June 3, 2015 by Andrew Minalto - 48 Comments

How to DEAL with Alibaba suppliers?

contact-chinese-suppliersSo you have researched countless niches, searched through months of eBay data on Terapeak and filtered down your choices to a few potential products… and it’s now time to head to Alibaba and find some suppliers!

BUT, maybe you’re a new business, just starting out on eBay, and this is your first time importing?

You don’t have any experience dealing with wholesalers in the UK, never mind factories and suppliers in China… Plus this is your first order as a sole trader, so will suppliers even speak to you!? Do you meet their MOQs?

If any of these worries sound familiar to you, then you are not alone! I receive many emails every week from entrepreneurs just like this, who have done most of the hard work, but get stuck when it’s time to actually contact suppliers and put their order together!

And that’s what today’s article is all about.

I want to help you, by giving some tips on how to contact suppliers on Alibaba and how to properly present you and your business. More than that, I’ll also give you some templates that you can adapt and use yourself, to make this process as easy as possible.

But let me first start off by saying that really, there is nothing to be scared of. Suppliers in China are, generally speaking, much easier to deal with than wholesalers and distributors in the UK. As long as you are respectful, sound fairly serious (you don’t want to come across as a complete newbie/amateur!), and meet their requirements – then you have nothing to worry about.

It’s not like with some branded items here, where distributors will only deal with bricks and mortar sellers, who have been in business for decades – not at all! Chinese suppliers are generally very fair and keen for your business, as long as you present yourself well.

So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Initial Contact

The first stage when contacting new suppliers on Alibaba is of course the initial contact/message. I personally usually prefer to use Alibaba’s live chat for this, simply because it’s easier to speak to many suppliers quickly and you don’t have to wait for a reply.

When using Live Chat on Alibaba, try doing it early in the mornings (6AM-8AM, GMT) while it’s still business hours in China. This increases your chances of seeing most sales reps online. Of course, many companies on Alibaba have live support working 24/7, to cover Worldwide time zones but I have found that in early mornings there are higher chances of getting someone to talk to you.

Some of my students prefer to simply send an email to multiple suppliers, as that way you will receive replies back to your email and though it takes a bit longer, it is easier to keep track of everything.

Either way, that just depends on your personal preference, and the message you use will be very similar regardless of how you’re contacting them.

From my years of dealing with suppliers in China, I have found that this is a perfect starting template:

Hello,

My name is Andrew Minalto and I am searching for a reliable supplier of [product XYZ]. I came across your company in my research and wanted to get some further information regarding your [minimum order quantities, FOB pricing, and also the possibility of OEM packaging].

So could you please get back to me as soon as possible with the above information? My email is xyz@gmail.com

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you and hopefully placing an order with your company.

Kind regards,
Andrew Minalto
(London, UK)

And that’s it!

Simple, polite, and to the point – which is all you need.

Of course depending on what you’re looking for and if you have any specific requests, you can alter the email slightly; the key is to ensure you ask for all the initial info that you need in order to evaluate a supplier. This will not only save you time, but it is also makes you seem more professional and like a serious buyer, which is helpful later on.

Here is a real life example of this “template” in use:

first-contactAnd here is the email reply that was received back in less than 12 hours:

supplier-replySo, as you can see, from one email we were able to get a full product and price list (which included information on MOQs) as well as details about OEM packaging. No need to go backwards and forwards for days or weeks on end, if you are clear and concise in your opening email, you can get all the information you need in less than a day!

And really that is the no.1 goal of the opening contact. You want to get all the important information that you need in order to decide how to proceed. Of course you have to tailor this slightly based on your individual requirements, but I’m talking about info like:

  • Pricing
  • MOQ
  • Sample Availability and Pricing
  • Payment & Shipping Methods
  • OEM Options
  • Manufacturing Lead Time (especially important if it’s a custom product)
  • Etc.!

Just use the opening contact template, and then proceed from there, and you’ll find it’s incredibly easy to get all this info!

Here’s a further example from an eCommerce Magnates customer who recently contacted me to ask for help approaching suppliers on Alibaba, after he’d had some trouble with UK and European distributors being uninterested in dealing with him:

(click on images to see in full size)

small-first-contact

next one:

small-live-chatAs you can see, in just 10 minutes using Alibaba’s live chat service, he had received quotes and sample information – with no problems at all. And he actually spoke to 4-5 suppliers in one go!

I hope this illustrates that really there is nothing to worry about at this point, and rather than this being a week or even month long process that some people drag it out to, it can be done within an hour or so!

So what next?

