How many times have you been hearing about Alibaba? If you’ve been in the importing business and sourcing from China for years, Alibaba is just like an old friend. It empowers foreign buyers to source suppliers online as well as reach out to overseas suppliers just a click away. The emergence of Alibaba has made importing from overseas countries as easy as online shopping.

If you are new to the import business and do not know how to purchase safely and effectively via Alibaba? Do not worry, this is a guide specifically for you to help you get to know it, teach you to step by step how to search and choose reliable suppliers, as well as how to arrange quality inspection and shipping. Click each heading below to navigate for more details.

What Is Alibaba and How Does It Work?

Here what we talk about is actually, a part of Alibaba Group. It is a B2B platform launched 20 years ago. Now it has grown to be a leading wholesale website with the world’s largest supplier directory. Most suppliers are Chinese, with some from other countries.

Alibaba works like an online trade show, mainly for small and medium businesses. You can find thousands of suppliers at the same time across various industries, covering apparel, electronics, machinery, beauty, accessories, etc. Many global businesses source from Alibaba at a competitive cost and sell on Amazon, eBay, or other channels in their domestic markets.

Alibaba offers one-stop solutions from product selection, payment to logistics arrangement, etc., so that global buyers and sellers can do business easily on the site.

Alibaba’s low product price is built on bulk purchasing, lower cost of labor and raw materials, diverse and mature industrial chains, export tax refunds, etc. Cheap products on Alibaba have drawn in more buyers. That, in turn, motivates more suppliers to enter Alibaba, resulting in increased price competition and allowing buyers to find products at a favorable cost.

Can I Buy from Alibaba for Personal Use?

Yes. You can buy products for your own use. Though Alibaba is mainly for B2B, not all sellers are regulated to only sell wholesale.

How to Buy 1 Item from Alibaba without a Company?

First, register an account using your own name as your company name. Don’t worry about being asked for a business license, because that is used for tax benefits.

Then find Alibaba minimum order 1. That exists in some cases. Some suppliers sell on Alibaba and AliExpress (mainly retail services) at the same time. You have to find and buy it.

But in most cases, the MOQ (minimum order quantity) is far away from one, and you can only ask suppliers for a sample. But that would be costly. Samples are always shipped by international express, so the cost is high. On the other hand, the single unit price is higher than the usual price.

If you just buy 1 single item for personal use, Aliexpress is more suitable than Alibaba.

Reading Here

We are very clear that Alibaba is good for buying in bulk at wholesale prices. Let’s now go to the major concerning issue – how to order from Alibaba?

The process is more complicated compared to buying from Amazon. Look at the image below to have a rough idea.

Click to Enlarge

Product Selection | Ideas about Best Things to Buy on Alibaba.

Before ordering from Alibaba, it’s a must to know what products to buy and resell.

If you have no idea, you can browse large varieties of products for some inspiration. But that process will cost you a lot of time and energy. And you’re likely to be getting nowhere, as Alibaba is too large to browse for product ideas. Here I share some tips.

Try Alibaba Private Label Products

Private Label Products on Alibaba

Private Label Products” is actually a product listing on Alibaba with a particular focus on cosmetics and hygiene areas, as shown in the right image.

These categories are ranked the top among products suitable to sell with private labels. If you’re interested in cosmetics and hygiene products, it’s a good option for you to make money.

For more private label products, you’re suggested to choose the category on the Alibaba homepage and contact suppliers for further communication.

If you are a startup or small business, a private labeling model is more suitable than customizing brand new products due to less front investment.

Try Alibaba Private Label Products

“Private Label Products” is actually a product listing on Alibaba with a particular focus on cosmetics and hygiene areas, as shown below.

Private Label Products on Alibaba

These categories are ranked the top among products suitable to sell with private labels. If you’re interested in cosmetics and hygiene products, it’s a good option for you to make money.

For more private label products, you’re suggested to choose the category on the Alibaba homepage and contact suppliers for further communication.

If you are a startup or small business, a private labeling model is more suitable than customizing brand new products due to less front investment.

