If you want to start a successful ecommerce business, you need to know how to find and partner with effective, trustworthy suppliers. And these days, many businesses look to countries like China for the best deals — especially as international product sourcing has never been easier.
However, sourcing products from the other side of the world isn't exactly straightforward. Time zones, language barriers, and unreliable suppliers are just some of the challenges you'll need to navigate to succeed.
So, how can you find a great Alibaba dropshipping supplier?
In this Alibaba dropshipping guide, you'll learn everything you need to know to dropship from Alibaba, including:
- The difference between Alibaba and AliExpress
- How to vet Alibaba dropshipping suppliers
- How to find great Alibaba dropshipping suppliers
But first, let's cover the basics.
- (Disclaimer: Before making any purchases from Alibaba, be sure you read its most up-to-date information and safeguards to protect your purchase.)
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What is Alibaba?
The Alibaba Group is the largest ecommerce company in the world, and it owns many Chinese online marketplaces, including Alibaba.com, AliExpress, Taobao, and Tmall.
Now, if you're looking to source products from abroad, Alibaba.com (which we'll refer to as 'Alibaba' from here on out) is a fantastic place to find suppliers. Why? In short, the platform is massive — so you can source virtually any type of product using the service.
What's the Difference Between Alibaba and AliExpress?
If you research dropshipping, you'll probably find tons of information on AliExpress dropshipping — but what about Alibaba?
It's important to understand that Alibaba and AliExpress are different platforms that have different approaches to ecommerce. Here's the key difference:
- Alibaba is a business-to-business (B2B) marketplace
- AliExpress is a retail marketplace
This means that Alibaba is primarily used by businesses looking to source large quantities of products from manufacturers, wholesalers, and traders. For this reason, Alibaba is ideal for finding a manufacturer to produce an original design or source private label products (which is when you add your branding to existing products).
On the other hand, AliExpress is used by both consumers and small businesses to purchase existing products individually or in small batches. In addition, many sellers on the platform also offer ePacket shipping — fast international shipping. As a result, it's the 'go-to' platform of choice for dropshippers.
The image below illustrates some of the key differences between Alibaba and AliExpress:
So, if you want to hit the ground running, you can start dropshipping with AliExpress using an app like Modalyst. Modalyst makes it dead-simple to find winning dropshipping products and add them to your Shopify store so you can start selling in minutes.
Does Alibaba Dropship?
In short? Yes, you can start dropshipping with Alibaba!
However, it's a little more tricky to find and partner with dropshipping suppliers on Alibaba than on AliExpress. This is because most suppliers on Alibaba are set up to sell large quantities of goods to wholesalers and retailers — and many aren't able or interested in selling and shipping individual items to consumers abroad.
For these reasons, dropshipping from Alibaba takes a lot more work than using dropshipping tools to find and source products .
That said, you can find unique products and suppliers on Alibaba that aren't listed on AliExpress. So, Alibaba dropshipping can be a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Is Alibaba Dropshipping Safe? 5 Ways to Vet Suppliers
Although there are plenty of quality suppliers out there, there are also a few unscrupulous ones. So, make sure to do plenty of due diligence before handing over your hard-earned cash.
Here are 5 dropshipping tips to help you vet suppliers before placing an order:
- Select Verified Sellers who offer Trade Assurance (Alibaba's built-in payment protection that safeguards your orders)
- Ask to see legitimate documentation, such as a business license, compliance certificates, and photos of the factory or warehouse
- Ask for a business address and phone number — then use Google Earth to make sure it's an actual address and call the number to check it's legitimate
- Check suppliers' reviews and ask to see references from previous customers
- Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true and walk away if something doesn't feel right
How to Dropship With Alibaba, Step-by-Step
If you want to begin dropshipping on Alibaba, you're probably wondering how to get started. To help, here's a step-by-step guide to sourcing products safely with Alibaba.
Step 1. Start Your Search for Suppliers
To start, head to Alibaba and search for the product you want to sell — you can then use the left sidebar to hone in on a suitable supplier.
It's a good idea to filter suppliers by Trade Assurance — even if you don't use the service yourself. "Ready to Ship" and "Fast Dispatch" are also good options to check, as suppliers that fulfill these criteria are more likely to dropship products.
Step 2. Check the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) and Price
Once you've found a potential listing, check out the product page and note the minimum order quantity — also known as MOQ.
In the example below, the supplier allows buyers to purchase 1 unit at a time:
Sometimes the product's MOQ is visible front-and-center, and other times, you'll have to scan the page to find it. To speed up this process, you can hit "Control" and "F" on your keyboard to search the page's text, then try writing "MOQ," "minimum," or "order."
Another key consideration is the unit price. For the listing above, we can see that the price for 1-18 units is $25 — notice how the price drops considerably as you order more products. However, this price doesn't include shipping costs which are "To Be Negotiated."
