Today, I’m going to give you eight steps to search for suppliers on Alibaba.com so that you can find, vet, and select the right supplier to build your Amazon product.
Founded in 1999, Alibaba is the largest business-to-business (B2B) sourcing site on the internet and the fifth largest internet company in the world. If you know how to use it, you can find trustworthy suppliers to build just about anything you could ever imagine.
Myself and the team at Just One Dime have over 50 years combined experience selling on Amazon while sourcing from suppliers we’ve found through Alibaba, DHGate, 1688, and more. Plus, we have a full-time sourcing team based in China who have their ear to the ground for the latest updates.
Keep reading to get our Supplier Research Spreadsheet that can help you track and evaluate potential suppliers to build your product.
Step 1: Search Alibaba using a highly relevant keyword.
Keywords are how shoppers find your product on Amazon. And they’re also how you’ll find a manufacturer to make your product on Alibaba.
Keywords can be any word or phrase that shoppers search to find whatever they want to buy.
On Alibaba, you will search a highly relevant keyword that perfectly describes your product and its main functions. Aim to use the smallest amount of words possible. You can find inspiration for this keyword from your future competitors’ product listing titles on Amazon.
Let’s say you want to source water bottles. You should look at bottles comparable to the one you want to sell. Then, identify the essential core of the product within the listing title to use as your main keyword.
For example, you might use a product listing titled “Insulated Water Bottle with Straw Lid and Flex Cap, 32oz, 40oz, 64oz, 87oz 128oz Modern Double Vacuum Stainless Steel Water Flask, Cold for 48 Hrs Hot for 24 Hrs Simple Thermo Canteen Mug” as your inspiration.
The highly relevant keyword would be “insulated water bottle”. That perfectly describes the core product without the extra bells and whistles. “Water” or “bottle” are too short and would return a ton of non-related products. And something like “Hot for 24 Hrs Simple Thermo Canteen” would be a poor keyword choice.
Once you have your main keyword, type it into Alibaba’s search bar and click Search.
When we search our keyword, “Insulated Water Bottle”, we get thousands of options.
Now we can narrow the results and simultaneously throw in some buyer protections.
Step 2: Filter your Alibaba search results to protect yourself against scams.
Anytime you sell on Amazon, you will run into scams at some point throughout your selling journey. It’s part of the experience. And sourcing your product is no exception.
Don’t get caught in a scammer’s web by paying an un-vetted supplier thousands of dollars to build your product…only to end up with a big box of nothing and a negative value in your bank account.
To protect yourself from that all-too-real scenario, you can beef up your search on Alibaba.
Filter by Trade Assurance.
Scroll down to Supplier Types in the left-hand menu.
Click Trade Assurance.
Trade Assurance is Alibaba’s way of offering shoppers financial security. When you pay a supplier with Trade Assurance, you can pay using a 30/70 deal.
You pay 30% of your total costs before production begins. You then pay the remaining 70% once you’ve confirmed that your products have been manufactured to your specifications. This deal offers protections from scammers who would take your money and run, while remaining fair to legitimate suppliers.
Additionally, a supplier who offers Trade Assurance cannot not touch your final payment until you have confirmed that your products were manufactured to the exact specifications outlined in your contract.
Filter by Verified suppliers.
Check the Verified Supplier box underneath Trade Assurance.
Verified Suppliers are inspected and approved by a third-party inspection company who is vetted and trusted by Alibaba.
Verified Suppliers must pay Alibaba extra fees, sign a substantial amount of legal paperwork, prove the existence of product machinery, and much, much more. You can’t find more legit suppliers than through Verified Suppliers.
Filter for Chinese suppliers.
Scroll down to Supplier Country/Region and check the box that says China.
You will find that suppliers in China consistently offer not only better prices, but often better quality, than suppliers in other countries. China is a production powerhouse, which makes it difficult for other countries to compete.
Of course there’s no harm in sourcing from suppliers in other countries, or even sourcing locally from the USA (or wherever it is you’re located). But expect your profit margins to be slimmer if you do.
Now that we know we’re looking at Chinese, Verified Suppliers with Trade Assurance, it’s time to have some fun.
Step 3: Find your potential Alibaba suppliers.
Before you get too far into the search results, you need a system that tracks all the information you’re about to find. Use Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, or even a piece of paper, to build out a spreadsheet. Title your columns:
- Supplier Name
- Link to Listing
- Relevant Images/Video Grade
- Years of Operation
- Optimal Province?
- Business Type
We even have a preformatted Google Sheets template just for you. This spreadsheet can help you track all of the data you will discover about each potential supplier. It can help you to objectively evaluate all potential suppliers so you can ultimately pick the right one to build your future product.
As you examine listings on Alibaba, fill out this spreadsheet with the most promising suppliers.
If you find a supplier who’s listing includes high-quality images/videos that represent the same type of product you will build, add them to your spreadsheet. Suppliers’ product photos will help you determine if the product they make is similar to the one in your head. So if you find a supplier without relevant images or videos, they’re not worth your time.
