How to Order from Alibaba in 3 Steps

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Suggestion: Watch the 10 minutes video tutorial before reading this article

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.

Overview

  • 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:

  • ISO 9001
  • ISO 14001
  • BSCI
  • Sedex
  • FSC
  • GMP

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:

  • Product scope
  • Registered capital
  • Compliance documents
  • Audit reports
  • Reviews

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.

Learn more about sourcing Alibaba.com

Order from Alibaba

Step 2: Contact suppliers and request quotations

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:

  • Design
  • Materials
  • Standards
  • Logos
  • Artwork
  • Packaging

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.

Why suppliers often ignore RFQs

A few years ago I stumbled upon a thread on the Alibaba forum that was posted by a European importer that had a hard time getting quotations from suppliers, this is how the suppliers replied:


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

3. The buyer does not specify whether or not they wish to order an ODM or OEM product

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
  • Sample cost
  • Tooling cost (if any)
  • Production time

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:

  • Buyer
  • Seller
  • Standards
  • Accepted defect rate
  • Quality inspection terms
  • Lab testing terms
  • Export packaging
  • Shipping terms
  • Payment terms
  • Bank account details

Payment

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.

Learn more about Alibaba payments

Quality Inspection

Quality inspections are essential when ordering from Alibaba-listed suppliers. The QC normally takes place when the products are finished, and covers the following:

  • Photos
  • Measurements
  • Functionality testing
  • Drop testing
  • Label checks
  • Color comparison
  • Packaging check

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.

Learn more

Lab testing

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)
  • Lab testing requirement
  • Pre-import approval

Learn more

Shipping

The final step is to book your shipment. Your supplier can help with this, but I recommend that you do so directly with a freight forwarder as this gives you control over insurance and costs.

Alibaba has a freight platform developed in collaboration with Freightos.com

Learn more

FAQ

How long does it take to order from Alibaba.com?

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.

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  • 7 Responses to “How to Order from Alibaba in 3 Steps

    1. jay at 9:35 am

      Hi,

      How do i request samples from alibaba to another country outside us? Thanks

      1. ChinaImportal at 9:37 am

        Hi Jay,

        Simply specify the address to the supplier, and they can send it to any country.

    2. Vicky Liu at 1:42 am

      Thanks for your details.
      But when you said suppliers use western union payment are scammers, I don’t agree.
      We are honest, but all small amounts are paid by western union. It is convenient, and recipient need to pick it up with his/her government issued ID. So it can be tracked, and if something wrong, the police can know who is the fraud.

      So You can not say they are a scammer just from the payment method.
      Here are two ways to check a supplier’s honesty:
      1) Google their export records
      2) Ask for Customer references

    3. Stephanie at 2:42 am

      I am just starting out with buying from oversea’s and after looking into it I do not understand anything about shipping. I’m not sure what my next steps after buying the items from the supplier would be? Could you please advise?

      1. Larry at 3:52 pm

        Stephanie;

        I haven’t even made it to ordering anything from China, yet. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

        But to answer your question, I believe your next steps are to:
        Open an account on eBay, setup a PayPal account, link them to a bank acct
        Then, do the same on Amazon
        Then after you get consistent sales coming in, setup your own website
        I would suggest BlueHost, They have a lot of helpful people there
        and they can help with setting up an eCommerce site with PayPal or CC.
        After you get your website up and everything is working.
        You start putting Business Cards and Coupons in with your products, that
        you are selling on eBay and Amazon, and try to siphon/funnel sales
        to your WebSite (Sales on your website, will save you money, since you
        don’t have to pay eBay and Amazon for those sales)

    4. Boris at 6:45 pm

      Hi Fredrik. Nice content piece!

      In a book I read written by experienced China importer he recommended to avoid bringing up minimum order quantity until later in order to avoid being perceived as small fish. Avoiding specific subject matter is frequently observed in Chinese people thus if you do this as well with them, it won’t be perceived negatively.

      I was thinking of avoiding or at all ignoring initial MOQ subject matter until after I communicated well with suppliers, received their samples and started discussion of placing order. Do you think that might work in my favor? In fact, not only will I do that, but at the time of placing order I will personally call my price per piece for trial order batch which is below MOQ. What’s your opinion on this approach? One downside I see is compromise on quality which I might not be aware of since supplier may be interested in first opportunity to close the deal. Maybe I should not call my price like some insolent person and try to start from negotiation?

      You mentioned to ask supplier to declare products as “sample items”. Can you explain what difference would that make and must that shipment come with commercial invoice? Does that mean customs declaration form will have “sample items” written instead “product name”? Also if I am ordering risky product like kitchen knife, would declaring it as “sample item” make difference in how customs officers look upon it?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 2:23 pm

        Hello Boris,

        Yes, I certainly agree that the MOQ shall not be discussed until after more important details are clarified, including previous compliance and whether the supplier can match the buyers quality requirements.

        You may also claim that the initial order is only a sample order, which many suppliers will accept. However, in return will expect the order volumes to grow in the future – but that is of course also in the importers interest.

        In this case I revise my position on declaring the item as a product sample. As of today, it makes no difference – just make sure the correct product name is declared on the package.

        No, the Commercial Invoice is only relevant for sea freight. As most samples are delivered by air, the CI is not applicable. However, the supplier should still declare the proper customs value (CIF in EU & Israel, FOB in Australia & USA). Nor do I think that a kitchen knife would be considered as a risky item, but of course such regulations may exist despite me now being aware of them.

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