Try Alibaba Custom Packaging to Private label Your Products

A common solution to private label your products is custom packaging. You can directly click Alibaba Custom Packaging to see all options for custom packaging boxes, designs, and patterns, as shown in the image below.

Alibaba Custom Packaging

Just scroll down to choose what you want. Then you need to contact sellers about what information you want to customize. If you want to make alternations on the product itself, it can be negotiated as well.

Either custom packaging or the product itself, light customizations are very common and easy to realize, such as changes in colors, sizes, logos, package materials, etc. As the level of alterations goes higher, you need to pay more and meet suppliers’ customization MOQ, which is higher than light customizations.

Try Unique Ordinary Daily-use Products

Some importers think daily products like socks are easy to sell because these are necessities. That is wrong. Such products are dominated by big retailers, so it’s very hard for you to compete with them.

The right way is to make some alternations to make your product unique and interesting, different from widely available ordinary products. For example, you can adjust the sock design to make it anti-skidding.

Try Niche Products

Niche products are designed to fulfill well-defined customer demands, serving a small segment of the mass market. These items are mostly exclusive and the customer group is clear. Take massage gun for example. People are fascinated to buy this handheld device with wireless charging features, for a quick full-body massage anywhere and effortlessly.

The niche market means fewer competitors selling the same products as you. And people will be more willing to spend more money buying them, accordingly, you will make more profits. Check out methods to find your niche.

Top 3 Product Categories Not to Buy from Alibaba

  • Branded products, such as iPhone, Nike shoes, etc.  
  • Food products.
  • Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc. 

If you do, chances are that you’ll get fake products or not be allowed to import, or the import procedures will be too complicated.

Find Suppliers on Alibaba (Direct Search vs RFQ)

Method 1: Direct Search

This is the most natural way to search for suppliers. You type in the product name in the search bar, Alibaba will then present you with thousands of suppliers.

Direct Search method to find suppliers on Alibaba

As you notice, there are different types of suppliers on Alibaba, such as Verified Supplier, and Trade Assurance Supplier. Among the vast amount of suppliers, we’ll suggest you go with these suppliers as your top choices to start with.

You’ll need to scroll down each supplier, checking their qualifications and transaction histories, etc., then send over inquiries to those looking good for further selection.

Let’s look at a real case of Wine Tumbler inquiry to understand direct search step by step.

Step1: Go to the Alibaba homepage and type in the product name.

Step2: Select top suppliers (eg. verified suppliers) whose price range is acceptable for subsequent inquiries. (We send out 20 inquiries in total for wine tumblers.)

Step3: Click the “Contact Supplier” button to contact suppliers and send inquiries.


Step4: Collect and compare quotations from different suppliers.

Step5: Select 2-3 good suppliers for further communication.

Method 2: Alibaba RFQ

different from RFI or RFP, Alibaba RFQ (Request for Quotation) is a service provided by Alibaba to global buyers to post buying requests and manage all quotations on the RFQ service platform. Unlike direct search one by one, through RFQ, you can get 10+ more quotations very quickly per buying request.

Still the real case of Wine Tumbler inquiry. Here is how:

Step1: Go to Alibaba RFQ home page

Step2: Complete the RFQ form as shown below. 


Step3: Submit RFQ and wait for the suppliers to send you quotations. 

Step4: Check and compare quotations in the message center of the RFQ dashboard. 

Step5: Select 2-3 good suppliers for further communication. 

Comparative Anlysis

Under direct search, in the beginning, I needed to spend hours reviewing supplier info, sending inquiries one by one, then waiting for 1-2 days to get the replies. Among all the 20 responses, I was just able to select 2-3 suppliers whom I found comfortable to communicate with.

While under RFQ, just within 10 minutes after I sent out the buying request, I immediately got 10+ quotations from multiple suppliers and then selected 2-3 good ones for further negotiation.

So, I’d suggest you use Alibaba RFQ for more efficient results if you are new to your product field and do not want to spend hours developing a long list of suppliers. If you still have difficulty finding good suppliers by yourself, you can always turn to a sourcing agent for help.

