If you’ve ever been trying to source products from China, you’ve almost certainly used Alibaba. Truth be told, Alibaba is the Amazon of Chinese suppliers. But much like you use Amazon for almost everything but not everything, the same is true for Alibaba. It works most of the time, but not all of the time.
In this post, we’ll reveal some of the places to look for products to import from China outside of Alibaba.
The Pros and Cons of Alibaba
I don’t intend for this post to be a dogging of Alibaba as it is going to be a critical tool for almost any importer. However, there are advantages, and disadvantages, to using Alibaba.
The biggest advantage of Alibaba is the sheer selection of suppliers. If Chinese suppliers are actively looking for foreign clients then there’s a very good chance they’re on Alibaba. Chinese suppliers themselves even use Alibaba to find other suppliers. Alibaba is also probably the most organized of all platforms, although that isn’t necessarily saying a lot. Their information is also the most up-to-date of all platforms, which isn’t, again, necessarily saying a lot.
The big disadvantage of Alibaba is that everyone uses Alibaba, including your competitors. If you find a home run product on Alibaba and get some sales traction on Amazon or elsewhere, as soon as anyone gets a sniff of this they’ll seek out your exact supplier for your exact product. The goldmine of importing from China is finding a supplier with quality products that don’t advertise on Alibaba. I call such suppliers Golden Suppliers (a deliberate play on Alibaba’s Gold Suppliers).
Related Reading: Using Alibaba To Find Products To Sell On Amazon FBA
Finally, there’s one sad irony when looking for Chinese suppliers–the best ones normally aren’t actively recruiting new clients and thus aren’t on Alibaba. They’re so overwhelmed with their current demand they don’t have time to mess with smaller buyers (which Alibaba attracts a lot of).
Trade shows are by far my favorite way to find new suppliers for a few reasons:
You can find suppliers not advertising on Alibaba
You can find higher quality suppliers
You can build immediate rapport and relationship
You can brainstorm for new products
The biggest advantage to trade shows is that you can find Golden Suppliers–suppliers not advertising on Alibaba. The easiest way to find these suppliers is by visiting trade shows. When you visit trade shows you also get the added benefit that you can immediately build a relationship, rapport, and trust with suppliers. Many suppliers who you meet at trade shows have either small minimum order quantities or no minimum order quantities because they believe that buyers here are more serious and committed.
2. Global Sources
Global Sources is one of the first Chinese supplier directories and has been around since 1970 when China was much more closed.
Global Sources is much more focused than Alibaba in a few different categories, most important electronics. The selection on Global Sources tends to be much more curated. There is such a wide spectrum of quality when it comes to electronics and Global Sources tends to be much more consistent and predictable in terms of the quality of electronics provided by suppliers.
3. Yiwu Wholesale Market
The Yiwu Wholesale market is a giant wholesale market with thousands of shops located in Yiwu, a city a couple of hours south of Shanghai by bullet train.
Yiwu is catered for foreign buyers and has nearly every single commodity-type product imaginable from Christmas supplies to office stationery.
As you may have guessed from its name, AliExpress is owned by the Alibaba Group.
The best way to tell them apart is that while Alibaba is a B2B platform tailored to wholesale and bulk orders, AliExpress is more of a B2C site that lets individual consumers buy from Chinese wholesale suppliers directly. That being said, that hasn’t stopped a lot of sellers from sourcing their products from this marketplace. Matter of fact, you can take advantage of AliExpress if you’re a startup or are currently in the product research phase, as there are no (or at least very low) minimum order quantities.
Another platform owned by Alibaba, 1688 is a directory of Chinese suppliers, wholesalers, and trading companies. What sets it apart is that the suppliers here cater more to the local Chinese market. The entire site is in Chinese, but with the help of Google Translate, you can often find some suppliers and products you couldn’t find on Alibaba.
This means that you’ll find low-priced, but also generally low-quality products. This website is mostly focused on beauty products, fashion, and on smaller parts and accessories (i.e. components of larger parts).
A big thing to keep in mind is that many of the suppliers here aren’t as sophisticated as the ones you’ll find on Alibaba. This makes it tough if you’re looking to private label. They are also not attuned to exporting and to the quality standards of Western markets like the US and the UK.
JD (Jingdong Mall) is the Alibaba competitor insofar as the Chinese scene goes, but it’s actually more like Amazon in that it’s tailored to consumers first.
That said, they have a wholesale zone for business where you can buy in bulk and at better prices.
It is one of the largest Chinese companies by revenue and is one of the most trusted places to buy Chinese products online. Quality, rather than quantity, is the name of the game on this platform.
One little-known trick to finding suppliers is direct referrals from your professional connections. Sometimes, the easiest option is often to ask your current suppliers. Suppliers in China are much better connected with other factories than we ever can be and they can often be invaluable in sourcing hard to find products. They’ll take a commission on the products, but normally it’s negligible.
This can be a way to find Golden Suppliers that you can consider to have already been vetted by people you know and trust. In any case, like we said when we talked about the best countries to source private label products from, always do your own due diligence.
8. Sourcing Agencies
Another option if you’re having trouble finding the right supplier (assuming you already have a product in mind) is to work with sourcing agencies. We can help you source products from China.
Sourcing agency can help you do is communicate more seamlessly with your supplier and ensure product quality.
Alibaba is still the place to source products but it is not the only place and often not the best place. The things that make Alibaba so successful, specifically it’s ease of use and convenience, are also it’s the biggest downside as it’s nearly impossible to keep competitors from poaching your products very quickly.
Do you have any other places you source products from? Do you have any questions about the places mentioned here?