Ever wonder how to navigate Alibaba and Made In China to safely work with overseas manufacturers and significantly decrease your production costs? Find out everything you need to know from how to narrow down one vendor from thousands of results and learn what a Freight Forwarder is for receiving your items at your door.

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Timestamps

  • 00:09 Welcome + Introduction
  • 00:25 1 | Tell everyone about you & your experiences selling
  • 1:06 2 | Why did you choose Alibaba
  • 2:05 3 | How do you choose among the 1000’s of potential vendors?
  • 3:33 4 | What if their minimum order is too large of a #?
  • 4:22 5 | What would you say to people worried about purchasing from overseas?
  • 6:10 6 | When you need to return things to China, how does that work & is that even feasible?
  • 6:47 7 |  How much should people be willing to lose in order to work with Alibaba’s vendors?
  • 7:43 8 |  How does shipping work & what are the options?
  • 9:02 9 |  What happens if you don’t use a freight forwarder?
  • 9:49 10 |  Are there any options for insurance?
  • 10:20 11 |  Will Alibaba guarantee or refund you if you have a bad experience?
  • 11:02 12 |  Is the Alibaba Chat function the best way to communicate & does time zone make a difference?
  • 12:05 13 |  Is language a problem?
  • 12:39 14 |  Is the biggest problem when Americans use idioms?
  • 12:58 15 |  Are there any Chinese customs we should be aware of?
  • 13:43 16 |  Stop to take out time for pleasantries even if you have a burning question?

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Transcript

Lisa Siefert:           Hi everyone, and welcome to the fourth week of Planner 201. I have a special guest with, Caitlin.

Caitlin:                    Hello.

Lisa Siefert:           You are in for a special treat, because we’re going to do a two part series. First we’re just going to talk today with Caitlin about Alibaba. Then we’ll start talking about fulfillment by Amazon. But let’s take a step back. Why don’t you just tell everyone a little bit about you, and your experience with both.

Caitlin:                    My experience with Amazon and Alibaba, because they do go hand in hand, is pretty much selling physical products on Amazon. I’ve sold a variety of fitness equipment, tungsten wedding rings, and a few other items that I can’t think of off the top of my head. But all of it was mostly sourced from Alibaba.

Lisa Siefert:           Great. Awesome. All right, so I invited Caitlin because she actually has real experience with Amazon, whereas mine is not so great. In fact, as Caitlin knows, I’ve accidentally spent money that I didn’t mean to spend on ads. We’ll go through how you can avoid those mistakes too.

Let’s talk a little bit about Alibaba. I know there are other sites out there. Maybe let’s start with why you chose Alibaba over other sites. Or if you still use other sites, and what the process is once you get on there.

Caitlin:                    I chose Alibaba just because it is such a huge company, that you can literally find anything you’re looking for on that website. Another site people go to, for example, is AliExpress, which you can usually order smaller quantities. But you’re going to pay a lot more for those items. Going straight to Alibaba is usually the best way to go. Even if you want to order a smaller quantity, it’s better to ask the supplier if they can do a smaller quantity, than to order off of AliExpress. I go with Alibaba, simply because I can find anything there. Usually I’m able to find a supplier who is reputable, and willing to work with me on what I need.

Lisa Siefert:           Great. Then when you go to choose, because a thousand different vendors will come up as possible solutions, how do you narrow it down?

Caitlin:                    When I go into Alibaba, and I search for my product, I usually search a variety of keywords, to make sure I’m covering all my bases, and that I’m not missing something that I would really like to provide to my customers. When I do go in there … Say you are searching Christmas stocking, and you put that in, you’re going to get a million and one searches for that. So I usually go in … There’s three boxes at the top. It’s trade assurance, gold supplier, and assessed supplier. What that does is it weeds out a lot of the manufacturers who don’t fit certain criteria to meet one of these standards. You know you’re going with somebody who is a little more reputable. They may be more expensive, but in the long run they’re probably going to be better for your business.

Then also, I like to sort out other things that I’m looking for, like my minimum order quantity. For example, you’ll see a supplier, and you love their product. Then you realize I can only go with them if I want to order 5,000 units. A lot of people don’t start with 5,000. In the left hand column I’ll put in, I only want 100 units, and I want XYZ. I’ll narrow it down so that I get a lot fewer options to select from.

