3 Steps to Sourcing Products Using Alibaba

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Alibaba is like the Holy Grail for outsourced manufacturing. Since Alibaba's suppliers are based around the world, entrepreneurs can find a source for virtually anything that they need to produce. The options on Alibaba seem endless, from toys and clothing to motorcycles. But with so many suppliers to choose from, how do you know which one is reliable?

An entrepreneur can use Alibaba to sift through the products listed to figure out what he or she wants to manufacture and then ask a trusted supplier listed on the site to make another product to certain specifications. Or it's possible to just rebrand a product listed on Alibaba.

There are two main ways to sort through the plethora of options on Alibaba. First you can search based on a product description like "jeans." If you search for "jeans" on Alibaba, thousands of products are shown. This leaves you with the hassle of sorting through products that may come from the same supplier.

Related: Finding a Top-Notch Manufacturer for Your Startup

A better approach would be to first find a reliable supplier and then work with that company to create your product. To do this, change the search tab from "products" to "suppliers" and you’ll find manufacturers that focus on making the very product you’re looking to produce. Now when you search for "jeans," you’ll find companies instead of individual products.

Here comes the hardest part of manufacturing: ensuring that your supplier is reliable. Out of the hundreds of manufacturers on Alibaba that might claim to have the capability to produce your product, few will be able to fulfill your needs. Here are three key steps to take when sourcing a manufacturer for your product on Alibaba:

Related: 3 Steps for Excluding Counterfeit Goods and Protecting Your Brand

1. Conduct initial communication.

Having communication with a product supplier is probably the most overlooked part of the process of outsourcing manufacturing. But in order to manufacture anything, you must first clearly present what it is you’re trying to make. Your wording needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

Alibaba is in English as well as several other languages. Companies on the site are based around the world and are not limited to China.

When you’re dealing with manufacturers abroad, you might find that the companies have someone on staff who speaks English but not well. Too many mixups result from using complex terms without an easy translation. 

2. Cross reference.

Why trust one source when there are multiple? If you’ve found a manufacturer on Alibaba that seems legitimate, start searching the Internet to learn more about the firm. Find out if the company has its own website.  

Check the trade shows for your industry to see if that company has attended and investigate if it is listed on outsourcing websites like Global Sources and HKTDC. If everything adds up, perhaps you have found a reliable manufacturer.

3. Follow up.

Once you’ve begun the outsourcing process and feel comfortable with the manufacturer you’re working with, start getting to know the company better. Initial communication can be used to judge response time. Then follow up by being in constant communication with the supplier. For your production run to stay on track and result in success, be in touch with your supplier at least once a week. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the supplier and ensure that your products meet your expectations.

The above tips can guide you to successfully produce almost anything by using Alibaba. With all the frauds and scams taking place online, do put the time into researching a reliable manufacturer.  

Related: Shark Tank's Lori Greiner on the No. 1 Mistake to Avoid When Manufacturing Your Product Overseas