cheaper product or material than you intended.

Moral of the story – Don’t assume anything regarding product details.

Tip: Be very specific and ask the vendor to confirm product specifications before both production and shipping.

Tip #5: You May Not Get What You Expect

The ole saying, “ what you see is what you get” doesn’t necessarily hold true for Alibaba and Global Sources. Despite doing everything suggested above, there were a couple occasions where the samples I received were not the samples I ordered.

When I confronted the vendor as to why the products were different than what I ordered, the typical response was something along the lines of: “that product was discontinued or we only had this one other product ready for shipment…blah, blah, blah”

Moral of the story – You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t be afraid to hold a vendor accountable. Some might disagree on this one but my thoughts are if they can’t get a simple sample order correct, the likelihood of screwing up a bulk order is probably be higher.

Tip: Confirm the sample order prior to shipment and request photos of the samples to ensure they are accurate.

Tip #6: Most Vendors Expect Wire Transfers

Payments! Most vendors will allow you to pay via PayPal. Some have PayPal but will not tell you unless you ask so make sure to ask. In fact, with most vendors, I used wording along the lines of: “Our company policy states that first time samples purchases be made using PayPal”.

While most vendors will accept purchases through PayPal, they definitely prefer and will default to T/T (wire transfer) or Western Union. I paid via Western Union for one vendor and didn’t have any problems. I found it to be just as easy as PayPal but with Western Union you have no recourse to get your money back. Once the money is gone, it’s gone.

Moral of the story – Pay for most samples using PayPal but don’t be afraid to pay via wire transfer or Western Union. It’s not the end of the world.

Tip: I would recommend paying via wire transfer (T/T) with one vendor just for the practice. If it makes you feel better, choose a vendor who you will be paying a smaller amount of money to for samples. Although just a suggestion, doing this will help to familiarize you with all the routing and logistics related to international wire transfers.

If you decide to pay via wire transfer, make sure and confirm that you have the exact wire information including beneficiary information, address, swift code and account number. This point can’t be emphasized enough.

I learned the hard way with one vendor and it cost me $75 in wire fees. If one character is incorrect, then the Bank of China might relegate your funds to the Chinese banking void for an unspecified period of time. Plus, you’ll have to pay additional fees to your bank to either recall or amend the wire.

Tip #7: Always Obtain Samples

Samples are an investment. Pharmaceutical companies are notorious for spending millions of dollars on R&D every year. Most drugs will not make it through clinical trials and some will not receive FDA approval, but the few that do make it past all the hurdles will make the investment worth it.

While purchasing samples can seem daunting, make sure to keep things in perspective. Compared to an initial investment for a Subway or UPS Store franchise, the risk/reward ratio is much higher for online stores, not to mention the difference in lifestyle.

Moral of the story – Don’t be afraid to spend money on samples. You have to know what you’re selling before you can sell it and you’ll learn a lot in the process. Be judicious depending on your budget, but don’t hold back for fear of failure.

Tip: Ask vendors what their top 5 products are in terms of sales. Take your time to find the products you like the most because more than likely there will be more products you’ll want to see in person than you’re willing to pay for. Pick the very best ones based on the photos, product descriptions and vendor recommendations.

Tip #8: Act Bigger Than You Are

In your emails to vendors, use the word “we” instead of “I” and “our” instead of “my”. Steve emphasizes this several times in his course. Not only does this make your company seem larger than it is but it also displays a sense of teamwork and unity.

Moral of the story – Project confidence.

Tip: Here is an actual email I sent to a vendor after receiving samples. Notice the use of the word “we” and “our”.

Hi Tina,

We wanted to confirm that we received the samples today. Over the next couple of months we are going to be meeting with many of our customers to discuss your products and potential plans to move forward with larger purchases. We will certainly keep you updated on our plans.

We did have a few questions in the meantime:

1) Do you provide OEM service (logo)?
2) Can you manufacture according to specific size and color requirements? (For example if we wanted to purchase 5 different products, each with 3 colors and 2 sizes.)
3) What are the minimum order quantities and lead times for bulk orders?
4) How do you deal with product quality issues? For product YD0354, the zippers were very difficult to fasten and ended up breaking in one instance. For most products, we prefer one piece (like YD0316) instead of two pieces to make the assembly process as easy as possible for our customers.

