How many times have you heard about Alibaba? It’s a preferred option for many importers who can easily source suppliers online and reach out to overseas suppliers just a click away. 

If you are new to the import business and wonder how to source safely and effectively via Alibaba? Don’t worry, this guide is specifically for you. Click each heading below for details.

What Is Alibaba?

As a part of Alibaba Group, is a leading wholesale platform with the world’s largest supplier directory, most of whom are Chinese. Alibaba works like an online trade show, with the most comprehensive product types. Many global businesses source from Alibaba at cheap prices, and then sell on Amazon, eBay, or other e-commerce sites.

Can I buy from Alibaba for personal use?

Many people have such a question. The answer is “yes.” If you buy 1 single item, you can find suppliers to order a sample and pay for shipping, usually via international express which is expensive. In this case, AliExpress is more suitable, as it’s mainly for retail.

If you are purchasing hotel supplies for personal use or buying furniture and decorative materials for a new home project, you can also consider purchasing them from Alibaba.

However, it may require more time and effort. Suppose you contact 10 suppliers and get 2 suppliers looking good for your first product. Then, to buy 5 types of products, you need to contact and verify at least 50 suppliers. In this case, a professional sourcing agent can help you do the tedious job more efficiently and consolidate the products you require for shipping. 

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.

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Two Ways to Search Suppliers and 3 Key Points to Select Suppliers.

As you noticed, there are thousands of suppliers on Alibaba. You can search for suppliers by typing in keywords like product names in the search bar. Then, review supplier info and click the “Contact Supplier” button to send inquiries to those looking good for further selection.

Another method is using RFQ (Request for Quotation). This way, you post a buying request and wait for suppliers’ responses. This is more efficient if you do not want to spend hours developing a long list of suppliers.

Either way, you’d better:

Know that verified suppliers are essentially paid members on Alibaba.

With only a few exceptions among free members, the majority of suppliers on Alibaba are Verified Suppliers, since Gold Supplier membership has been offline since September 2021. Suppliers verified by a third-party agency have to pay more for being verified members. But this does not mean verified suppliers are reliable. Further contact is necessary to evaluate suppliers.

Clear in the mind when to work with trading companies rather than factories.

Many buyers prefer going directly to factories for the lowest prices. They spend lots of time searching on Alibaba for factories. But you know what? It’s often not necessary. Trading companies are better for you in the following 2 situations:

For most startups and small-budget businesses ordering a small quantity, it’s best to approach trading companies. They can work well with you, especially when customizing a product in 3-5 different colors or sizes. In comparison, most factories are reluctant.

Choose trade companies when sourcing sundry goods and such product categories as pet/party supplies, waterpark materials, etc. Usually, a single factory can’t produce the entire range of products in a category. Dealing with dozens of factories and handling QC can be really draining. Turn to trading companies for efficient product sourcing. If there are any quality issues, you can negotiate solutions with them. It’s convenient.

Assess supplier professionalism by their product portfolios and replies.

Browsing the supplier product category to initially judge whether he is professional in your desired product. Suppose you get a good wine tumbler quote after using RFQ, but the supplier’s product portfolio is as below. It’s clear that wine tumblers are not his area of strength, doubting his capacity to fulfill your order. You need to look for other suppliers.


Look at how suppliers reply to your inquiries and whether they get back promptly. Suppose your wine tumbler inquiry email includes product cost, packaging, shipping cost, etc. Good suppliers can clarify all your concerns clearly and logically, and maybe sometimes propose suggestions for your project. However, a poor reply will generally deliver nothing, due to a lack of product knowledge and industry experience.

Good Example (Click to Enlarge)

Poor Example (Click to Enlarge)

How to Get Lower Alibaba MOQ?

Many people are deterred by high MOQs on Alibaba. Actually, the MOQ varies based on the product type, product value, and customization complexity.

Typically, “Ready to Ship” products have no MOQ restrictions. For custom products, suppliers are more flexible with lower MOQs for high-value goods than low-value items like toilet paper. Additionally, simple customization such as embroidering on T-shirts, 100-200 pieces are acceptable. The more complex a customized product is, the higher the MOQ tends to be.

If customizing such products as seamless underwear, the custom MOQ is also high as a production line is always accompanied by thousands of pieces. Producing several hundred units will make suppliers bear losses.

In case your order quantity is slightly below the MOQ, you can find other suppliers. Some may be willing to lower their MOQ to achieve cooperation, especially if this is your first order.

When reaching the MOQ, you have more leverage in price negotiations and can ask for lower product prices with the suppliers.

Ask Suppliers for Product Samples for Comprehensive Evaluation.

When requesting samples, you can typically gauge the suppliers’ attitudes and professionalism. A supplier willing to collaborate tends to show a high level of dedication and seriousness. This is crucial, especially when dealing with complex customizations or developing brand-new products from ideas. Because issues may pop up at different stages. Suppliers who can always stand by to solve issues will save you many concerns.

Moreover, upon receiving samples, you are able to physically touch and assess the product’s quality and functionality. This is more visual and efficient than sample pictures or videos. According to your budget and requirements, you can choose the one you think is OK to place a trial order. I recommend you get 1-2 suppliers for backup, in case anything is wrong in the subsequent process.

Choose Trade Assurance and Pay on Alibaba Safey.

No matter the large or small orders, choosing Alibaba trade assurance service can make your Alibaba purchases safer.

