We got many inquiries from people who want to start a small business by importing small quantity products from China since our website started. Most of them do not have much relevant experience, and just consider it’s very simple: find a Chinese supplier, buy products at a low price, ship home, and sell a high price in the local market.

But the truth is importing small quantities directly from China is never that easy. You will face many different problems, such as shipping fees higher than the product’s value, or your order being much less than the supplier’s MOQ. In some circumstances, you may have to give up your wonderful plan of starting a new business.

In this article, we will give a complete introduction of how to import small quantity products from China and explain some problems you may have.

What Is Small Business? And What Is Small Quantity Buyers?

Different companies and people have different definitions of small business. Most sourcing agents or consulting companies define small businesses as those that import less than USD 500,000 annually. But for many business starters, this amount is way too high, and maybe they still can’t reach it after 5 years. That’s why it’s not easy for small starter businesses to find a suitable sourcing or consulting company that can offer them relevant services.

I’d like to define customers who purchase USD 5,000-50,000 (including different kinds of products) in one order as Small Business. With this amount, the shipment volume usually is from 5 CBM to a 40HQ container. This amount usually can reach the factory’s MOQ and can buy from them directly.

4 to 5 CBM normally will be the most suitable minimum volume for LCL (Less than Container Load) shipping. If less than this, the whole export & import process is complicated and costs lots of money, which means the average cost for each product will be high.

Small Quantity Buyers refer to those who buy less than $2,000 per order, and who just start a new business (I mentioned in the beginning) are also a part of them. This article will more focus on helping this group of people.

What Kind of Products Are Suitable for Small Quantity Buyers?

For small business importers, those who buy more than USD 5,000 per order, must know what to import and how to sell. But small business starters probably even have no idea what kind of products to start with first.

a. High-Value or Small Size Products

Shipping is always a big problem for small quantity importers. Because their shipping volume is always too less for LCL, usually less than 2 CBM, and have to choose air freight or express, which costs 8-10 times higher than LCL sea freight.

Products with large size or large packages, like mug and teddy bear, is not suitable for small quantity importers, because both express and air freight fee are charged by dimension weight (length*height*width).

fashion accessories
Fashion accessories are a good choice for small quantity buyer

This means your shipping cost is even higher than the products’ value, but your competitors import by LCL sea freight which costs 80% less than you. Then you have no chance to compete with them in the local market.

So for small quantity importers, high-value, small-sized products are a better choice. Shipping cost won’t be high, sometimes only 10% of the product’s value. Such as fashion accessories, small electronic products, watches, etc. Most importers won’t choose sea shipping because of the timeliness, so no need to worry about your shipping cost is higher than competitors.

b. Choose Interesting Products, Instead of Normal Items

Small quantity buyers can try to find some special and interesting products, and avoid those common products which can be bought everywhere.

Some people think that daily used products, such as socks, are very easy to be sold as everyone needs them, but it’s not true. Because there must be numerous people importing and selling these items with low profit, and it will be hard to compete with them. But you can think about importing some special socks, such as “non-slip children socks”, or socks with good designs.

Common products in daily life are not suitable for small businesses, either. For instance, we received many inquiries from different countries (European and Middle East countries), and they want to import a 20GP container of A4 printing papers.

toilet paper
Interesting toilet paper with pictures printed

But they only found that the total cost to import from China has no big difference from the price in their countries. Because this kind of product has no much-added value, and the cost is mostly depending on the raw material. So the price is very transparent, even with a large demanded quantity.

Toilet paper is also a very common product, but our Czech customer selects those with interesting designs printed: such as US dollar, Euro, Heller, and even Kama Sutra. These special toilet paper can be easily sold at several times higher prices than the common one.

How to Find Chinese Suppliers for Small Quantity Buyers?

Most small quantity buyers find Chinese suppliers online. Even customers who buy larger quantity (around USD 30,000-50,000 for each order), they seldom actually come to China for finding suppliers, except attending some fairs.

First is the high cost, including air ticket, hotel fee, and traffic allowance, and it will cost totally around USD 4,000 for a week visiting China. Second is finding a good Chinese supplier is a tough task, except you go directly to some places like fairs or Yiwu wholesale market. Or you already contacted suppliers before coming to China.

But if you have enough time and budget to come to China to visit wholesale markets, I recommend you to read Top China Wholesale Markets for All Products.

a. Alibaba

No matter for large buyers or small quantity buyers, searching Chinese suppliers on Alibaba is the best choice. But If you are buying a very small quantity (less than USD 400 for each item), Alibaba suppliers probably can’t sell you because usually, they have higher MOQ.