Choose the Best-matched Supplier (Real Case Study).

After launching rounds of searches for suppliers, the next thing you need to fix is to select good suppliers among multiple choices. It’s essential to have a general overview of Alibaba membership and supplier types, as this helps you quickly screen out those unqualified ones.

Know Alibaba Membership and 3 Kinds of Suppliers

Alibaba Gold Supplier membership has been offline since September 2021, leaving only Verified Supplier. Suppliers authenticated and verified by a third-party agency have to pay more for being verified members.

Either paid or free members, there are 3 kinds of suppliers on Alibaba:

  • Manufacturers: lowest price and high MOQ.
  • Trading Companies: specialize in certain product categories; buy products from manufacturers.
  • Wholesalers: very low MOQ but expensive price, wide product categories; buy products from manufacturers or trading companies.

Although most tutorials teach you to find factories for the lowest price, in reality, trading companies are better for you sometimes. In case you’re a new importer ordering a small quantity, manufacturers are not suitable as they normally require a higher MOQ.

Use Top 3 Criteria for Selecting Suppliers

Based on our years of experience in dealing with thousands of suppliers, we’ve developed below top criteria to help you evaluate suppliers. A good supplier can help you save lots of time and energy. If they are an expert in your product area, they can understand your requirements clearly and execute seamlessly.

a. Specialized product portfolios 

After suppliers replied with their quotes, besides reviewing the prices, the first thing I usually do is to look at their product category.

For example, I got a good price from a trading company, but when I quickly check their product portfolios (shown below), I found wine tumbler products are not their area of strength. This makes me concerned about their capacity to fulfill my order. So I quickly screen out another 5 trading companies.

Various product categories (trading company)


b. Good communication in an efficient way

You can easily tell the communication level of your supplier through their response to your inquiry, by looking at how they reply and whether they get back promptly.

Take the above case as an example, there are several aspects covered in my inquiry email, including product cost, packaging, shipping cost, etc. A good reply will essentially cover all that I want to know and is also expressed clearly and logically. However, a poor one will generally deliver nothing.

Good Example (Click to Enlarge)

Poor Example (Click to Enlarge)

c. Professional knowledge in international trading

Good suppliers with years of experience in international trading can help solve many problems during the import and export process. Especially if you are new to importing from China, different questions may pop up at different stages. Whether it is related to product specs, packaging, or shipping, good suppliers can not only clarify all your concerns but always stand by to solve issues.

For example, if you want to develop brand new products from ideas, the process can be quite complex, involving mold opening, various modifications, packaging customization, etc. In this case, it is more important for you to select a partner who can clearly understand your needs and have the capability to turn ideas into real products.

Know MOQ Meaning and Negotiate with Suppliers for Best Price.

After selecting a couple of suppliers, the next step is to negotiate for a better MOQ and price. This takes techniques, you’ll need to know what suppliers care most about and weigh the trade-offs to get what you value most.

What Does MOQ Mean on Alibaba?

MOQ is short for Minimum Order Quantity. As the term suggests, MOQ means the least amount of products that buyers need to order. For Alibaba suppliers, MOQ is a selling threshold and that’s important for 2 reasons:

  • Cover the production cost. If quantities are too small, it’s difficult to purchase raw materials or packaging materials. And there are set quantities of production lines, especially by machines.
  • Make up for the very low profit per unit, because products are sold in bulk.

Look at the image below, you see the goods MOQ is 200. And there’s a wholesale price range.

how to buy from Alibaba - learn MOQ

Most of the products on Alibaba have a MOQ, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000. The MOQ differs based on product types. While for the same kind of products, suppliers have different MOQs. But there won’t be a big difference.

Besides, the listed MOQ and unit price are not final. You can contact suppliers for a better order quantity and unit price. For example, if buying 3000 pieces of wine tumblers in the above picture, you can negotiate with the supplier for a lower price than $7.

How to Negotiate Better MOQ and Price with Suppliers?

Finding a good MOQ and competitive price is vital for your purchase from Alibaba, though it’s not easy. Here I share some tips.

