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Why bother with making custom designed or private label products when you can simply import off-shelf items from one of the many Chinese wholesale websites?
While importing wholesale products is not as straightforward and risk free as you might think, you should still be aware of the top China wholesale and dropshipping websites – and learn how they all differ.
Alibaba is known as the world’s largest B2B supplier directory. While a significant number of wholesalers and trading companies are listed on Alibaba.com – it was not created as a wholesale website.
Since it was launched, and until today, Alibaba.com is primarily a manufacturer directory.
In the future, it’s likely that Alibaba.com will evolve into a platform that enables transactions for both off-shelf and ‘make to order’ products – directly on the website.
Notice that you don’t actually do business with Alibaba.com. They provide supplier listings only.
Aliexpress.com, also owned by Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, launched as a B2C website. Here, buyer’s all over the world can buy products directly from Chinese online wholesalers, and pay online.
This is very different from Alibaba.com, where suppliers are listed, but transactions are (so far) made outside of its platform.
Aliexpress.com is still very B2C focused, but many of our customers uses Aliexpress.com to buy products in lots of 10 to 50 pcs.
You find many products on Aliexpress that you will not find on other websites listed in this article, which makes it attractive.
At least for buying ‘filler products’ or accessories, in lower volumes, as a complement to the main product line.
Notice that Aliexpress.com is a platform, not a seller. Hence, you don’t actually buy anything from Aliexpress.com, but from sellers listed on their platform.
Global Sources Direct
Globalsourcesdirect.com was launched in 2014 as a genuine B2B wholesale platform, focusing on more innovative manufacturers in southern China.
Yet, at the time of writing, the website seems to be somewhat inactive, and focused on lower priced phones.
I hope they get back to this project in the near future, because Global Sources could really pull this off.
For those of you don’t know them, Globalsources.com is a B2B supplier directory, that is only second to Alibaba.com.
But, they also arrange some of the world’s best trade shows.
Imagine if a fraction of those suppliers could list EU and US compliant off-shelf products on Globalsourcesdirect.com.
I don’t see how that could be anything but a success. At least that’s what I would do if I were them.
Another B2C (or well, C2C as some call it) is also owned by Alibaba Group. Unlike Aliexpress.com, which focuses on international markets, Taobao.com is exclusively focused on the Chinese market.
This includes Mainland China, Hong Kong S.A.R, Macao S.A.R and Taiwan.
The website is entirely in Chinese, and the sellers communicate exclusively in Chinese. Last, most cannot even ship their products outside of the Greater China region.
As such, Taobao.com is not very accessible from overseas.
There are, however, plenty of Taobao agents that can help you buy and ship products from the website.
So, why consider Taobao.com when Aliexpress is so much easier to use?
The prices on Taobao.com are possibly the lowest in the world. You can find extremely cheap products, as the they are priced according to local buying power.
Some products (but far from all) are the same as you find on other wholesale websites. Why pay more for the same item?
Taobao.com is the world’s largest ecommerce platform, apart from Amazon.com. There are millions of unique products here, many of which have never even made it outside of China.
Remember that products made for the Chinese market are not made to comply with overseas labeling requirements. For example, I would not buy apparel and textiles from Taobao.com, as
Chinese labels are not accepted in the US, Europe or Australia.
Or well, anywhere else for that matter.
For most products, it’s better to work directly with manufacturers on Alibaba.com or Globalsources.com.
DealExtreme.com is one of the earliest Chinese online whoelsalers. They where rather unique back when they launched in the late 2000s, and sold local products for extremely low prices.
DealExtreme.com, or DX, were also one of the earliest companies to offer dropshipping services, and volume discounts, for importers buying 10 or more units.
I personally used DealExtreme.com a lot back in 2009 and 2010, when I launched my first online store, selling noname watches.
DealExtreme.com offers many products that had not been seen outside of China back then. A good example is the IK Coloring skeleton watch, that used to be a good sell a decade ago.
Now, less so, as profit margins for generic dropshippers have practically collapsed since.
When everyone sells the same things, it’s impossible to compete.
That said, this is not unique in any way to DX, but it would not surprise me if they and other dropshipping sites will be much more focused on B2C in the future.