Well generally once you’ve found a supplier who passes all of your filters (check out this guide if you need some help with actually finding the right suppliers: https://andrewminalto.com/alibaba-scam-exposed/) and you’ve contacted them, and their pricing and everything else seems good, it’s time to get some samples!

Again, don’t be put off by this as all good suppliers are happy to provide samples (if they’re not, then you should take that as a sign to keep searching).

At this point, I will usually follow up with an email along these lines:

“Dear Ms Yip,

Thank you for your email.

I have gone over the information you sent, including the price list, and we are happy to go ahead with an order from you.

However, we of course would like to get some samples first to test the quality before moving on to our real order, so can we please arrange to have samples for products X, Y and Z?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,
Andrew”

This is a very straightforward email and basically all you are doing at this point is reminding them that you are a serious buyer and are not just looking to get free samples/by-pass their MOQ – that’s why I mention the future, “real” order.

Usually you will receive a reply confirming the cost for those samples and details on how to make payment.

*Note – sometimes the samples will be free (you just pay for shipping) but sometimes they won’t be. There is no one set rule for this and it really depends on the factory and the value of the products etc.

All of this is very straightforward and simple (no real supplier will refuse to supply samples before you place a real order).

Now after you’ve got samples and tested them, you’re pretty much ready to move forward with arranging a factory inspection and getting ready to place a big order.

However, as I always stress to my 60 Day Blueprint customers, it is a lot safer to slowly increase your order amounts, until you are completely satisfied and sure of the reliability of your new supplier.

But how do you do this if your ‘safer order’ amount is below their MOQ!?

Well, one thing that I’ve learnt in my many years of importing is that the MOQ is negotiable! Yes that’s right, most suppliers are more than happy to lower their MOQ by as much as 50%, especially if they feel there’s a possibility of further orders from you in the future.

And that’s where our last email template comes into play – how to get any MOQ that you want!

“Dear Ms Yip,

We have received and tested the samples you sent and I am happy to say that the quality of the products was up to the standard we need to be able to use you as a supplier.

We are now ready to place an order of higher quantity, however to meet our quality control and rules for purchasing from new suppliers, we would like to order 200 pcs, rather than our usual amount of 500.

That way, we can test everything at a higher scale and also get feedback from our retail customers.

Once this order is complete and as long as everything goes well, we can then use your factory as our primary supplier for all future orders.

Please get back to me as soon as possible so we can arrange the order details.

Kind regards,
Andrew”

And believe me when I tell you that many times more often than not they will be 100% happy to sell to you at a lower MOQ.

As in essence you’ve ‘flipped the script’ and instead of you trying to prove yourself to them, they are trying to show you that they’re a reliable supplier.

Also, the fact that you have had some previous contact with the company (getting samples, arranging a factory inspection etc.) really does help in this regard as well, as they view you as a serious buyer who has conducted him/herself professionally up to now.

And that’s pretty much it!

I receive a lot of messages asking specifically about the wording of emails when contacting suppliers from Alibaba and I hope that today’s article and the templates will help you with this! If you need help with other aspects or importing from China, then please take a look at some of my other guides, such as:

And as always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll answer your personally.

Otherwise, until next time!

All the best,
Andrew

48 Comments
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  1. Hi Andrew,

    I have just joined Alibaba and I sent a message to a manufacturer just enquiring about a product. i then later on started getting whatsapp messages from two different people in China who manufacture the product. is this normal?

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Is it possible to order and build a relationship with a manufacturer just through email or is it best to speak to them over the phone, Thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Robert,

      Yes, of course it is possible to deal just via email or IM like Skype.

      There’s actually not much point in calling them as everything can be discussed via email.

      Andrew

  3. Hi Andrew, I am just about to put in my first order on Alibaba. Importing goods from China to UK I am just not sure if I can ask the manufacturer to ship the order to Amazon FBA center in UK directly. I was wondering if thats the way to go ahead or there is another method?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      No, you can’t do that as Amazon CAN’T act as importer for you.

      Please check this post for more information:

      https://andrewminalto.com/from-china-to-fba/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  4. LaShonda Washington

    I need a step by step process on how to send my idea to a supplier like my own invention I have in mind I seen a similiar product on there website and I want the supplier to create build one that I am in need of….I’m not sure what buttons or links to click on

    1. Andrew Minalto

      You simply send a message to supplier via Alibaba or use the Live Chat system to discuss this directly with supplier.

  5. I got an email from a company saying they use WesternUnion or their company account. They are on Alibaba and under trade assurance. Does it seem like a scam? Below is their response to me.