1. The key is to know the market price of your desired product.

Obtain a reasonable price range by getting some quotes from suppliers on your list. This works in most cases, as very few buyers know the product and manufacturing cost well.

2. Strike a balance between the MOQ and unite price.

When reaching the MOQ listed by Alibaba suppliers, it’s relatively easy to negotiate a better order quantity and unit price. However, it’s impossible to get the lowest price when you fail to meet the MOQ.

And blindly pursuing the lowest price may lead to unsuccessful negotiations, because you may ignore the seller’s interests. An appropriate unit price increase might be useful. After all, business is built on win-win cooperation.

3. Be frank and sincere.

Don’t take suppliers as fools. Most of them are experienced in distinguishing the trick of pretending to be a veteran or a newbie, although many courses teach you such methods. If you’re caught in a lie, you’ll lose your credibility. That goes against business negotiation.

So tell suppliers your real situation and order quantity. If it’s your first order, many Chinese suppliers are willing to lower their MOQ to achieve cooperation. When it comes to second order, you’ll have a wider negotiation scope.

4. Be flexible during negotiation.

Don’t be limited to the order quantity and unit price. There’re some ways to lower the MOQ:

  • Choose “Ready to Ship” products rather than “Customized” products. It’s possible to reduce the MOQ of products in stock, as suppliers have a large inventory. While for custom products, it’s very hard due to more costs such as custom packaging, logo, and graphics. And there’s generally a higher MOQ.
  • Favorable payment ways like T/T 100% in advance can increase your bargaining power.
  • Properly lower your requirement for products (e.g. patterns). That may not change the MOQ a lot, but the total price would be lower to some extent.

Ask for Pre-production Sample (PP Sample).

After finalizing prices, the next important step is to ask for a PP sample, especially when ordering custom products. PP sample serves as the quality standard for mass production. Many buyers will forget to do so because they’ll think it takes time and money.

That mindset is totally wrong. You have to touch and feel the product to judge quality rather than sellers’ pictures or videos. You’ll have to put in time and effort in the beginning in order to ensure a smooth delivery later. Let us show you how it works.

  • Create PP sample order.
  • Provide product specification sheets or other attachments to the supplier.
  • Confirm quantity: one for the buyer, one for the seller.
  • Buyers check sample quality, seal it, and send it back to sellers for production reference.

I recommend you to get samples from 2-3 suppliers. If any of them didn’t offer good quality, you can still have other suppliers as a backup. Or you can ask for re-submission for the PP sample. Or you make sample comments to be corrected in bulk production to ensure product quality. Usually, you need to pay a 100% sample fee upfront, and also pay for shipping costs.

Select Trade Assurance or Other Payment Ways to Buy Safely.

It is time to place an order after settling down all the above steps from supplier selection, price negotiation to sample confirmation!

You can either place a normal order or create a trade assurance order with suppliers supporting it. The latter option is safer for Alibaba purchases.

What Is Trade Assurance?

Trade assurance is a free service offered by Alibaba to protect buyers and enhance security when the quality falls short of expectation or the supplier fails to ship on time as agreed. It means you can open a dispute and ask for a refund if either of the two situations happens.

But getting refunded is not as easy or quick as that on Amazon. This process is more complex & time-consuming. You have to upload sufficient evidence. Only with strong evidence submitted by buyers and sellers can Alibaba make a fair judgment as a third party.

Remember to communicate with suppliers via email, though there are other channels such as “Chat Now” on the Alibaba website, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc. For any important issues related to your order, it is best to communicate via email. These emails can be documented and serve as records for future reference and evidence in case of any disputes.

How to Pay for Your Order?

With a trade assurance order, you have to pay on Alibaba using 5 different methods:

Paypal or other offline methods cannot protect your payment.

If you want to pay via Paypal, you will need to create an order without trade assurance protection. Usually, Paypal is suggested for an order value less than $500. Most Chinese suppliers won’t accept it for large orders, for fear of getting cheated, due to 180-day refund protection. It means that you can open a dispute through Paypal if there is any quality problem found after receiving cargo.