For example, this is the insulated water bottle type product we want to emulate that currently exists on Amazon:
If, in your Alibaba search results, you come across mini spray bottles that obviously aren’t your future product, don’t waste your time with that listing.
Sure these are technically bottles that could hold water. But they don’t represent the insulated drinking water bottle niche that we want to sell in.
If you find that you’re getting a lot of irrelevant and/or low quality supplier listings, the keyword you’re searching might be too broad or it doesn’t describe your product well enough.
When you find listings with a product that looks similar to your future product, paste the supplier’s name and listing link into your spreadsheet.
You can find the supplier’s name on the right-hand side of the listing under the Verified Supplier box.
Next, grade the supplier’s images and videos with either an “A”, “B”, or “C”. Much like in school, an “A” is great whereas a “C” is middle of the road. “A” means this is the exact type of product you want; “C” means it’s not quite right, but you could make it work. Add the grade to your spreadsheet.
At this point, try to ignore product pricing. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done. But right now, your goal is to find multiple quality and relevant suppliers—not cheap ones. Besides, the listing price you see may or may not be what you end up paying if you go with that supplier. Everything is negotiable and you’ll likely make changes to their base product that will affect cost.
Pro-Tip! Conduct deep product research before sourcing suppliers to ensure you’ve selected a market niche you can profit from. Check out this post to learn how to find and build a product that can make at least 40% profit margin after production, shipping, and the works.
Once you have a list of several potential, strong suppliers, it’s time to move forward with the top five.
Step 4: Rank your top 5 potential Alibaba suppliers.
But how do you know who those top five suppliers are?
Let me walk you through three critical data points to vet suppliers.
First, favor reputable and high-performing suppliers by their SOPI (Supplier Online Performance Index).
Every Alibaba listing comes complete with a set of little orange (or gray) gems.
The number of gems directly correlates to the supplier’s SOPI. Level 5 (five orange gems) is perfect. Level 0 (one grayed-out gem) is horrible.
The SOPI is a data-driven performance indicator updated monthly that grades all suppliers on these four metrics:
- Presentation Quality
- Product Popularity
- Transaction Volume
- Service Quality
Each metric is graded individually. A seller’s overall SOPI score is the lowest of the four individual scores. Essentially, the higher the SOPI, the more reputable and high-performing a supplier likely is.
Write down the SOPI score for each supplier that you like.
Second, favor older suppliers to increase your chances of finding a great supplier.
Much like shoppers often prefer seasoned Amazon listings complete with hundreds of reviews, you will find it’s a lot easier to work with more experienced Alibaba suppliers. This is especially true when it comes to English business terms, product design, shipping and customs, etc.
Each product listing will include the supplier’s years on Alibaba to the left of their SOPI score.
Add it to your spreadsheet.
Third, favor suppliers in an optimal Chinese province so you can snatch the best deal possible.
Much like the state of Texas is well known for its barbecue, some Chinese provinces are known for manufacturing within specific niches.
For example, the Hebei (Huh-bei) province is flush with steel, iron, and coal, which makes it a great province to find Automobile Supplies and Accessories.
A lot of suppliers on Alibaba include their province of location in their company name. The supplier “ZHEJIANG FLYCUP CO., LTD” operates out of the Zhejiang province. That said, you can easily find any supplier’s province on their Alibaba minisite.
On the product listing’s page, click on the company name to view their minisite.
Hover over the Profile dropdown in the top menu.
Click on Company Overview.
Scroll down until you see the light blue Verified section. There you can find the company’s location.
Visit JOD.com/factory to download our cheat sheet to Chinese provinces and their production specialities.
If the supplier you’re looking at is located in the ideal province for your product type, write “yes” in the column Optimal Province?. Otherwise write “no”.
Finally, rank your suppliers based on their:
- Relevant Images/Videos grade
- SOPI score
- Years of operation
- Optimal Province
Now, you should be able to identify your top five prospective suppliers.
Step 5: Verify the identity of your top 5 Alibaba suppliers.
Don’t jump the gun and contact your favorite suppliers just yet. You first need to deduce whether those suppliers are manufacturers or trading companies.
A manufacturer is a business that physically creates products. A trading company acts as a middle man: They source products from manufacturers and resell them to you.
If you plan to significantly alter the design of the product you will make, or you’re looking for the lowest price possible, favor manufacturers.
However, if you want to start selling ASAP and/or you want to source multiple items to sell together as a bundle (and we can show you how), you might favor trading companies, instead.
You can visit each supplier’s mini-site to ascertain their business type. It will be listed under the Verified by section:
Add that information to your spreadsheet for your top five suppliers.
Keep in mind that some suppliers may be both a manufacturer and a trading company. They physically produce their own products, but they also source accessories, parts, etc. from other manufacturers.
Now that you can objectively assess all suppliers who should be able to build your product, it’s time to see which supplier can offer you the most value.
Step 6: Determine the best Alibaba supplier for your product.
First, contact each of your top five suppliers. From their product listings, click the Contact Supplier button.
This will open the Alibaba Message Center where you can communicate with suppliers. You will ask each one if they can build the product you want to the specifics and customizations you need.
