• How to Order from Alibaba in 3 Steps

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    Do you have a product that you would like to order from a supplier on Alibaba.com? Ordering from Alibaba.com might seem like a simple task but a quick search on Google or the Alibaba forum proves the opposite.

    This article provides you with a step by step guide to ordering from Alibaba.

    Step 1. Sourcing products on Alibaba.com

    There are three ways to source products at Alibaba. Product Search, Supplier Search or by posting a Buying Request. The Supplier Search is the latest Alibaba search option and in my opinion superior to the other two, below I explain why.

    Order from Alibaba

    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.

    Option B: Supplier Search (Best Practice)

    You still type in a product name, but instead of a list of products you’ll get a list of suppliers that make your product. This comes with a large benefit – “matching products” data for all listed suppliers.

    Below I explain why this matters:

    a. The more matching products a supplier have, the more likely it is to be a professional manufacturer or trader of this product

    b. A supplier that is highly specialized in a product is more likely to offer lower prices, higher quality, fewer quality issues and a faster production time. They are also more likely to have more knowledge and experience regarding product certification, something that’s critical for European and American importers

    c. The main issue, however, is that very few suppliers are compliant with foreign regulations, such as CE, RoHS and CPSIA. If you don’t know which regulation applies to your product, you better hire a compliance expert. Confirmation of legal product certification requirements, labeling requirements and sourcing of compliance suppliers are also part of our Starter Package

    d. A low number of matching products indicates that the supplier is a trader or other type middleman. These tend to have very limited product knowledge.

    Option C: Submit an Alibaba RFQ

    In theory it’s a very nice feature. You provide Alibaba with information about your product, price requirements, shipping terms and payment terms.

    Your Request for Quotation (RFQ) will then become available to hundreds of Gold Suppliers that can choose to respond and send you a quotation.

    The downside is that some suppliers respond with copy pasted messages and attach quotations that are not even close to the product you asked for.

    Step 2. Contact suppliers, request quotations and order samples

    Communicating with Alibaba suppliers is hard. Many prospective import businesses give up because they simply can’t get the supplier’s attention. On the other hand, many suppliers are equally frustrated with buyers who cannot bother with providing clear product specifications.

    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 supplier to understand and follow up with you. Be specific about the products that you are interested.

    If you want receive relevant quotations you need to provide the suppliers with relevant and specific product information. Below I list 4 common reasons why Alibaba suppliers don’t respond to inquiries:

    • The buyer does not provide clear product specifications
    • The buyer does not provide any product certification requirements
    • The buyer does not specify whether or not they wish to order an existing product or an OEM product (Custom Design)
    • The buyer does not provide any contact details

    Alibaba suppliers are busy, and they get tons of enquiries every day. They know how to spot the difference between a serious importers and an opportunist that is very unlikely to buy anything.

    a. Receiving quotations

    When you’ve sent out your inquiry to 20 – 25 suppliers (we explain why here) you can expect to receive quotations from roughly half of them.

    The “conversion rate” is likely to be much lower if you are not providing clear product specifications. It’s important that the quotations contain the following information:

    • Product images / Link to Alibaba product page
    • Product Specifications
    • Minimum Order Quantity
    • Pricing
    • Incoterms
    • Export packing

    b. Ordering product samples

    Samples are rarely free, and even if they are you are expected to pay the air freight from China.

    1. Order samples from more than one supplier.

    2. Tell your supplier which product you need a sample of and how many pieces per product.

    3. Tell your supplier that you expect the product sample to match the final product, unless you plan to order highly customized products that requires a mould.

    4. Provide the supplier with your delivery address and ask them to declare the products as “sample items”.

    Step 3. Place your order

    Getting to this point can sometimes take months, so by now I hope you have at least one supplier and product that’s matching your quality requirements and budget.

    However, never rush into an order, if a supplier raise prices or if the samples are not matching your expectations – start from the beginning or contact one of the suppliers that quoted you during Step 2.

    When you decide which Alibaba supplier you shall order from, consider the following:

    1. Whether or not the product samples are matching your product specifications and quality requirements

    2. Pricing

    3. Minimum Order Quantity

    4. Supplier Communication


    Even today, most payments are made outside of Alibaba’s own payment gateway, Alipay. Hence, it’s up to you to negotiate terms directly with the supplier.

    Usually you pay 30% before production begins and another 70% before the products are shipped. We strongly discourage you from any of the following:

    • Transferring money through Western Union. No serious supplier uses this payment method but it’s popular among Scam suppliers since the money cannot be tracked
    • Paying 100% in advance. If something goes wrong during production you’ll need to give the supplier an incentive to make it up. This is much easier if you are the one holding the money, in other words the 70% balance payment

    Alibaba.com has also implemented a Trade Assurance program, that will likely develop further in the years ahead.

    Can Alibaba.com guarantee the quality of the products?

    No. Alibaba.com is a B2B supplier directory. Essentially, they provide a databank of suppliers, together with product listings and verified information.

    Just like Shopify or Amazon don’t guarantee that you’ll make money selling your product, Alibaba.com doesn’t offer any guarantees whatsoever when it comes to quality.

    It’s up to you how to vet suppliers properly, and then manage the the overall process.

    While a qualified supplier is a key component to successfully launch a product, 90% is all about how to manage that supplier – from sample order, to sales contracts and quality checks.

    Alibaba.com provide some of the tools you need, but it’s not their job to make sure your products are made the way you want them to.


    This article is provided only for informational purposes only and neither the author nor any companies and/or service providers mentioned in this text makes any representations as to the accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. This article only represents the views of the author and is not endorsed by any company and/or service provider mentioned in this text.

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

    1. jay at 9:35 am


      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


        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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