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Planning to order from Alibaba.com, but worried that something will go wrong? In this guide, we break down the entire process from initial supplier search to requesting quotations, and buying samples. We also explain the details of order management, including payments, quality inspections, lab testing, and shipping.
Step 1: Finding suppliers on Alibaba.com
Step 2: Contact suppliers and request quotations
Step 3: Place your order
Step 1: Finding suppliers on Alibaba.com
You can source suppliers by searching for products, or on a supplier basis. The third sourcing option is to use the RFQ option.
Option A: Product Search
Type in a product name and you’ll get anything from 500 to 500,000 results. That’s a lot of products, but it doesn’t really say anything about the suppliers behind these products.
Hence, I recommend that you search based on suppliers rather than use the product search function. Keep in mind that most of the product listings are not actual off-shelf items but products the supplier “can produce”. Sometimes they list renderings or photos, without actually having ever made the product.
That is not really an issue, but you as a buyer need to understand this dynamic to not make faulty assumptions.
Option B: Supplier Search (Best Practice)
When we source suppliers for our customers on Alibaba.com we always use the supplier search function. We do so because we ultimately care about the supplier’s capabilities – not whether they have nice product photos.
The Alibaba supplier search option allows us to use the filtering functions:
These filters allow us to quickly get a shortlist of more qualified suppliers that we then take a closer look at by analyzing their company profile page. This is what we look for:
Option C: Submit an Alibaba RFQ
Another option is to post a buying request, also known as a Request for Quotation (RFQ). This means that the suppliers come to you, instead of you having to go to them. It’s free of charge and certainly worth a try. That being said, we still prefer to be in control when it comes to sourcing suppliers.
This is why we don’t recommend the RFQ option as a substitute for the supplier search function on Alibaba.com. It’s a compliment, but not a replacement.
Once you have a shortlist it’s time to start contacting suppliers. This is also the hardest part, as communication can be quite difficult. What matters at this stage is that you provide a clear product specification that covers the following:
The supplier needs to know exactly what you want them to quote for you – even if you intend to request quotes for a private label product.
I am a supplier too. You should inform some professional questions about your products such as your ingredient, you’re packing, your country regulation, whether OEM or not.
As a supplier myself, I only reply to a specific request. When your questions are very broad, it is very difficult for suppliers to understand and follow up with you. Be specific about the products that you are interested.
If you want to receive relevant quotations you need to provide the suppliers with relevant and specific product information. Here are some reasons why suppliers
1. The buyer does not provide clear product specifications
2. The buyer does not provide product compliance requirements
Alibaba suppliers are busy, and they get tons of inquiries every day. They know how to spot the difference between a serious buyer and one that is very unlikely to buy anything.
a. Receiving quotations
When you’ve sent out your inquiry to 10 to 15 suppliers you can expect to receive quotations from roughly half of them. The quotation should include the following information:
Unit price (FOB or EXW)
MOQ per order/model/color
Tooling cost (if any)
b. Ordering product samples
Once you have quotations it’s time to select your supplier. Before you place a larger order it’s essential to order product samples.
My recommendation is that you order samples from at least 3 to 4 suppliers. That way you are not only testing the product but also the supplier’s ability to deliver on their promises – and within the set deadline.
Step 3: Place your order
Once you have approved the product samples it’s finally time to place your order. At this stage is crucial that you don’t wire the entire payment upfront, but first take your time to define clear order terms. This should be included:
Accepted defect rate
Quality inspection terms
Lab testing terms
Bank account details
The standard payment terms are 30% deposit and 70% only to be paid after the following:
Approved quality inspection
Approved lab testing
You should make the supplier aware of the fact that they will only get paid if they actually pass both compliance testing and quality inspection. They are almost certain to give more attention to your order – and product quality – if you give them a strong incentive to do so.
This is also the case if you choose to use the Alibaba Trade Assurance payment option. That said, you don’t have to use Alibaba’s own payment gateway when paying for the goods. Many buyers prefer to pay directly to the supplier’s bank account instead.
Quality inspections are essential when ordering from Alibaba-listed suppliers. The QC normally takes place when the products are finished, and covers the following:
You can either book quality inspections via Alibaba.com directly or contact a third-party company such as Sofeast or QIMA.
Note that Alibaba.com is in no way responsible for product quality. It’s up to you as a buyer to ensure that the quality is checked before shipment. You cannot return defective products once the cargo is shipped.
Lab testing is necessary to verify that the products are compliant with safety standards or substance restrictions. Keep in mind that lab testing is often mandatory – especially when importing toys, children’s products, electronics, food contact materials, and many other products.
Again, it’s not Alibaba’s responsibility to ensure that the products are compliant. Hence, lab testing must be arranged prior to the shipment.
Examples of product compliance requirements
Safety standards (e.g. ASTM F963 or EN 71-3)
Labeling requirements (e.g. CE mark or country of origin)
Documentation and certification requirements (e.g. Children’s Product Certificate)
The order process depends on how long it takes to get from initial RFQ to mass production. A normal production run can take anything from 1 to 2 months, but it’s hard to estimate how long it takes to get product samples made as there can be challenges when developing new products.
Is Alibaba.com the best platform for ordering from Asia?
Alibaba.com is certainly the largest supplier directory in Asia. Alibaba.com also provides the most data about suppliers, which is crucial when vetting suppliers.
Further, Alibaba.com also offers an increasingly wide range of value-added services, including payments, freight booking, quality inspections, and more.
Can I only order from Chinese suppliers on Alibaba.com?
The majority of suppliers on Alibaba.com are based in Mainland China. That being said, the website is open to manufacturers and trading companies in other Asian countries, such as Vietnam and India, and other parts of the world.
Alibaba.com has made an effort in recent years to attract suppliers from the United States and many other countries in recent years.
However, keep in mind that some services are only available when buying from Chinese suppliers. This is due to limitations in terms of services that Alibaba.com can offer, which differs between countries.
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.