How Does Trade Assurance Work?

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 Safely?

The first coming to our mind is the widely used Paypal. It is safe, as you can apply for a refund when facing such issues as poor quality. But to pay via Paypal, you need to create an order without trade assurance. 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.

For trade assurance orders, you have to pay on Alibaba using 5 different methods:

Any offline methods cannot protect your payment and you’re likely to get scammed.

Alibaba Shipping or Freight Forwarder to Ship Your Cargo?

Alibaba has its own logistics platform, powered by Freightos since mid-2020 through collaborations. You can enter Alibaba Logistics to get and compare shipping quotes.

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Fill out the required information, such as places of origin & destination, cargo type, etc. Regarding the load info of carton dimensions plus quantities and gross weight, ask your supplier to get data. 

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Also, you need to choose freight forwarders and shipping methods. Then the shipping freight is calculated by the Alibaba platform.

Freight forwarders, also known as forwarding agents, are responsible for delivering goods from the supplier to you. They work with shipping companies, airlines, etc., and can get agent prices, lower than the prices you directly contact these companies.

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Typically, Express is expensive but much faster than “ocean shipping to the port + local truck delivery”. Delivery time is closely related to the shipping methods you choose. The quicker it is, the more you pay for shipping.

In addition, asking suppliers for freight forwarders to arrange shipments is common and preferred by many importers. Usually, suppliers have cooperative freight forwarders. This will be much easier than sifting through millions of forwarders on your own.

Please note: if you decide to use the supplier’s forwarder, usually you can inquire CIF price; if you already have your forwarder, remember to ask the supplier to quote you the FOB price. 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. Our daily work is to source products and ship goods from China to different countries, especially to America.

JingSourcing helps you ship cargo in a cost-effective and safe way.

Two Ways to Inspect Alibaba Product Quality.

The last step before shipping is to inspect the product’s quality. If you find out the quality problems after receiving the goods, it will be too late. It is not as simple as buying a bad product in a store and asking for a refund or a new one.

As for the QC service, third-party inspection companies and sourcing companies can provide it. You can:

Use Alibaba 3rd-party inspection services or find by yourself

On the Alibaba inspection service page, you can only choose from 3 third-party service providers: BV, China Certification & Inspection Group, and SGS. Alibaba provides discounts on inspection fees, making it cheaper than the market price.

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In addition, you can also find many other 3rd-party inspection companies, such as V-trust, QIMA, etc. Usually, the inspection costs $200-300 per person a day. 

Either Alibaba 3rd-party inspection services providers or others, normally adopt AQL sampling inspection. But in most cases, the amount they check is small, and not really in strict accordance with AQL standards. Only when many problems are found during the inspection will they increase the quantity, in order to make the quality inspection report look real.

Issuing the inspection report to tell you whether the result is Fail or Pass. Then the service is completed. If it’s “Fail”, you need to negotiate with the supplier to modify defective products or redo them.

Use sourcing company to handle QC

Many sourcing companies provide QC services. Like JingSourcing, we have a dedicated team to do product quality inspections in our own warehouse. Compared to third-party inspection companies, we check a higher percentage of products and can also offer a full review to reduce the defect rate to 0.

Our qc fee is $40 per person a day. Even if you want a full inspection, it is very cost-effective. More importantly, we inspect products after getting your checking focus and send videos to confirm with you whether the defect is acceptable. For defective products, we help you negotiate with your supplier about solutions to defective products. It’s convenient and efficient.

Ask JingSourcing for efficient product QC at good prices.

What to Do with Unsatisfactory Quality?

For quality issues found before shipping

Orders without trade assurance

The only way is to negotiate with the supplier. This can be really draining, especially when you’re overseas. Turn to sourcing agents, they can act as your representative in China and negotiate with your supplier for solutions.

Trade assurance order with pre-shipment coverage

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 is approved.

For quality issues found after delivery

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, you can only negotiate with the supplier by yourself.

Trade assurance order with post-delivery coverage

Contact the supplier for a solution. If no solution can be reached, you can open a dispute before confirming delivery. Getting desired dispute solutions requires you to provide enough evidence to make the Alibaba team judge the supplier is at fault. This is not always easy.


What are the best things to buy on Alibaba?

Actually, there’s no universally “best” product. Everyone has different budgets and strengths, leading to diverse product choices. Here, I share some product selection ideas.

For daily necessities like socks, usually dominated by big retailers, you can add unique pattern designs to either the sock or packaging. This way, you can differentiate your products from widely available ordinary ones in a cost-effective way.

Or consider a small subset of products, such as yoga socks and running socks. This 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.

One more thing, avoid buying branded products (e.g. iPhone, Nike shoes), 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.

How can I customize packaging for my product through Alibaba?

Alibaba suppliers provide customers with 2 customized options.

Make modifications to the existing packaging

Basically, all sellers who provide customized services on Alibaba can help you. Common modifications such as printing your logo and brand name, and changing color, size, and material are available and easy to realize.

Customize new packaging

You can also design the product packaging by yourself, and then send the design drawings to your packaging suppliers. Note that Alibaba’s packaging customization MOQ is high. If you fail to reach it, you will be rejected.

However, we can do it for you with a lower MOQ (e.g. two or three hundred), based on our long-term cooperative packaging factories from small to large.

Contact JingSourcing to Customize Packaging.

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