Lisa Siefert:           I remember when I was first starting. I said, “Oh my God, there’s nobody who will fit with my minimum order of say 100, or 500.” You said that I could actually just ask them, and negotiate.

Caitlin:                    Yeah. A lot of them, because they do want your business, and they realize that starting off you don’t want to order 5,000 units. You’re a new business, you don’t know if it’s going to work. You don’t have the capital half the time. So a lot of them, if you ask them nicely, they will let you order a small quantity. You will pay more per unit, but at least they’re willing to work with you on it. A lot of times they’ll say, “For your first order, we’ll do this. After that, no, you have to meet the minimum order quantity.” Be aware of that, and knowing what their MOQ is going forward, after that point. But usually they will work with you a little bit.

Lisa Siefert:           That’s good information to know. But for people who are worried, or apprehensive about purchasing from overseas, what would you say to them?

Caitlin:                    I was nervous the first time I did purchase form Alibaba. I mean, I’m sending a lot of money over to China. It is a tad bit scary. I think the best way to do it is know your manufacturer as well as you can. Ask them a lot of questions before you actually purchase anything from them. Normally when you do check those boxes, the gold supplier, that kind of thing, like I said, you are getting reputable people. You can see how many years they’ve been in business, how much business they do per year, where they do business. So kind of look at what their background is, before going with them.

Like I said, just ask a ton of questions. Even if your question is answered in their information down below the product, still ask, just to see even how they respond to the question. If you have a supplier who is answering every single one of your questions in detail, you know they’re probably going to work well with you. If you have a supplier who basically skims over every question, and just does nothing, you know that you’re probably just going to take that person out. Use your gut instincts. Ask questions. Find out what their lead time is, who they partner with shipping, if they have onsite check available, to make sure that your products are being checked before they’re being shipped. I did mess that up. I had one supplier send me four different versions of a product, and told me it was all going to be the same one. Most of them were inferior to what I thought I was getting. But that’s why you do onsite checks, and that kind of thing.

Lisa Siefert:           That’s a good point, because when you need to return something from China, how does that work? Is that even possible, or feasible?

Caitlin:                    I didn’t even bother to be honest, because it would be some expensive to ship it back to China. I’m sure I could have actually returned it, and gotten a credit. But by the time I would’ve spent the few hundred dollars, because it was a very larger order to ship it back, in my opinion it just wasn’t worth it. I pulled out the units that I knew I could salvage. Sold those units. Chalked it up to a learning experience. Told the supplier I was not happy with them, and just kind of ate the loss on some of it.

Lisa Siefert:           How much should people be willing to, I know I hate to say this, but lose in order to work with Alibaba’s vendors?

Caitlin:                    I would say if you’re doing it properly, and asking the right questions … When this happened to me, I was a very novice buyer on Alibaba. If I would have asked more questions, and gotten a better feel for them, and gotten the onsite checks and that kind of things, I don’t think it would’ve happened. To be honest, I don’t think you really should want to lose anything. You’re putting your hard earned money into something. You want to be able to make a profit off of it, and know that you’re working with a supplier who is upstanding, and that kind of thing. I think just doing your due diligence, doing your homework, and even researching beyond this video to find out questions that people ask in your industry. That kind of thing, to make sure you’re going with a supplier who is really going to do their best to make you a happy customer.

Lisa Siefert:           Great. Let’s talk about, that’s a good point, shipping. How does shipping work, and what are the options?

Caitlin:                    Shipping you can do air freights, which will get the packages to you the quickest. It’s also incredibly expensive. It’s great if you have a smaller quantity. Most of the manufacturers will only air ship it, because it could get lost on ocean freights. Then in that case, you just don’t have anything. Especially when you’re first starting out, and you want to test your products, air shipping isn’t that bad. If you have 100 units or something like that, I would completely suggest air shipping. Once you get everything down, you can then switch to shipping by ocean, which is super slow. It takes weeks to get here, but at a fraction of the cost. Those usually come in, I think over in California. Well depending on the company you’re using. It in over around California.

Then once you get the shipment in, you have to get the shipment from seaport to your door. That’s where a freight forwarder comes in handy. There’s a lot of different websites you can go onto. I usually ask my supplier who they partner with for the freight forwarders and that kind of thing, to make sure you’re working with somebody who is going to get the product to you, not lose anything, make sure nothing is damaged, and all that.