Choose Alibaba Shipping to Transport Your Cargo.

After the tedious process of purchasing products, finally, we come to the last vital step of shipping. How to send cargo to your destination? One way is to use Alibaba shipping services.

How Does Alibaba Shipping Work?

Alibaba has set up its own shipping routes and integrated the resources of many logistics companies to make cargo shipping easier through its digital freight network across the world.

For sellers, Alibaba shipping brings great convenience through one-stop solutions. There’re 3 programs available to sellers for shipping arrangements: economy, standard, and premium. Sellers just need to select and set the box size and weight. Then the freight of different shipping routes is calculated by the Alibaba platform.

Buyers can directly compare shipping costs and select a good solution through 4 easy steps.

Step1: Click the “Ship to” link and choose the delivery destination.


Step2: Choose specific products and get straight shipping fees as presented in the right box. Click the “Change” link to see more shipping solutions and corresponding fees.


Step3: Select one from all available shipping options,  click the “Apply” link as shown below.


Step4: You can see the total cost once you select a shipping method.

How Does Alibaba Shipping Work Step4

One more good thing is that you can track your order shipping process in time. Thus, Alibaba can help you solve two problems: purchasing and monitoring logistics information. This applies when you are buying ready-to-ship products on Alibaba.

While for custom products, you need to communicate with suppliers to work out shipping arrangements. You can quickly obtain and compare estimated shipping costs after filling out your shipment gross weight, carton box size plus number, places of origin & destination on Alibaba Logistics. This digital freight platform is powered by Freightos which has partnered up with Alibaba since 2020, with main target regions in Northern America, Europe & Australia.

How Long Does Alibaba Take to Ship to the USA?

People are highly concerned about delivery time. This is closely related to the shipping methods you choose. Take the ordering from Alibaba to the USA for example.

  • Express shipping: 3-5 days.
  • Airfreight: 4-7 days in most cases.
  • Sea freight: 25-35 days – West USA; 35-50 days – East USA.

In general, the quicker it is, the more you pay for shipping.

How to Get Free Shipping on Alibaba?

You can type in “free shipping Alibaba” on Google or directly click here to enter Alibaba free shipping product areas, as shown below.

how to buy from Alibaba - Free Shipping on Alibaba

You need to confirm shipping details with sellers because they arrange your shipment. Normally, every order has a shipping fee. “Free shipping” is a trick usually used by suppliers to attract you to order. Shipping costs are covered in the product price just like drop shippers.

There is no need to spend much time finding whether it’s really free shipping. Instead, your focus should be always on shipping your cargo from China safely and cost-effectively.

Find Freight Forwarder to Ship Cargo to Your Doorstep.

What Is a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder is a service provider that specializes in arranging storage and shipment on behalf of its shippers. It usually provides a full range of services including preparation of shipping and export documents, warehousing, booking cargo space, negotiating freight charges, cargo insurance, etc.

In a word, a good freight forwarder will save you time and headaches while providing reliable and economical shipments. This is why many buyers prefer finding forwarders to ship cargo, besides Alibaba shipping.

How to Find and Choose a Freight Forwarder?

There’re two ways to find a forwarder: by yourself or letting your supplier handle it for you.

Although there are thousands of forwarders, it is not easy to select reliable ones. Chances are that you may come across some who attract you with low prices but try to charge you additional fees with different kinds of excuses.

1. Find your freight forwarder by yourself.

The easiest way is to search for freight forwarders on Google. You can get a list by just typing “freight forwarder” in your country. Besides, you can ask your friends who are experienced in importing to introduce a reliable one.

how-does-Alibaba-shipping-work-Alibaba freight

Following are tips we sum up based on years of experience to help you select the reliable one.

a) Find an experienced freight forwarder. An experienced forwarder means it has dealt with different situations like smoothing out customs or warehousing issues and port shutdowns, rerouting cargo, etc. The easiest way is to check the age of the company because it wouldn’t survive so long in fierce competition for no reason.

b) Find a freight forwarder with a wide network in your country. You should choose a forwarder that has a large network in your destination country. Let’s say you are going to import from China to the US, then you should choose a freight forwarder with strong connections in the USA. It doesn’t matter how big their network is in China.

c) Find a freight forwarder with good customer service. How fast does the freight forwarder get back to you answering your questions? How seriously your forwarder is taking care of your individual needs speaks a great deal about their ability to give the needed attention to your shipments. If you’re new to international shipping, they should walk you through what you need to know and do patiently, ensuring all goes well with your shipment.

