The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Alibaba Supplier
The phrase “Made in China” can be found on the tag or sticker of almost every item you can buy in stores. Known as the home of mass production, China is where almost anything can be mass produced at a low price.
At first, the thought of trying to create a product in China can be a daunting prospect. Many people may first assume it involves spending thousands of dollars flying to China and touring factories.
For other people, it conjures up thoughts of sending money internationally to people, companies or factories that may just steal the money and never deliver any products.
Flying to China to tour factories is not a feasible option for most people and there are indeed also high risks of losing money to scams or companies that never deliver the products.
To reduce costs, save time and avoid many of the risks involved with manufacturing a product in China, many people rely on Alibaba to find manufacturers and suppliers.
Alibaba is the largest search engine for finding manufacturers and suppliers in China. All of those products you see in store with a “Made in China” sticker on them? They can be manufactured through companies you can find on Alibaba.
Is Alibaba safe to buy from? If you do small amount of research first, yes. While China is the destination for mass production, however, the phrase “Made in China” is not associated with quality or reliability. It is easy to get cheap products created in China, however, it is much more difficult to get high quality products created in China.
And while Alibaba will help you reduce the risks of scams, you may still lose money by buying a poorly manufactured product that you are unable to sell.
The key to long lasting success on Amazon is to start by creating a good quality product that people want to buy and that stands out from other sellers. Amazon SEO, listing optimization and other strategies will help you increase your amazon rankings but if you don’t have a good product to start with, over time you will receive negative reviews, your amazon sales will fall and your product won’t succeed in the long term.
Finding a good supplier on Alibaba is the most important first step in achieving success on Amazon.
With so many suppliers on Alibaba it is hard to choose the right one, so in this Alibaba guide we’ll take you through some crucial steps for finding the right Alibaba manufacturer and supplier for you.
Table of Contents
How to Buy From Alibaba Step 1: Know What You’re Looking For
First, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for. This sounds obvious, however, as mentioned there are manufacturers for almost any product you can think of.
If you are only searching for broad search terms or vague descriptions of products, you will have a long list of results that will take a long time to sort through.
Let’s look at an example:
If we look at a search for “yoga mat” we can see more specific results such as:
“Yoga mat eco friendly”
“yoga mat bag”
“yoga mat 20 mm”
… and “yoga matt” which I can only assume is a man called Matt who does yoga, however I don’t know if there is any demand for this product.
So how do you know the exact search terms that you’re looking for? Try this:
Search for the Product Using Amazon Descriptions
Search for the product on Amazon first and look at the reviews and descriptions of top rated products.
Looking at the search results for “Yoga Mat” on Amazon, we can get a better idea of the types of specifications to search for.
In doing so, we learn that PVC, rubber or TPE are evidently common types of materials that can be used for a yoga mat. We can also get an idea of the sizes and requirements that are popular for yoga mats.
Now instead of just searching for “yoga mat” we can narrow down specific searches such as:
“waterproof yoga mat organic rubber”
“waterproof eco friendly yoga mat”
“waterproof odorless yoga mat TPE”
You can’t include all search words at once as you are limited to 50 characters, and you may also need to search multiple times with variations of words as the search is not as intuitive as Google. For example, American and English spellings such as “odorless” and “odourless” will return different results.
However, by providing more specific search terms you’ll be getting much better results than more generic broad search terms.
Here are some ways to further narrow down suppliers:
Filter by Alibaba Supplier “Types” and Location
At the top of the search results, you can filter suppliers with options such as “Trade Assurance”, “Gold Supplier” and “Assessed Supplier”.
You can also filter by the supplier’s location and countries they have already exported to in the past.
Gold Supplier – Just because a company has a gold supplier status doesn’t necessarily mean they are good company. Gold supplier status is very easy to obtain and usually just involves paying a fee to Alibaba each year to gain this status.
More important than gold supplier status itself is the number of years a supplier has held this status. The best suppliers on Alibaba typically have held gold status for multiple years.
A common occurrence on Alibaba is companies closing down operations then restarting as a new company, so avoiding companies that have only had gold supplier status for 1 year can be a good strategy. This avoids companies that do not have a long track record or have shut down and started over again for whatever reason.