Wish is, unlike the other online wholesale platforms listed in this article, a smartphone app. They are also the only non-Chinese company, as they are founded and headquartered in the United States.
Further, Wish is strictly B2C. I don’t think they even have wholesale functionality.
So perhaps they shouldn’t even be on this list. But now they are, so what the heck.
It’s worth to mention that Wish has received a lot of media attention lately, and will probably get even more in the future.
Wish enables Chinese sellers to ship products directly to overseas customers, using e-packets. This is also what many dropshippers do, and it’s a practice that may not be sustainable.
This keeps prices extremely low on Wish, which often are on par with Taobao.com.
My personal history with DHgate.com goes back to 2008, and my very first ventures importing products from China.
DHgate.com is perhaps the only ‘real’ online wholesale platform in China, as that is what it set out to be when it launched during the mid 2000s.
DHgate.com has been around for a while, but is still going strong.
They list tens of thousands of wholesalers, in textiles, electronic components, kitchen utensils, home products and much more.
The platform is similar to Aliexpress.com, in the sense that you can source and buy products directly on the website.
I have no personal experience with Lightinthebox.com. They launched a bit later than DX, Sourcingmap.com and Focalprice.com – but offer essentially the same.
If anything, the main difference is that they may be more B2C focused than the others.
Focalprice.com is similar to Dealextreme.com in many ways. It’s the same concept. However, Focalprice.com was more geared towards dropshippers.
They enabled sellers to set up special dropshipper accounts, with discounts based on monthly sales, branded packaging and much more.
They also offered products that could not be found elsewhere.
I have no experience with them in recent years. I visited their office in Shanghai in 2012, but that was the last time I ever dealt with them.
Sourcingmap.com is based in Hong Kong, and one of the earliest and perhaps most sophisticated online wholesale platforms in China.
What makes Sourcingmap.com unique is their products.
They offer products, especially in the homewares category, that you simply cannot find elsewhere.
Like DX, they also enable sellers to dropship products directly to customers all over the world.
It’s been a long time since I worked with them, but I do remember that they had fantastic customer service.
What you must think about when buying from China online wholesalers
Products sold on most China wholesale websites are made for the domestic market – not for overseas markets.
For example, a t-shirt made for the Chinese market, comes with Chinese care labels – not labels that comply with EU textiles labeling requirements.
Electronics sold on Taobao.com are made to comply with Chinese regulations – not those in the US.
Toys sold on the China market are made to comply with Chinese toy safety regulations. Not CPSIA or EN 71.
Simply put, you can’t just buy products online and assume that you can sell them at home. It doesn’t work like that.
Yet, many of these ‘Made for China’ products make their way to online wholesale websites, as those listed here.
Many of these websites are B2C focused, and based in China, so they don’t need to comply with, for example, EU textiles labeling requirements.
But if you, as an importer or dropshipper, do the same thing – you are breaking the law.
This means that the might be confiscated by the customs, or that you’ll face a lawsuit.
This is what I recommend you to do:
1. Use Alibaba.com and Globalsources.com to source proper manufacturers, that can produce goods according to your specifications (and the regulations in your country).
2. Use Aliexpress.com and other wholesale platforms for filler products. However, avoid products that are strictly regulated, such as electronics, cosmetics and children’s products.
3. Make sure that all ‘wholesale products’ you buy are correctly labelled (i.e., Country of Origin mark). Most wholesale products are not labelled according to EU and US regulations, so you must check this before you buy.
Many think that it’s up to these platforms to comply with overseas regulations. But I disagree. Sellers on Aliexpress.com, and other platforms, cannot be tasked with keeping track with regulations in every single country.
Further, the old ‘generic product’ dropshipping model is coming to an end. There is no money to be made when everyone is selling the same product.
If you want to succeed in 2018 and beyond, you simply have to create your own product. Or, at least, brand an existing design.
What will the future hold?
I believe that the best is yet to come. At some point, both Alibaba.com and Globalsources.com will (likely) implement and standardize the RFQ and ordering process on their respective websites.
This will not magically remove all the challenges and risks in manufacturing and international trade, but at least it’ll make the process more transparent.
But, until then, we will bridge that gap on Chinaimportal.com. Watch the video below, or click here to learn more about how we can help you launch your first product.