2. Let your supplier find a freight forwarder for you.

Generally, your supplier will have some cooperative freight forwarder. If you want to save the trouble of finding a forwarder by yourself, you can ask your Alibaba supplier help you contact theirs.

Please note: if you decide to use your own forwarder, remember to ask the supplier to quote you FOB price, and if you decide to use the supplier’s forwarder, usually you can inquire CIF price. You can read our CIF vs FOB to know their difference. 

And if you can not find satisfying forwarders by yourself, or the prices they quote are rather high, Jingsourcing can walk you out.

Quick Solution to Source and Ship Goods From China at a Good Price

Contact Jingsourcing experts, whose daily work is to source products and ship goods to different countries, especially to America.

Hire 3rd Party to Inspect Quality.

The last step before shipping is to inspect the product quality. As we don’t want to end up receiving a large number of defects after this complicated importing process, it is necessary to inspect quality before shipment.

Just like confirming sample quality, you can not ensure the quality of your bulk order is good just by seeing a few pictures sent from your Alibaba supplier. You can usually hire a 3rd party to do an inspection when you are overseas or do not have a representative office in China.

Three Ways to Find 3rd Party QC

1. Alibaba inspection service.

If you chose the supplier under trade assurance or you have added the service before making the initial payment. Then you can choose inspection on Alibaba inspection service.  

Here you can choose from 3 quality inspection companies: BV, China Certification & Inspection Group, and SGS. It’s cheaper than the market price, but the amount they check is rather small and the inspection time is short.

Click to Enlarge

2. Professional third-party inspection company.

There are companies specialized in the quality inspection such as Asia Inspection, V-trust, etc. Usually, the inspection costs $300 per person/day.

Companies like Intertek and TUV also have inspection services, but their fees are rather high. They normally adopt AQL sampling inspection and will report inspection results to you.

3. Sourcing company.

You can also find a sourcing agent to do this job. You’d better turn to the agent you trust or have cooperated with. Some well-developed sourcing companies like Jingsourcing could offer quality check service.

We Jingsourcing can provide thorough checks and help negotiate with suppliers directly on your behalf once we find intolerable quality defects, while the inspection company doesn’t provide such service. What’s more, the inspection fee is much cheaper than inspection firms.

What to Do with Unsatisfactory Quality?

Although we pay close attention to the supplier and product quality throughout the process, occasionally quality problems arise. How can we reduce losses?

1. Deal with Quality Problems before Delivery.

a) Orders without trade assurance: In case the quality problem your 3rd party inspection company found is unacceptable for you, you can discuss the solution with the supplier, either redo it or ask for a refund. This communication process is relatively complicated and tough. If you have a sourcing agent or trustable friend in China, you can still entrust them to negotiate with the supplier and help you solve the problem.

b) Orders under trade assurance: If you chose the supplier with trade assurance and pre-shipment coverage, you can open a dispute to solve your problem. This process needs relevant strong documentary evidence for Alibaba staff to review. You can get the refund once your evidence has been approved.

2. Deal with Quality Problems after Delivery.

a) Orders without trade assurance: You can open a dispute and negotiate the refund and compensation with the supplier on Paypal if you pay through it. Paypal plays the role of the “middleman” between you and the supplier. But if you pay by other offline methods, the only way is to negotiate with the supplier by yourself. 

b) Orders under trade assurance: You don’t have to be panic when facing defective goods if you have selected trade assurance suppliers and chosen post-delivery coverage. Try to contact the supplier for a solution. If no solution can be reached, you can open a dispute before confirming delivery. As long as you can provide the required evidence, and are approved by Alibaba staff, you can get a refund.

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