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 and reach out to overseas suppliers just clicks 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 step by step on how to search and choose reliable suppliers, as well as how to arrange quality inspection and shipping. 

The article consists of below sections, you can click each heading below to navigate to related content for more details.

  1. Know How Alibaba Works. Is It Suitable for Your Business?
  2. Two Ways to Search for Suppliers on Alibaba (Direct Search vs RFQ) 
  3. Choose the Best-matched Supplier (Real Case Study)
  4. Negotiate with Suppliers for Best Price. Customize Samples before Production.
  5. Choose Trade Assurance or other Transaction Methods for Placing an Order.
  6. Find Freight Forwarder to Ship Cargo from Alibaba Supplier to Your Address.
  7. Hire 3rd Party to Inspect the Quality.

1.Know How Alibaba Works. Is It Suitable for Your Business?

When you find your local suppliers cannot satisfy your needs for cost-effectiveness, you’ll start considering sourcing overseas. With its wide global awareness and presence, Alibaba has become the No.1 choice for many international business people. 

However, is it the best fit for your business model? Are there any other platforms available if your purchasing quantity is too small? Let’s get into it together.

What is Alibaba? 

Essentially Alibaba is a B2B platform, connecting buyers and sellers globally and empowering them to do business more easily through the platform, by providing one-stop solutions from product selection, payment to logistics arrangement, etc.

Unlike other B2C e-commerce sites such as ebay, Amazon, where you can purchase single items, Alibaba is more a platform like an online trade show, where you can find thousands of suppliers at the same time across various industries, covering apparel, electronics, machinery, beauty, accessories, etc.

Most of the products on Alibaba have a MOQ requirement, ranging from USD$1,000-USD$3,000, which means if you buy goods in small quantities below the required amount, you’d better switch to other sites, such DHgate, Aliexpress, which has lower or no MOQ requirement, and supports single item purchasing. 

Another thing to bear in mind is that, Alibaba is not a place for everything, although it has virtually every item you are looking for. Below items are top 3 categories that we’ll suggest you not to buy from Alibaba, if you do, chances are that you’ll get fake products or not allowed to import, or the import procedures are too complicated. 

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

Although most suppliers on Alibaba are Chinese suppliers, you can also find overseas suppliers from other countries across Europe, America, Southeast Asia, etc.

2. Two Ways to Search for Suppliers on Alibaba (Direct Search vs RFQ) 

Direct search is the most natural way to search for suppliers on Alibaba. You type in the product name in the search bar, Alibaba will then present you with thousands of suppliers.how to buy from alibaba

As shown from the above, 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. 

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 for supplier one by one, through RFQ, you can get 10+ more quotations very quickly per buying request sent.

As you notice from the search results, there are different types of suppliers on Alibaba, such as Gold Supplier, Verified Supplier, Trade Assurance Supplier, etc. Among the vast amount of suppliers, we’ll suggest you go with these suppliers as your top choices to start with. We’ll share with you more insight in the following part. 

To help you better understand how Alibaba works, we’ll also show you with a real case of Wine Tumbler inquiry to compare between those 2 methods step by step so that you’ll know how to select a best-matched supplier.

Method 1: Direct Search

Using direct search, you can see the price range from each supplier, select those whose price range is acceptable, then send over inquiries. In this case, we send out 20 inquiries in total for wine tumblers. Here is how: 

Step1: go to https://www.alibaba.com/ and type in the product you’re searching 

Step2: select top supplier to send inquiry (eg. gold supplier) 

Step3: contact supplier by clicking the button on Alibaba webpage 

wine tumbler search

You can easily get in touch with and send inquiry to the supplier by clicking the “contact supplier” button. 

Step4: collect and compare quotations from different suppliers

Step5: select 2-3 good suppliers for further communication

Method 2: Alibaba RFQ

To compare the results from direct search, we also post an RFQ on Alibaba, the steps are shown as below. 

Step1: go to Alibaba RFQ main page: https://rfq.alibaba.com/

Step2: complete the RFQ form as shown below 

alibaba rfq

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

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

Step5: select 2-3 good suppliers for further communication 

After using the above two methods, the results are clear. Under direct search, in the beginning, I need to spend hours reviewing the supplier info, sending out inquiries one by one, then waited 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 was also able to select 2-3 good ones for further negotiation.  

Our suggestion here is that if you are new to your product field, and do not want to spend hours in developing a long list of suppliers, I’d suggest you use Alibaba RFQ for more efficient results. If you still feel difficult to find good suppliers by yourself, you can always turn to a sourcing agent for help. 

If you want to know more about how to use RFQ more effectively to let the best suppliers come to you, you can read our another article: How to Get Best-match Supplier on Alibaba RFQ Effectively? Case Study . You’ll get a very easy-to-use RFQ template. 

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

Either way, after launching rounds of searches for suppliers, the next thing you need to fix is to select good suppliers among multiple choices. Let’s still take the above case as an example. When I review a supplier profile and their responses, I usually look at such aspects as their product specialization, communication, responsiveness, and professionalism. I’ll dive into more details about each aspect in the following paragraphs. Before selecting the suppliers, firstly you need to know a bit about the types of suppliers on Alibaba, this will help you quickly screen out those unqualified ones.