The longer a company has held gold supplier status, the more reliable they are likely to be.
Trade Assurance – Trade assurance is a free service provided by Alibaba. It protects buyers from suppliers providing poor quality products or not shipping by the agreed date.
If this is the first time you are dealing with a supplier on Alibaba then trade assurance is recommended. You can read more about trade assurance on their website here.
Assessed Supplier – An assessed supplier has been examined by respected third party inspection companies. The inspection company verifies the company and factory along with a range of other areas.
Assessed suppliers will have reports by these inspection companies that can be viewed for detailed information about the company.
Selecting assessed supplier will definitely provide high quality suppliers, however, it can significantly reduce the number of results.
Supplier Location – Cleary, this is the location of the supplier.
Most suppliers will be in Mainland China, however, Hong Kong can also be a good option.
If you are looking for a product that is mainly manufactured in a specific region of China then you can select that. However, this would require a lot of prior knowledge about the type of product and region it comes from which won’t apply to most products.
As a general rule, suppliers in the Guangdong region of China are the most professional, established and modern suppliers. Guangdong is the main manufacturing region of China, across the border of Hong Kong.
Supplier location is not an important filter unless you have a specific product requirement, you are planning on visiting the factories or want to further filter down a large list of results.
Past Export Countries – These are countries the company has previously exported products to.
Selecting a country like the United States will narrow down results to companies that have previously exported to there before. It is a good indication that the products the company supplies meet the quality and safety standards of that country.
Mixing Filters with Search Terms
The more specific your search terms are, the less results you are likely to get and likewise, the more filters you have applied the less results you will get.
Running very specific searches with lots of filters applied will often return few or no suppliers.
If you are finding that you are getting few or no results for your searches, try the below:
- Searching with specific search terms and less filters applied
- Searching for broad search terms with filters applied
Gold supplier and trade assurance should be the minimum filters applied, however, filtering by location, past export countries and assessed supplier are optional if little or no search results are returned.
Further Filtering Suppliers
After searching for keywords and applying filters, you can quickly filter the results further using some other factors.
On the right side of each result, you’ll see:
- The gold supplier status with the number of years they’ve held it
- The transaction level and amounts over the last 6 months
- The response rate
The response rate is not particularly important as the supplier may respond to messages via email and not the Alibaba messaging system.
The important factors to look at are the years they have held the gold status and their transaction levels.
Here is the first result we’ll look at:
We can see this supplier has no transaction levels and has only held gold status for 1 year. This supplier would be ruled out as they have no track record and the risk of dealing them would be higher than other suppliers.
The second result we’ll look at is below:
While this supplier seems OK at first glance, they have only held gold status for 2 years and have only completed $90,000 worth of transactions in the last 6 months. Ideally, you want suppliers that have held gold status for at least a few years and have completed a substantial amount of transactions.
A “substantial amount” of transactions is obviously subjective but think about an order of $5,000 to $10,000 being a reasonable order you might make.
A $10,000 order for a supplier that has done $90,000 over 6 months would be over 10% of their revenue during this time.
This particular supplier has completed 22 transactions over 6 months for a total of $90,000. This is an average of one order a week for approximately $4,000 an order ($90,000 divided by 22).
With that in mind, this supplier is unlikely to be able to easily handle large order quantities to a high quality or keep up with demand if your business grows.
The third result we’ll look at is below:
This supplier has held gold status for 5 years and has completed 95 transactions for a total of over $410,000 over the last 6 months. With an average order size around $4,000, they have also completed more than 3 orders per week on average over this time period.
The 97% response rate is good but not an important factor.
On initial glance, this is a supplier that is worth shortlisting and considering.
The forth result we’ll look at is below:
If we look at this supplier, we can see this supplier has held gold status for 11 years and has completed over $720,000 worth of transactions over the last 6 months. The average transaction size is around $8,000 and they have completed more than 3 transactions of this size every week over the last 6 months.
The 65.5% response rate isn’t very high but, as already mentioned, it’s not a factor that should be considered as important.