Step 3. Compile a List of Potential Suppliers
Most suppliers that you contact won't work out for one reason or another. For example, they might:
- Be unable to meet your verification requirements
- Not have enough stock or capacity to take on more work
- Offer unacceptable payment terms and refuse to negotiate
So, it's best to compile a list of potential suppliers and then reach out to many at once. This will allow you to secure a suitable supplier faster.
At this stage, a promising supplier will:
- Sell the product you want
- Offer a MOQ of 1
- List reasonable prices
- Be verified and offer Trade Assurance
- Have good reviews
Once you have a list of at least 5-10 suppliers, it's time to connect with them.
Step 4. Contact Suppliers and Ask About Dropshipping
Not every product page will clearly list the unit prices and MOQs. So, you'll need to contact many suppliers to find out if they're open to dropshipping products to your customers in whichever country you plan to sell in.
Perhaps the easiest way to contact suppliers on Alibaba is to use the platform's messaging service. However, some suppliers will prefer that you call, email, or use WeChat — China's largest messaging app.
It's worth remembering that most suppliers listed on Alibaba are based in China, so you're likely in a different timezone!
Plus, unless you speak fluent Mandarin, communication can sometimes be challenging.
Many suppliers will use a tool like Google Translate to translate your messages and their replies. You can help to avoid misunderstandings by using simple words, short sentences, and checking for spelling errors. It also helps to bullet point questions to make it easy for suppliers to reply to each one individually.
Here's a template that you can use to inquire about dropshipping:
My name is Jane, and I am with ABC Company.
We're searching for a reliable partner to dropship Product XYZ. Our customers are in the United States.
Please could you answer some questions:
- What is your minimum order quantity (MOQ)?
- What is the cost per unit?
- How long will orders take to arrive in the United States?
- What are your payment terms for new customers?
I would also like to order a sample. Can you please tell me the cost of a sample sent to:
100 Beverly Hills
Step 5. Agree on a Payment Method
It's worth understanding the most common payment methods used on Alibaba, so you can try to find a supplier that's open to using your preferred method.
Here's a quick rundown of 4 common payment terms used:
1. Bank Transfer
Transfers to Chinese suppliers are usually made using Telegraphic Transfer or 'T/T' payments. With this payment method, the supplier will generally want to receive the full payment before starting production. A bank transfer is also a relatively slow and cumbersome way to send money, so it's not well-suited to dropshipping. Plus, it's very high risk — especially when dealing with unknown suppliers.
2. Alibaba Trade Assurance (ESCROW)
Escrow services are third-parties that hold a buyer's money and only pay it to suppliers when the buyer confirms satisfactory delivery of an order.
As a result, it's a very safe way to transfer money. However, like bank transfers, it's not the fastest way to send money. So, while secure, it's not ideal for dropshipping.
3. Credit and Debit Card Payment
Alibaba facilitates credit and debit card payments from all major processors, including MasterCard, Visa, and American Express. However, the transaction fees involved can make this payment method costly for buyers and impact your margins.
PayPal is another payment method offered by some Alibaba suppliers. For buyers, it's easy to use and offers relatively good buyer protection. However, suppliers will usually avoid it due to the platform's fees, the challenges of withdrawing money, and the possibility of chargebacks by unscrupulous buyers.
All in all, PayPal is the best option for new buyers.
Step 6. Shortlist Suppliers, Order Samples, and Then Select a Supplier
It's now time to separate the wheat from the chaff and select a couple of Alibaba dropshipping suppliers that seem like a good fit. It's worth noting that you may need to repeat the process outlined above a few times before you find suitable suppliers.
When shortlisting suppliers, make sure to consider things like:
- The unit cost
- The payment terms
- How well each supplier communicates
- How long it'll take for the supplier to fulfill orders
Once you've got a list of good suppliers, it's time to order samples. Make sure to compare each supplier's samples and test them thoroughly.
Finally, select an Alibaba dropshipping supplier!
If you have two or more suppliers that are a great fit, look for additional opportunities to capitalize on.
For example, perhaps one of your suppliers also offers a private labeling option. In this instance, you may prefer to use this supplier because it offers an opportunity to expand and develop a unique brand in the future.
Next, you'll need to set up your online store, optimize your product pages, and drive sales.
Source Products with Alibaba Dropshipping Today
Sourcing products from Alibaba can be challenging and time-consuming — especially when compared to dropshipping. But although Alibaba typically facilitates bulk B2B purchases, it's possible to find highly profitable dropshipping deals on the platform.
When searching for Alibaba dropshipping suppliers, make sure to verify their legitimacy and trustworthiness before placing an order. And if something doesn't feel right, move on and find another supplier.
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