Maybe you can pay for products at a higher price, and sometimes suppliers will sell you. If not, you have to turn to DHgate or Aliexpress. Don’t spend much time persuading them that you will buy a big quantity in the future, and this is for trial. Because Chinese suppliers are hearing this from clients every day, and it doesn’t work at all.

b. Dhgate and Aliexpress

If the Alibaba supplier’s MOQ is still hard for you to reach, maybe you can only go to DHgate and Aliexpress. They’re two similar sites to Alibaba with some differences. Usually, DHgate tends to small quantity wholesalers whose buying quantity is between Alibaba and Aliexpress. Aliexpress more tends to retailers, though it claims itself for online wholesale, and this truth is known by most Chinese suppliers.

Many buyers may have such questions: Is Dhgate safe? Is Aliexpress safe? Actually, both of them are legal platforms and what you really need is practical tips to avoid or handle problems when buying on them. 

How to Ship Cargo from China When Buying Small Quantity?

I have to say that the shipping way is really a big problem for small quantity buyers as mentioned in the beginning. Sometimes small quantity has to give up importing from China because express is the only way to ship, and it’s too expensive.

a. International Express and Air Freight

International Express is suitable for cargoes under 300kg, while air freight is suitable for over 300kg. But air freight needs the same import & export processes as sea freight. You also need to pick up your cargo at the airport.

Hazardous articles such as liquid, powder, and products with batteries cannot be shipped by air in cargo. Balancing scooters is also one among them. (You can check another article-Importing Balancing Scooter from China)

b. LCL Companies That Offer All-in Price Shipping Service

This kind of LCL company is the best choice for small quantity buyers. They usually are specialized in certain ports or areas and offer an all-in-price shipping service. They will handle all custom and shipping processes, and you just need to pick up your cargo in their warehouse, or sometimes they can deliver to the door.

Moreover, their price is very low even you ship 0.5 CBM because the container is shared by 10 to 40 clients. You can learn more by check another article: How to Ship Products When Import from China: Complete Guide.

But this kind of company is hard to find, not existing in every area or city. You’d better ask some experienced importers in your country, and maybe they know.

I know some of these kinds of shipping companies, and I’d like to help you. You can tell us what kind of products and the quantity you’d like to deliver and I will contact you via email.

There are companies offering $80/CBM to Malaysia & Singapore, delivering to the door; $280/CBM to Kenya but you have to pick up cargos at their warehouse in Nairobi; $280/CBM to Sydney/Melbourne warehouse, etc. The rate is just for reference.

c. Consolidate Cargoes from Different Suppliers And Ship Together

If you are buying from different suppliers, then you can think about consolidating them in one shipment, and you will save shipping costs. Because even use international express, heavy cargo is charged in lower price/kg than light one.

It makes more sense for sea freight. If you import 5 different products from 5 suppliers, each product 0.5CBM, then you can consider consolidating them together by LCL sea shipping. By doing this, your shipping cost will be 80% less than express. Or you have to pay for 5 international expresses separately because there’s no cheaper solution.

So you need a person to consolidate your cargoes in China. One solution is to find a reliable forwarder who has its own warehouse, then you can use it for consolidation (usually free of charge). However, most of the forwarders don’t have a warehouse, and they just pick up your cargo from the supplier, then send it to the LCL shipping company to load in the container. (This may due to the particularity of the Chinese shipping agency industry, which we will introduce in a future article)

Another Solution is you can choose one reliable supplier, and let other suppliers send all the cargoes to him, then the forwarder can pick up cargoes together in one place.

We strongly recommend you to try to consolidate cargoes, so that you can gain more import experience. Then congratulations, you moved the first step of expanding your business, and you can try to purchase a larger quantity next time.

consolidate cargoes
The forwarder is picking up consolidated cargoes in the customer’s warehouse

How to Avoid Scam When Buying Small Quantity as a Business Beginner?

Many starter businesses are afraid of being scammed on Alibaba and other online platforms when sourcing products from China, but the truth is seldom people were under this case.

No matter you are buying from Alibaba, Aliexpress, or DHgate, none of the suppliers can take your money without sending the products. Because all suppliers on these online platforms are required to offer their Chinese ID cards, or company registration information in the beginning.

Then they have to pay a certain amount of fees every year to become suppliers on these platforms. Such as for being a Gold Supplier in Alibaba, you have to pay CNY 29,800 (around USD 4,730) annually for a membership fee; pay for USD 4,700 deposit to become suppliers in Aliexpress.

One interesting thing is: many people believe that Gold Suppliers are qualified suppliers verified by Alibaba, that’s also what Alibaba tells. But it’s not true. All suppliers on Alibaba are Gold Suppliers because they already paid for it. So you can just ignore the Gold Supplier thing when directly searching for suppliers on Alibaba or using the RFQ service.

So the worst situation is the products sent by the supplier are of worse quality than you expect or fewer products you received.

To avoid the possible scams, make sure to be careful when finding suppliers online, and do not only focus on the lowest price as you already can get good profit in retail. Or you’ll take the risk of receiving cheap quality or problem products. Even if you want to return products at that time, you’ll find shipping cost is high, and most Chinese sellers don’t accept return and refund.
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