1) Know Types of Suppliers on Alibaba 

Basically, there are 3 types of suppliers on Alibaba: Gold Suppliers, Verified Suppliers, and Free Suppliers. You’ll come across suppliers who supports trade assurance. They can be easily identified by their icons. Under each type, there are manufactures and trading companies for you to choose from. 

Know the Icons for Different Types of suppliers

types of suppliers

Supplier TypeLevel PriorityProduct Posting (Max)
Gold supplier member, PaidTopUnlimited
Verified member, Free2nd level300
Unverified member, Free3rd level50

Gold Supplier: a gold supplier is a paid premium membership on Alibaba. They have also been authenticated by a third-party and Alibaba staff through onsite check

Verified Supplier: a verification icon says the supplier has been authenticated and verified by a third-party agency. These checks have been conducted to ensure gold suppliers are legitimate and existing companies, but do not verify their business reputation. 

Supplier supports trade assurance: the supplier agrees to use trade assurance to protect buyer’s interests in the event of quality discrepancy and delayed shipment.  

If you face difficulties in choosing between manufacturers and trading companies, we’d suggest you read our another two articles: 7 Ways to Verify Chinese Suppliers Are Factories, Not Trading Companies and 4 Reasons Why Trading Companies Are Better than Manufacturers

2) Use Top 3 Criterias for Selecting Suppliers 

Based on our years of experience in dealing with thousands of suppliers, we’ve developed below top criteria to help you select good ones. 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 the 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, which leaves me concerns on their capacity to fulfil my order. Based on this, I quickly screen out another 5 trading companies. 

Various product categories (trading company)

product category

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 in a timely manner. 

Take the above case for 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 in a clear and logical way. However, a poor one will generally delivers nothing. 

Good Communication Example                              Poor Communication Example 

(Click to Zoom In)                                                  (Click to Zoom In)

c. Professional knowledge in international trading 

I believe a good supplier 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, a good supplier can not only clarify all your concerns, but always stand by to solve problems. 

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 situation, it is more important for you to select a partner who can clearly understand your requirements and expectations and have the capability to turn your ideas into real products. 

Conclusion: pricing is not the only thing while selecting suppliers, the lowest price does not work out always. Based on the above 3 criteria, I was able to quickly select 2-3 good suppliers for further price negotiation and sample quality checking. 

Next time when you are trying to select Alibaba suppliers, you can also follow these advice and see how the results are going. If you encounter other problems, you can leave your comment under the article, we can discuss in more detail.

4. Negotiate with Suppliers for Best Price. Customize Samples before Production.

After selecting a couple of suppliers, the next step is to negotiate for a better price. This takes techniques, you’ll need to know what the suppliers care most about in order to ask for a better price, such as quantity, payment methods, packaging, etc. And you need to balance and weigh the trade-offs to get what you value most. Usually a bigger quantity, and a favourable payment method like T/T 100% in advance can increase your bargaining power. If you need customized packaging, you’ll need to meet their MOQ requirement for customization, otherwise, you’ll have to pay a higher price. 

How to communicate with suppliers? 

From the moment you get in touch with suppliers on Alibaba, you have different choices available to communicate with your suppliers. You can click “Chat Now” on Alibaba website to open this web-based communication platform, or just send them emails. Five channels to talk with your suppliers5 channels

After you get familiar with each other, other instant messengers can be used such as wechat, whatsapp, etc. 

What we suggest here is that, 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. 

Pre-production Sample (PP Sample) 

After finalizing prices, the next important step is to customize the pre-production sample. You must know the importance of pre-production sample, as it serves as the quality standard for mass production. Many buyers will forget to do so because they’ll think it takes time and money to confirm the sample quality back and forth. 

That mindset is totally wrong. You’ll have to put in the time and efforts in the beginning in order to ensure the 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 buyer, one for vendor
  • Importer check sample quality, seals it and send back to vendor for production reference 

If you find variations in samples, you can ask for re-submission for PP sample or confirm for bulk production with comments to be corrected in mass production. Be sure to ensure the suppliers will follow the quality standards. 

Usually you need to pay 100% sample fee upfront, and also pay for the shipping cost.

5. Choose Trade Assurance or Other Transaction Methods for Placing an Order.

After settling down all the above steps from supplier selection, price negotiation to sample confirmation, it is time to place an order! You can either create a trade assurance order with suppliers who supports it, or place a normal order.

You must have heard of trade assurance, but still don’t know what it is or how to use it, no worry, we’ll show you in the following chapter. 

What is Trade Assurance? 

Trade assurance is a Free service offered by Alibaba to protect buyers in the event that the quality falls short of expectation or the supplier fails to ship on time as agreed. It means that if either of the two situations happens, you can open a dispute and ask for refund by uploading sufficient evidence.  

How to Pay for Your Order? 

With a trade assurance order, you have to pay via Alibaba.com, using 5 different methods: Online Bank Payment (for large orders), credit card (Visa, Master Card),  telegraphic transfer (T/T), Western Union, and Pay Later. You cannot pay via Paypal or other offline methods, otherwise your payment is not protected. 