On initial glance, this supplier is worth shortlisting as they have a long track record and have the ability to complete a large amount of transactions.
Searching on the “Suppliers Tab”
The search results shown above are on the “Products” tab of the Alibaba search results.
Searching on the products tab will show you all products that a supplier has created in the past. It is a good way to find the exact product you are looking for and get ideas for features you could add to your product.
However, in the products tab you will find thousands of products with suppliers showing up multiple times. Suppliers could have hundreds of thousands of products that match the search terms so you’ll find after a few pages into the products tab, you are clicking on the same suppliers again as all of their products are showing up in results.
There is another option to search under the “suppliers” tab where the results will show the suppliers that have products that match your search terms. The disadvantage of this is that you can’t always see the exact product you are searching for in the results, however, it reduces the number of supplier results you need to search through.
There’s no right tab to use but the products tab is a good place to start. After you have shortlisted suppliers from the first few product pages, switching to the suppliers tab could save you time.
Searching for “yoga mats” with just “trade assurance” and “gold supplier” status checked returns 153,243 product results. It would take weeks to go through each result.
Even adding “assessed supplier” status, while reducing the number of results, still returns 24,989 products which is too many to view each individually.
Searching for “yoga mats” in the suppliers tab with “gold supplier” and “trade assurance” boxes checked returns 2,143 results. This is significantly less search results compared to searching on the products tab.
Checking “Assessed supplier” on the supplier results significantly reduces this number again. Now there are only 226 suppliers which will take less than a few hours to search through and find good suppliers.
Filtering Suppliers from the Search Results on the Suppliers Tab
The search results on the Alibaba supplier tab are different to the search results on the product tabs.
Let’s look at the results returned and see how to quickly decide which may be good suppliers to look at further.
One of the first search results we’ll look at is below:
Check the years they have been a gold supplier:
Just as we covered in the products search results, checking they have been a gold supplier for several years is important. Suppliers that only have 1 or 2 years should be dismissed as there is an increased risk dealing with a supplier without a solid track record.
Here are some further things to pay attention to:
Check images match what you are searching for:
The first thing to check is that the images displayed on the search result match the product you are trying to create. In the example above, there are images of yoga mats. However, some of the other search results show yoga mat towels, or yoga mat cleaning equipment. Checking the images match the exact product before clicking on a supplier is a quick check that will save time going through results.
Check Main products:
Along with checking the images of the products that match the search terms, checking the “Main Products” they list is important.
This supplier has “Fitness equipment” listed as one of their main products. While this may seem like it’s a good match because yoga mats are related to fitness, the match for “latex tubing” is probably a better match.
Main products should be related products that can be produced on the same machinery in the factory, not related to the same category. Latex and rubber products can be manufactured on the same machinery that produces yoga mats, therefore it indicates they have a factory that specializes in this type of manufacturing. It also indicates they are a factory and not a trading company, which we’ll cover a bit later.
Check top 3 export markets:
The next item to look at is the top 3 export markets. If a supplier exports the majority of it’s products to North America and Western Europe then that is a good sign.
It will be a good indication that their products already meet health and safety standards in those regions, and it also shows they are familiar with exporting to and dealing with foreign customers in those regions.
Check the number of transactions and value:
As mentioned previously, the number of transactions they have completed on Alibaba over the last 6 months and the total value of those transactions can give an idea of whether they have the capacity to handle your order size or delivery times.
Running out of inventory when selling a product on Amazon will ruin your rankings. If a supplier can’t keep up with orders and deliver them on time you may run out of inventory and ultimately lose your product rankings.
Examples of Suppliers to Rule Out
You should now have an idea about what to look for. We’ll cover some examples of suppliers to rule out before looking at shortlisted suppliers in further detail.
Here are some search results that were ruled out and the reasons:
This supplier looks good; they have held an Alibaba gold rating for 9 years and have completed a lot of transactions over the last 6 months.
This supplier might be a good supplier, however, not for manufacturing yoga mats.
Checking main products:
If we go through the steps outlined previously, we can see that the main products that appear on the product images are yoga bags. If we also check the main products they have listed we can see all of their main products are bags.
