Alibaba is one of the most important resources for FBA businesses. It’s a key element in sourcing, if you want to buy from China.
In fact, Alibaba is part of a really massive platform which includes Chinese consumer site Taobao (a bit like ebay) Aliexpress (selling internationally to consumers), and Tmall (China’s Amazon, so to speak). But Alibaba is a business-to-business site, where you can ask for samples and choose between different manufacturers. It’s so much easier than going direct.
It’s a very user-friendly site and because most of its suppliers are based in China or other low-cost countries, you’ll have access to products at really low prices.
You can, if you want, just buy product from Alibaba and get it shipped as is. But if you’re trying to build a brand, it’s better to come up with your own specifications, and use the Request for Quote facility. You’ll likely get replies within a few days, even sometimes within 24 hours.
However, you’ll need to do some due diligence on suppliers, just as you would on ebay. You’ll want to choose suppliers who have been on Alibaba a while, selling similar products; some manufacturers may quote for business that isn’t really part of their regular product line, or are trying to get started, and you don’t want them to learn the ropes at your expense. Check their transaction score and check their reviews. It’s also worth checking the total dollar amount of transactions, which tells you (more or less) the size of firm you’re dealing with.
It’s worth sticking to firms that belong to Alibaba’s Trade Assurance program, for two reasons. First of all, Alibaba doesn’t let everyone on to the program. Secondly, it will help secure your payment and ensure no one tries to rip you off. (If you don’t use Alibaba Trade Assurance, then pay using PayPal, which will protect you as a buyer. Don’t use a money transfer or wire payment.)
Next, get a sample from the top three or four companies. Be as specific as you can about what you want. You can then see how quickly the companies respond, and whether they understood your requirements. You can also check the quality of the product, of course. Remember, though, that the working relationship, if your product grows and you need to reorder in future, is going to be important.
Once you’ve found the right supplier, you’ll need to negotiate the price. The supplier probably budgeted for 10-15% wiggle room, so try to take advantage of that. Remember that there may be trade offs that are more acceptable than a straight price reduction, and that increasing the quantity a little might drop the price.
You might also consider Aliexpress as an interesting site for dropshipping. You set things up so that the product you’ve found is sold via your own store, at a markup; you pay Alibaba the wholesale price; and the Aliexpress seller ships direct to your customer. You can sell these items through Amazon – but not through FBA of course since as far as Amazon’s concerned, you’re fulfilling the order yourself.
The key to dropshipping successfully is to make sure you write the marketing copy yourself. For search engines, you’ll have unique content; and you can probably do a better job than the original seller, because you know how to push the right buttons for local consumers. You also need to be sure customers know that shipping can take a while! Offering free shipping gives them the impression they’ve got a fair exchange compared to paying for faster delivery.
It’s easy to set your business up on either Aliexpress or Alibaba. But there’s one thing you need to remember. Chinese holidays are a big deal. Usually, work stops for a week or more for the New Year, Qingming festival, and Labor Day, so if any of these are coming up, don’t expect anything to happen fast!