Thank you!
Josh

Tip #9: Know The Difference Between Manufacturers Vs Trading Companies

In general, it’s pretty easy to tell if a supplier is a manufacturer or a trading company (wholesaler/retailer). I did however notice some very distinct trends between the manufacturers and trading companies.

As a general rule of thumb, the ones that say “Import/Export Co” are more than likely not manufacturers even if their company profile states manufacturer.

Along with the obvious things such as price and MOQ differences, trading companies definitely had more of a pushy sales approach while the manufacturers seemed more eager to build a relationship.

In the beginning however, it might behoove you to buy from the trading companies because they will offer lower minimum order quantities (MOQ). Just know that the FOB prices (price per unit) will be higher with the trading companies and there is a greater chance for complications such as running out of inventory (if they’re not creating the product then they have less control over the amount of inventory that’s in stock)

Moral of the story – Know who you’re dealing with in terms of the type of supplier and the pros and cons of working with a manufacturer vs. a trading company.

Tip: In some cases I politely asked certain vendors what percentage of their business was manufacturing vs. wholesale. Most reps were more than happy to share that information.

Tip #10: Be Prepared When Shipping Goods To Your Home Country

Oh the joys of international air freight! Most vendors will setup the shipping for you and all you have to do is provide your shipping address and phone number for confirmation. Just know ahead of time that it’s going to cost you and arm and a leg and that the cost of shipping might in fact be more than the cost of the actual samples.

Also, it’s a good idea to confirm shipping costs before paying for the samples. Some vendors will lump the two costs together while others will separate them out and surprise you at the last second.

Moral of the story – Shipping samples is expensive. If this depresses you, remember that samples (including shipping) are an investment!

Tip – Don’t wait until the last second to setup shipping accounts. As a rule of thumb, before you contact any suppliers, have your shipping accounts setup with UPS, FedEx and possibly DHL. UPS and FedEx can be done online.

DHL is a more involved process (felt like I was applying for a mortgage) that involves a phone call and you providing them documentation such as recent bills, invoices, etc. It’s a pain but necessary per DHL to prevent fraud and ensure accurate controls over shipping.

Note: Are you unsure which shipping method to use and how much it will cost? Do you want a good estimate of your real landed cost of goods? Click here to use my free import calculator

Conclusion

Because it was my first time importing goods from Asia, I made a few mistakes but I learned a lot in the process. Here are some questions I would ask yourself after you’ve received the samples:

  • Which vendors did you enjoy working with the most?
  • Which vendors were the most flexible and accommodating?
  • Which vendors wrote and/or spoke the best English?
  • Which vendors shipped the samples in a timely fashion?
  • Which vendors shipped samples that were packaged nicely?
  • Which vendors were the most accurate and paid the most attention to detail?

In the end, your experience will be different than mine, but I hope that the tips above can help you along your journey.

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31 thoughts on “10 Tips On Importing Wholesale Products From China Using Alibaba Or GlobalSources”

  1. Excellent set of tips Josh! They are truly useful and I will most certainly keep them in mind as I start my own Journey down this road soon importing products into the Middle East.
    Thank you Steve for sharing!

  2. Sophia says:

    Hi Josh
    These are excellent tips. i especially like questions to ask after you receive samples.
    i am in the middle of sourcing my products now and find this very helpful

  3. viv says:

    I wanted to know:

    1- do you really need to use leadpages for the landing page? Any wordpress theme could do what I see on your landing page.

    2- after inputting all the cost involved with importing from china, are you sure it’s worth it? You could find manufacturers in the US who would do that and ship it for free straight to AMZ. It’s a bit more expensive for sure but…

    Keep us updated on your progress.

    1. Josh says:

      @Taher and Sophia – Thanks glad you enjoyed!

      @Viv – I imagine you could definitely use WordPress for a landing page, especially if you already had a blog or ecommerce site already setup. Since I didn’t have my shopping cart setup yet, LeadPages was the most convenient option for a couple of reasons: 1) they have some really nice templates designed for specific goals (launch, webinar, etc) and 2) they don’t require any coding (disclaimer – I think understanding basic front-end code is a good thing!). But for the purposes of getting something up and running as quickly as possible to capture leads or for those who don’t want to deal with hosting, LeadPages or any SAAS landing page site for that matter might be a good alternative.

