Getting the most from Alibaba. Part Three – Reaching out & Sampling

- April 24, 2013 3 MIN READ

Placing orders for goods with overseas suppliers can be a daunting prospect. There is a large amount of risk involved when it comes to sending your dollars overseas to someone you may have never met before or have only met a few times. In my previous articles about getting the most out of Alibaba, I went through understanding different types of suppliers and then provided some notes on selecting the best supplier for your needs.

Once you have a shortlist of potential suppliers you need to find out if what they present online actually matches their capabilities. Now, first and foremost I would recommend travelling overseas to meet with suppliers first hand when getting to this stage of the process (or even before this stage) as nothing beats face-to-face communication and seeing the products you are searching for in the flesh. Feeling the weight, testing the quality and asking questions directly to the supplier face-to -face (rather than through email or message) can save you a lot of time and effort when it comes to proceeding with samples.

The sampling process can be extremely drawn out if you aren’t careful so here are some notes that may help:

  • Be EXTREMELY clear – A lot of the time there will be language barriers when dealing with overseas countries. English is being used more often, however, if it is not the suppliers first language, things can be misinterpreted very easily. The best way to work through this is to get into the habit of emailing clearly. Use dot points when asking a series of questions; you can save much back and forth by asking all the questions you need in one email, however clearly state each question with a different dot point, this means a question is less likely to be missed in their reply. Picking up the phone to speak directly with the supplier helps in building trust however emails are still much clearer when it comes to the smaller details.
  • Be truthful with your numbers – some factories won’t touch orders below a certain quantity or dollar value. So when asking for quotes, make sure your numbers are close to what you are actually looking to order. You end up wasting your time and theirs if you proceed with sampling but never actually intend to order their minimum order quantity.
  • Get the details right first – look closely at the details before you sample. Sampling many times can become expensive and will take a lot of time. Do your best to get the first sample right, because in most cases the first sample will be your selling tool so you’ll want this to be as close to perfect as possible.
  • Shop around for freight quotes – in most cases the supplier will ask you to pay for the freight on the sample shipment. Check the main couriers such and DHL and FedEx but also ask the supplier for a freight quote (from their courier) and look at others services such as discount logistics companies (ITD Global).
  • Follow your gut – after reaching out to your short listed suppliers, you will get a general feeling towards them in terms of how quick they reply, how helpful they are, and how well they understand your product. Follow your instincts and stick with the suppliers who suit your needs best and who you will be able to work well with. As every supplier relationship is a partnership that needs to be a healthy one.

Hopefully the notes above will help when it comes to reaching out to suppliers and selecting the best ones to suit your needs. The main thing is to be clear and always be respectful when it comes to dealing with different cultures. You are entering into a partnership and the supplier is one of the most (if not the most) important part of your team.