Lisa Siefert:           Because if you don’t use a freight forwarder, I don’t think most people have heard this term, you have to go physically down to the dock at the port. Right?

Caitlin:                    I do believe so. Yeah, I’m pretty sure your options are freight forwarder, or pick up a moving van, or a truck of some sort, and load up your stuff and take it out, which I’ve never done that. I don’t really know the process. But it sounds like a pain in the butt.

Lisa Siefert:           Okay. If they do air ship it, it’s just like getting a regular UPS package with a tracking number. Right?

Caitlin:                    Yep, it just shows up at your door. All the sudden you’ve got 20 boxes sitting there. I hope if you have 20 boxes you’re using ocean shipping. But yeah, it shows up to your door, and bam, there’s your product.

Lisa Siefert:           Is there any options for insurance, if people want to insure their goods?

Caitlin:                    I’m not 100% sure on that one. I haven’t actually gone into looking into insuring my goods. I think with ocean shipping, there is an insurance package you can buy. But do not take my word on that one, because it might be wrong.

Lisa Siefert:           Okay. Then with Alibaba platform, it’s simply a platform independent. They’re not guaranteeing, or refunding you if you have a bad experience with one of their vendors. Right?

Caitlin:                    Yeah. It’s kind of like, if you think about it, Alibaba is Amazon on steroids. It’s a bunch of individual sellers under the Alibaba platform. The volume they do is absolutely insane, but yeah, Alibaba won’t refund you. You have to deal with the manufacturer themselves to get any refunds, or if you have issues. I’ve dealt with issues before, and you just have to go through them.

Lisa Siefert:           Great. Then the last question is, I know this is getting into the details, but I think you said to use the chat function within Alibaba, and that’s the best way. Does timezone make a difference?

Caitlin:                    Yes. When I’m initially contacting a supplier, there’s a chat right with that product. That’s where I put my initial questions and comments. Then after that, you can either email them, or Skype them if you want. It’s all up to you how you want to continue your correspondence. There is a time difference. They are … Is it-

Lisa Siefert:           It was 12 I think-

Caitlin:                    12?

Lisa Siefert:           14 hours-

Caitlin:                    Yeah, something like that. It’s a big time difference. I have spent many nights up really late, talking to people on Skype. You just kind of have to deal with it. I’ve noticed a few of my suppliers did work outside what I thought would be their business hours. Either super late, or super early, because of the time difference. It will be depending on the manufacturer. But just know you’re going to be up late chatting on Skype, and it will be okay.

Lisa Siefert:           Language is not a problem. Right? When it’s written, it’s not like you’re on the phone.

Caitlin:                    Yeah. No, whoever you’re dealing with, they will know English very, very well. That’s not an issue. I’ve never had an issue. Sometimes, if you’re getting into more of a slang kind of thing, just make sure you’re using language that anybody, in any country would know. If it’s something where you would have to explain it a little bit too much, just don’t use that word. Find a more simple word to use, so that there’s no confusion about what is being said.

Lisa Siefert:           That’s a good point. I think the biggest problem is when Americans use idioms.

Caitlin:                    Yes. You just don’t realize, these people have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s just better to stick with straight up English.

Lisa Siefert:           Yeah. Be boring as possible.

Caitlin:                    Yes. Don’t be funny. Just say what you want to say.

Lisa Siefert:           Exactly. All right, any other Chinese customs, or anything that we should be aware of?

Caitlin:                    Yeah. I always just try to be as polite as possible. I know that respect is important to them, so always saying thank you. I’ve notice a lot of my manufacturers, when I do Skype them, or they Skype me, they’ll say, “Hi, how are you doing today?” Before they bring up what they wanted to talk about. It’s just being polite, and that kind of thing. I usually ask them how they’re doing back. So just being polite, being patient, because every once in a while, there will be some sort of language barrier. Just do your due diligence.

Lisa Siefert:           Yep. Take out time for pleasantries, even though you have a burning question about a missed order.

Caitlin:                    Yes, exactly, because I think they will be friendlier to you in the long run. You want to create that good relationship with them, especially if your business goes well, and you work with this manufacturer for a long time.

Lisa Siefert:           Great. All right thanks, that was way more than my one more question.

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