      As to your second question, this is something I have thought about a lot recently. When taking into account all the ancillary costs you mentioned and then some, the rock bottom $7 price per unit you thought you were getting is actually more like $11/unit which obviously affects your margins. I think it depends on your industry and what products you sell. To my surprise, I discovered that the vast majority of companies (including fortune 500 retailers and wholesalers) in the U.S. that sell pet supplies are sourcing their products from China. So I suppose one would need to weigh the incremental cost of importing vs the cost of finding a contract manufacturer and getting things setup here in the US. Thanks!

  4. Novneet says:

    Hi Josh!

    I did not fully understand the top-10. “Be Prepared When Shipping Goods To Your Home Country”

    If the supplier will setup the shipping costs for the samples, then what is the need of me having an shipping account? We can always track the shipments on their websites for free.

    And Josh, which country do you belong to and how is your Amazon Business Doing?

    Thanks
    Novneet

    1. Josh says:

      @ Novneet – thanks for your comment. I live in the United States. Regarding shipping, I think it’s important to have at least 1-2 shipping accounts setup beforehand because some vendors might not only ask but require you to supply them with a shipping account number that they can use to bill the cost of shipping you the samples via air freight. In essence, you will pay the vendor directly for the samples (using PayPal or wire transfer) but not the cost of shipping. In my experience this is the exception and not the rule. I’m not sure why some vendors do it this way but it happened to me twice. Hope this answers your question.

      I sold all of my samples on Amazon within 40 days which was good. Now I’m working on building those supplier relationships and setting up my store.

      1. Novneet says:

        Yes Thanks for the clarification man.

        I am in the beginning phase of setting up my Amazon Business. The product niche research and the finding the suppliers. It is really a scary thing for me, as I have never has done any sort of importing previously.
        Will it be possible for you to provide your email, if it is not much trouble, so that I can ask any import related questions directly?

  5. Its a fact that every year the wholesale products are imported to various regions or countries. This particular post emphasize on the relative Tips On Importing Wholesale Products From China Using Alibaba Or Global Sources. I think this is way beneficial post than that of it appear. One must go through the same.

  6. I would like to give a tip on a very good website on import from china , hope you like

  7. Ziba says:

    Hello,
    Thank you for this amazing post! I am wondering about the taxes once the products get to my country!? How should I deal with that? Would apreciate ur help!

    Cheers
    Ziba

  8. Ken says:

    Josh – thanks for the great article. I have contacted and received samples from four different companies, for two types of items I hope to sell. Your comments about learning the difference between a manufacturer and a wholesaler is right on target. On my first try on the first product, I ended up ordering samples from a mfr. & wholesaler, not realizing one of them was in fact a wholesaler. And to top it off – they actually purchased their product from the mfr. that I ordered from! Certainly a lesson learned. And yes, it is a shock when the air shipping cost is so high.

    But overall, it is a learning experience and I actually hope to go to China in the future and meet some of these folks.

  9. JAY MAI says:

    Thank you Josh for the great article for us all.
    If you have any infomation on the taxes when the products arrived, please keep me posted. And how do you receive the products in such ways?

  10. nemrut says:

    Since you have to pay for samples, how do you know the quality of the samples will be comparable to the items in your first order from the supplier?

    Do you have a way of returning the shipment at the suppliers expense if the quality is not up to your standards or do you just request a refund from Paypal?

    1. The answer is that you won’t know for sure. This is why I always gradually increase my order size over time. If you want to be extra careful, you can hire a 3rd party inspection company.

      Returns are highly unlikely. Not only does it cost too much money to ship back to Asia but a lot of vendors won’t take returns. I suppose you could file a chargeback but no guarantees that you’d win.

  11. China market is a world number 1 largest market in the world. Many Indian visit to China for importing products from China to India. I have ordered the product from China and they had provide a good service and delivery was on time.

  12. mark says:

    Im really having hard time on what to import from.china and sell it here in the philippines, hope you have an idea.