The name of the company even has “bags” in the business name, another good indication they are a bag manufacturer.
Checking top 3 markets:
We’ve already ruled them out for manufacturing yoga mats, however, they may still be considered if we wanted to manufacture yoga bags or related products.
After looking at their top 3 markets, we can see their main markets are “Domestic Market – 43%”, Central America – 26% and Northern Europe – 15%”. These are all markets with lower quality product, health and safety standards.
It is concerning that none of their main markets are Western Europe or North America. While they were ruled out for making yoga mats as they don’t specialize in them, they may also be ruled out for manufacturing yoga bags as their main markets aren’t markets where we would be selling. We would prefer a supplier that is more familiar and experienced with shipping to markets we would be selling in.
Key Points for Suppliers to Rule Out:
- They have held gold status for 3 years or less
- The product images don’t match the product you are trying to manufacture
- The “main products” listed don’t match the product you are trying to manufacture
- The top 3 markets don’t include North America or Western Europe
- The transaction volume is very low over the last 6 months
You can short list suppliers in Alibaba by pressing the “favourite” button in the top right corner of each supplier. This will create a short list on the website for your convenience.
There is a compare button to short list suppliers for comparison, however, it doesn’t work very well and will only keep them for a short time.
In order to access this feature you will actually need a verified Alibaba account which will require some details and verification. If you don’t want to set up an account yet, you can just create a spreadsheet or word document and paste a list to the suppliers there.
Examining Supplier Product Pages
You should now have an idea of how to quickly scan suppliers in the search results to rule out suppliers that don’t match your requirements, and create a short list of good suppliers.
We can now narrow down the suppliers even further to find the best ones by examining their product pages.
First short listed Alibaba supplier:
The first short listed supplier we’ll look at is “ProCircle Fitness Training Products”.
They met the requirements when we narrowed down the search:
- They have images of yoga mats
- Their main products are foam and rubber related products
- Their top market is North America with 35% of their exports
- They have completed a large number of transactions on Alibaba over the last 6 months
After opening their product page, we can see their business type is “Trading Company” and their main products include ab wheels and kettle bells, which could not be manufactured on the same equipment.
The Difference Between a Manufacturing and Trading Company
A trading company purchases products from manufacturers; they are a middleman in the process. Buying from a trading company adds an extra layer to the process and increases the cost.
Trading companies may have lower minimum order amounts, however, they will be limited in the variations and changes that can be made to products. Just something to keep in mind.
Which one should you use?
Selecting a Manufacturing Company vs a Trading Company
If you have very limited money and can’t afford the minimum order quantities from factories then you may consider dealing with a trading company. Likewise, if you want to combine different products that can’t be manufactured together such as yoga mats and kettle bells, then a trading company could be an option.
However, when sourcing an Amazon private label product, you are generally sourcing one product at the start. It will reduce costs, save time, potentially avoid communication issues and allow greater customization if you deal directly with the manufacturer.
Many companies on Alibaba will list themselves as both a manufacturer and a trading company. Don’t rule out a company if it has both listed, just check the company page to see if they have a factory that manufactures the items you want.
Companies often include or have the product that they are selling, in their name. Naturally, that means that the company specializes in manufacturing those types of products. But to be sure, check the other products of the company and see if they are making other products that are made from the same material.
If they are just a trading company or manufacture a diverse range of products that couldn’t possibly come from the same factory then rule them out as they are probably a trading company.
ProCircle has been eliminated as they are solely a trading company, so we’ll move on to the next short listed supplier.
Second short listed Alibaba supplier:
The second supplier we’ll look at is “Fuqing Shengde Plastic & Rubber Products”. This already seems promising given the name as it shows they probably specialize in plastic and rubber products!
Looking at their business type and main products we can see this is indeed the case.
Checking their product capacity further down their company profile page, we can see they have capacity for 200,000 thousand yoga mats a month. We can also see that last year they produced over 2 million of them specifically.
They definitely have capacity to produce yoga mats, however, this could indicate they have higher minimum order quantities.