When you message suppliers, use plain, simple English. Think elementary-level sentences, short paragraphs, and minimal questions. Remember, there is a 99.99% chance their first language is not English. You want to avoid confusion as much as possible.
Attach any drawings, models, prototypes, or any other example you can that will help the supplier get a clearer understanding of what exactly it is you’re looking for. Learn more about how to effectively communicate with Alibaba suppliers in this post.
You can check the Messages notification in the top right corner to see if and when suppliers respond to you.
Alternatively, you can download the Alibaba app to your phone to be notified when they respond.
If a supplier confirms that they can in fact build your product, it’s time to get samples. Keep in mind these product samples will not be identical to the final product you will sell. They’re for testing purposes so you can get an idea of what each supplier is capable of making.
Next, test the top five suppliers’ product samples.
As you test, pay specific attention to each sample’s quality, performance, and ease of differentiation.
Take notes on what you like about each product: the texture, shape, color, etc. Use each product and track how well it performs its main function. For example, if the insulated water bottle’s cap won’t stay on, that’s a no-no.
You should also visualize how feasible your differentiation plan is.
Consider where your brand’s logo will go, any new materials you might require, or changes to functionality—such as a handle—and how easily this product could accommodate necessary changes.
When you thoroughly test each product, you should get a clear picture of the samples you love the most and those that don’t make the cut.
Then, choose your top choice, #1 supplier based on the value each supplier offers.
Contact the supplier you are most impressed with and start negotiating price. Most suppliers will offer you discounts depending on how many units you order at one time. The more products you buy at once, the less you pay per individual unit.
For example, a supplier might sell you 50 water bottles at $3.79 per unit. However they may only charge you $3.20 per unit if you order 1000+ bottles at once. And those tiny discounts add up when you order a massive amount of inventory!
If you do need to start with a smaller order due to financial restrictions, you can try negotiating by promising a larger order in the future.
Finally, let your #1 supplier know that you plan on moving forward with them.
And don’t leave the other suppliers hanging. Send them a polite note informing them of your decision.
Step 7: Pay your Alibaba supplier with a Trade Assurance Order.
You’ve successfully narrowed down your Alibaba search to one final supplier who will build your product!
But first, you need to pay them.
Visit Alibaba’s Message Center and ask your top supplier to draft a Trade Assurance Order. This order will outline what you owe, the terms of payment, the shipping method, a dispatch date, and any other information needed to ensure the order is produced to the agreed upon terms.
Once your supplier has created the order, you can view and review it. To do so—
Click on My Alibaba in the top left of the site.
Click on Orders to the left.
Now you should be able to see your Trade Assurance Order. The supplier should have filled out everything, but make sure you double check the important details:
Shipping: You can change the shipping address, method, the trade terms, and dispatch date.
Value-Added Services: Verify your contact information and choose a service provider. A service provider inspects and verifies the quality of your products before they’re shipped. This service ensures that the majority of your products look and function the way they should.
Do not skip this step. The last thing you want is to find out down the line that the majority of your 5,000 unit inventory is faulty.
Additional Remarks: Add any specific details, no matter how small, not already included in the rest of the Order. You must outline the exact specifications that you require on every part of your order. This includes product dimensions and weight, color Pantone, etc. And keep in mind that you cannot hold the supplier accountable for anything not outlined in your Trade Assurance Order. You must be thorough and specific.
You can also use this section to include any details you may want to fall back on in case the supplier doesn’t perform or you run into a disagreement. You might specify an acceptable percentage of faulty units (usually around 5%) and the terms that must be met if more do not perform.
Once you’ve double and triple checked to ensure everything is up to par, click Confirm Order to begin the payment process.
You’re now ready to choose a payment method and pay the first 30% of your total manufacturing costs. And because you’re using Alibaba’s Trade Assurance, that 30% will sit in a holding account.
Step 8: Ship your finished products to your desired location.
Once your products are manufactured, the final step is to ensure they make it to their destination. This might be you, a warehouse, or an Amazon fulfillment center.
To prepare for shipping, request a commercial invoice from your supplier. A commercial invoice shows legal proof of your transaction. And it could save you time if you run into legal issues with customs, Amazon, or another ecommerce platform.
You will also ensure that your product inspection service reviews and passes your first batch of inventory. Let them know any potential product issues to look out for and the general quality you expect out of each item.
If the inspector gives you the “all-clear,” it’s time to finally pay the remaining 70% of the amount owed to the supplier. This then cues them to begin your products’ shipment. And once your inventory is shipped, you can track your shipment via Alibaba’s Delivery Details tab.
You’ve successfully found a supplier through Alibaba and purchased your first batch of inventory.
To get the full how-to on sourcing from Alibaba.com—and other platforms—plus templates to communicate with suppliers, visit JOD.com/freedom. There, you will find countless tips and tricks on how to find, vet, and build out unique product ideas so that you move to profit quickly and create margin to do the things you love with the people you love.
And don’t forget to grab your Supplier Research Spreadsheet below. But before you do, what’s your biggest struggle with sourcing suppliers? Let me know in the comments.