  13. Tiger says:

    I am tiger from yiwu of China,I am doing international trading business to help foreigner friends import from China,any one who need help,don’t hesitate to contact with us.
    tigerliu425@gmail.com

  14. KESAVAN says:

    I INTERESTED TO START A BUSINESS PLEASE GIVE A GUIDE LINE TO ME…

  15. Hi Josh

    This is a great bit of information and very very valuable for me. I have been trawling through Alibaba and sending off various requests for costings and product availability to a number of suppliers….its hard work but hopefully will be worth it. I have recently had one supplier send me a quite and advised me of Paypal charges. Whilst it was good that the supplier was the first to suggest the use of Paypal for the payment (as I had not asked that question yet) the supplier did include Paypal charges in the quote. I had asked for two quotes, the second of a larger quantity. The Paypal charge increased with each increased costing. My question is, is it normal to be expected to pay a Paypal change to the supplier? I was surprised as it was my understanding that only either the buyer or the seller are charged and that not both should pay a fee. Does this sound correct/normal to you…or is my instinct right that this is not correct? Many thanks again for your words of wisdom. I played around with buying samples and was almost about to go for the plunge and by pass this by just placing a bulk order….Im so, so glad I came across your blog…as you are right, best to get samples (for a number of reasons not just to check the quality of the goods but also to trial the suppliers service, accuracy etc) which will in the end be a great investment. Cant thank you enough for sharing your experiences with us all here. :)

  16. Vivian Cooper says:

    Hi ,
    I am just starting the process of ordering goods in the Philippines. Still researching on what I should do. I am new to starting a business and ordering products overseas. I have family in the Philippines, would it be better for my family to purchase the products/samples and then send it to me here in the States, or should I let the supplier/manufacturer do that. Which would be more efficient and also what would save me money??
    Thanks,
    V-

  17. Michael says:

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for this article. I’d like to share my limited experience if I may. I once purchased some sample watches and walkie-talkies; in hindsight it was probably from a wholesaler rather than manufacturer. Even then I believe some manufacturers use their own vendors to sell samples on their behalf. In both instances I insisted on PayPal and yes they did ask for 3-4% extra to cover the fees. I had them sent to me through FedEx. If you’re just starting out like me, believe me when I say they definitely have better rates than you in regards to courier charges so there was really no point in insisting that I pay through my account.

    On the watches, I receive only 2 out of the 3 samples I ordered. They weren’t expensive and I doubt that FedEx employees would scam me on those. But from the FedEx tracking, I realised that the vendor used a logistics company to send their products in HK to FedEx, and this is where the theft probably occured. There was no point pursuing any legal action over a cost so small so I just let it be. On the walkie talkies, I had to Ensure that they sent me with the correct voltage, and frequency marking on the package because otherwise it might be withheld in customs indefinitely. What I mean is that you have to watch out for any legal requirements on importing something into your country to prevent seizure or delay.

    On the PayPal payment, I realise that the account name actually belonged to an unknown individual. I didn’t really bother because it was a small amount but obviously you would want to check that the account name matches the company you are dealing. I think probably Alibaba escrow would be good. It is also good if the vendor can give you documentation such as ISO, export license with their name on it. They should be current.

    Thanks for reading.

    Regards,

    mike

  18. Jesse Tam says:

    Good article and tips, thanks for sharing. Helpful information.

  19. Thanks for sharing this post. The tips are very good. It will help a lot.

  20. farah says:

    I have a question. If a product has a price marked at alibaba site of $3- $10.99 can the vendor charge you $20?
    What can you do to force him to give you the price that is marked on the site?

  21. I want start Business on amazon. I want to sell Cellphone Accessories related Products.
    Thanks for this idea.

  22. urmi says:

    hello, I’ve a question. if I order 144$ product from alibaba.com, then what can be the total cost including shipping charge and taxes in Bangladesh? can you tell the taxes process on per product broadly?

  23. I want start Business on amazon. I want to sell beauty related Products.
    Thanks for your this best idea.

  24. Informative article for anyone who wants to learn more about this subject.

  25. Thanks for sharing this post. The tips are very helpful.

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