If we look at their main export markets, we can see that their main export market is North America with over 30% of products exported there. They also export almost 10% of their products to Western Europe.
We can assume they are familiar with exporting to these regions and that their products meet the safety requirements for these destinations.
Clicking on the product categories tab of their company page, we can view other products they manufacture.
Almost all of their products are rubber and foam products. If we hover over the category “Yoga Mat”, we can see they also have sub-categories of yoga mats from different materials such as “TPE” and “PVC”.
This is a good sign as it shows they are familiar with manufacturing yoga mats using a range of different materials.
Fuqing Shengde Plastic & Rubber Products would be shortlisted and contacted. They have experience with manufacturing large amounts of yoga mats using different materials and exporting to North America and Western Europe.
They will likely be able to easily manufacture a private label yoga mat based on our requirements and export it to Amazon in the USA or Europe. They have most likely completed this process before for other customers in these regions so we can be confident in contacting them for this product.
Third short listed Alibaba supplier:
The third short listed supplier we’ll look at is “Haiyung Libernli Body-Building Apparatus”.
When we open up their main product page, we can see that their business type includes manufacturer and the main products they produce are all latex and rubber related. This indicates they probably have a factory that produces yoga mats and other products from rubber, latex and related raw materials.
Their annual production capacity doesn’t include yoga mats specifically, however, we can assume that yoga mats go under “Fitness Equipment”. It’s not clear what a “set” is, however, we could assume 1 yoga mat is a set and they have capacity to produce around 1,000 yoga mats a month. We can enquire about this when we contact them to be certain about production capacity.
Looking at their main markets, we can see that they export the majority of their products to North America and Western Europe which is good.
Looking at the images of their products, they have a lot of rubber and latex products. However, on further inspection all images of their yoga mats appear to be plain with only one color and type of material. They appear to be cheaply made and likely not as good as the high quality yoga mats at Fuqing Plastic and Rubber Products that we looked at earlier.
This supplier may still be worth contacting and obtaining samples, however, we can probably find better quality Alibaba manufacturers.
Fourth short listed Alibaba supplier:
The last supplier we’ll look at here is “Hanzhou Jukui Technology”.
They meet all the requirements on initial glance:
- They have held gold status for 11 years
- The products appear to be related to rubber and similar materials as yoga mats
- Their main export markets are North America and Western Europe
- They have a large number of transactions on Alibaba over the last 6 months
If we click on the product categories tab, we can check the other products they supply.
We can see they also have mouse pads and game pads. These seem unrelated, but remember we are looking for products made from similar materials, not products in the same niche. Game pads and mouse pads are made from the same materials as yoga mats such as rubber so are very related.
We can conclude that they are a factory that specializes in producing rubber related products like yoga mats and not a trading company.
They would also be contacted as they appear to be familiar manufacturing yoga mats with custom prints and designs and exporting them to North America and Western Europe.
Repeat This Process Until You Have Between 10 to 20 Suppliers
We’ve already found 2 good suppliers that could manufacture yoga mats.
Repeat the above process until you have a list of between 10 to 20 good suppliers.
Then you should do the following:
Google their names for scams.
After you have your list of good suppliers that you are ready to contact, Google their name and see what information is online about their company.
You can google their name with the word “scam” or “dispute” to see if there are any issues people have complained about or warned about online.
Next Step: Contacting Suppliers
Now you know how to find manufacturers on Alibaba that meet your criteria and will be able to quickly eliminate bad suppliers along with suppliers that aren’t suited to manufacture your product.
This process should also save you on the final cost of your product by avoiding trading companies and helping you contact the manufacturers directly.
Finding a good supplier is just the start, of course; you’ll need to contact them next. We cover that extensively in this post: How to Contact Suppliers on Alibaba (or Elsewhere).
Make sure you have the exact requirements of your product before contacting them as it’s important to appear professional from the start and know what you are talking about.
Also remember it’s not only about getting the lowest price. The company you ultimately choose will be a part of your business supply chain; you will rely on them to manufacturer and ship your product. It’s important to build a mutually beneficial relationship with your supplier for a much smoother experience all round.