To know more details, and how it can protect your payment and order, you can check our another article: Beginner’s Guide to Trade Assurance. Real Case Analysed. 

If you want to pay via Paypal or other methods such as Money Gram, etc, you’ll need to create an order without trade assurance protection. Usually Paypal is suggested for an order value less than $500. 

For most Chinese suppliers, they’ll not accept Paypal for large orders, for fear of getting cheated, due to the 180-day refund protection offered by Paypal. It means that if there is any quality problem found after receiving the goods, you can open a dispute through Paypal. 

If you want to know more about the difference between various payment methods, please check our article on How to Send Money to China for Lowest Cost? 

6. Find Freight Forwarder to Ship Cargo from Alibaba Supplier to Your Address.

After the tedious process of purchasing products, finally we come to the last vital step-shipping the goods. How to send your products to your destination? Which shipping method is suitable for your goods? What documents should you prepare for custom clearance?  Actually, we can leave all these troubles to the freight forwarder. 

What is a Freight Forwarder?

A freight forwarder is a service provider that specialize 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,and cargo insurance, etc.

In a word, a good freight forwarder will save you time and headaches while providing reliable and cost effective shipment.

How to find and choose a freight forwarder?

Basically there are two ways to find a freight forwarder. You can either find one yourself, or ask your supplier to handle it for you. 

Although there are thousands of freight forwarders,  it is not easy to select the reliable ones. Chances are that you may come across some freight forwarders who attract customers 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 of  freight companies by just typing “freight forwarder” in your country. Besides, you can ask your friends who is experienced in importing to introduce a reliable freight forwarder. 

Remember to ask the supplier to quote the FOB price if you decide to use your own freight forwarder.freight forwarder

Following are the tips we summarized according to our experience to help you identify and select a reliable freight forwarder.

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

2) Find a freight forwarder with a wide network in your country. You should choose a freight 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 that has strong connections in the USA, it doesn’t matter how big their network is in China.

3) Find a freight forwarder with good customer service. How fast does the freight forwarder get back to you answering your questions? How good your freight forwarder 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 be able to walk you through what you need to know and do patiently to make sure all goes well with your shipment.

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

If you want to save the trouble finding a freight forwarder by yourself, you can ask your Alibaba supplier to recommend one to arrange your shipment. All you have to do is to make sure the shipping cost they quote you is the CIF price.

If you can not find a satisfying freight forwarders by yourself, or the prices they quote are rather high, Jingsourcing can be a good choice to help ship your shipment.

It is our daily work to source products and ship goods to different countries, especially to America. Click the button below to leave a message to us, our customer support will get back to you soon and quote you a shipping price for your reference.

7. Hire 3rd Party to Inspect the Quality. 

The last step before shipping is to inspect the quality of your goods. As we don’t want to end up receiving large number of defects after this complicated importing process, it is necessary to inspect the quality before shipment. To ensure the quality of all products on Alibaba is not something that can be done just by seeing a few pictures that your suppliers provide. When you are overseas or do not have a representative office in China, you can usually get it done by hiring a 3rd party. 

Three Ways to Find the 3rd Party QC

1) Alibaba inspection service. If you chose the supplier under trade assurance or you have added the service before making initial payment. Then you are endowed to order inspection services directly on Alibaba inspection service.  Here you can choose from two quality inspection companies, one is BV and the other one is China Certification & Inspection Group. The service fees are cheaper than the market price, but the amount they check is rather small and the inspection time is short.alibaba inspection service features

2) Professional third-party inspection company. There are companies specialized in quality inspection such as Asia Inspection, V-trust, etc. Usually the inspection fee of these companies cost $300 per person / day. 

Companies like SGS, Intertek ,TUV also have inspection service, but their fees are rather high. They normally adopt sampling inspection method according to the inspection standards of AQL, and will report the inspection results to you.

3) Sourcing company. You can also find a sourcing agent to do this job, it can be the sourcing agent that you have cooperated with and trusted. Some well-developed sourcing companies like Jingsourcing could offer quality check service.

The quality inspection service of sourcing companies have their own advantages. They can provide thorough check and help negotiate with the suppliers directly on your behalf once they find intolerable quality defects, while the inspection company don’t provide such service. What’s more, the inspection fee of sourcing company is much cheaper than inspection company.

What to Do with Unsatisfactory Quality?

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

1. Deal with quality problem before delivery

1) 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.

2) 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 need relevant documentary evidence for alibaba staff to review. You can get the refund once your evidence been approved. For more information, please refer to the trade assurance article.

2. Deal with quality problem after delivery

1) Orders without trade assurance: You can open a dispute and negotiate the refund and compensation with the supplier on paypal if you pay the order by Paypal. Paypal will play the role as the “middleman” between you and the supplier. But if you pay by other off line method, the only way is to negotiate with the supplier by yourself. 

2) Orders under trade assurance: You don’t have to be panic facing the defect goods if you selected trade assurance suppliers and chose the 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 approved by Alibaba staff, you can get the refund.