    { ” Dear Griffin
    Tks for your inqruiy about our bookend.
    Please send us your company’s name ,websit and contact way for our file.
    We can supply samples for customer which pay samples fees and Express charges.
    Payment Terms: Western union or pay our factory bank account.
    Manufacture time: 45-60 days after received deposit.
    Our minimum order amout is USD4500.00
    Waiting for your reply.
    Yours sincerely
    Tony Zi ” }

    1. Andrew Minalto

      I’m sorry but I can’t tell you whatever it’s a scam or not based on such small information.

      What is the product in question?

      Many suppliers on Alibaba will take WU, especially for samples, but it doesn’t mean they’re scammers.

      Please take a look at these articles and learn more about Alibaba scams:

      https://andrewminalto.com/alibaba-scam-exposed/
      https://andrewminalto.com/top-10-alibaba-scams/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  6. Maggie Jones

    Hi Andrew,
    My question revolves around samples for the first time from a new supplier. How many should I order since the shipping cost are so high? What is the best way to ship? Also, what is the best way to pay, some suppliers only accept Paypal for the samples.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Maggie,

      If the shipping costs are high, order just 1 item. Sample usually means – 1 unit.

      PayPal is best for samples so use that.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Maggie Jones

        The estimated shipping cost I am receiving is around $50, is there any way to lower that? What is the cheapest shipping method?

        1. Andrew Minalto

          $50 is already ok/cheap.

          You won’t find ways to send samples from China vie courier cheaper.

          Andrew

  7. If a supplier only wants me to pay through paypal and not Trade assurance do you think that is safe?

    Thank you for this article

    1. Andrew Minalto

      I can’t tell whatever it’s safe or not based on just this one thing BUT in general yes, PayPal is ok to use and very, very rarely scammers will use PayPal as you can basically always get money back through PayPal if something goes wrong.

  8. Andrew, thanks for the info and wish I’d seen your site a few days ago. We made our first deal on Alibaba. Yes he’s Gold, from Turkey. Very easy to text. Lots of communication. Ordered 2 Makita tool kits for $400. Shipped through Radiant Express Logistics. Paid Western Union using Visa. Then tracking showed they left Turkey. Arrived Mexico….but instead of 2 units it was 9. Then heard from guy, saying mistakingly sent 9. If we sent $300 now, could pay additizonal $400 after delivery and get all 9. Lots of texting. Sent $300 cash WU. Tracking showed left Mexico. Now guy says a custom fee is due of $35 per unit. I feel sick. Should I have any hope?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Donna,

      I’m sorry but you have been scammed 100%.

      You’ll never see that order. If you paid using VISA via WU, start a charge-back process with your card company.

      And take a look at this post covering most popular scams on Alibaba (your story is one of them):

      https://andrewminalto.com/top-10-alibaba-scams/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  9. Hi Andrew,
    I found your post very helpful. I am new to importing. I have been working with a Alibaba supplier for a product I want to sell on Amazon. I am very confused as to have them ship the products to me and I personally inspect them to send it to FBA or Supplier to FBA. Amazon requires you to send shipment to their various warehouses. Any suggestion? How do I ensure that they abide by Amazon packing rules. Also, are the price per unit negotiable?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Charmi,

      Take a look at this post:

      https://andrewminalto.com/from-china-to-fba/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  10. Hi Andrew,

    Would it be advisable to enter to an agreement (i.e. Buyer-Seller agreement) with the Alibaba seller?

    I want to be assured that the transaction would be protected by law, but at the same time, do not want to over-complicate the process, as I am just starting a business.

    By the way, great article!

    Izad

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Izad,

      You can of course make such agreements but in reality – what you’ll do if supplier doesn’t follow it?

      I would rather advise to have transaction via Trade Assurance and there have all the terms laid out. Then if something goes wrong, you at least have Alibaba to look into it.

      Andrew

  11. Hi Andrew,

    Firstly, thank you for all of your fantastic advise.
    I was just wondering in order to make a fair comparison how many suppliers you suggest should be contacted when sourcing a new product . I realise this can vary sometimes but as a general rule of thumb so to speak?

    Thanks again.,
    Mark

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Depends on the product of course but at least 10-20.

      The more, the better!

      Andrew

  12. Hi Andrew,

    Great information!
    I have noticed some suppliers will email me instead of responding to my messages in Alibaba website, why do they do this?

    Is it recommended to go through with the order outside of Alibaba? They have been gold member 4 years, verified supplier, on site checks and provide address and contact details.

    Thanks,
    Lauren

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Lauren,

      Many suppliers use email for communication – it’s just simpler/easier form of communication than Alibaba’s message system.

      You can still ask them to organise order via Alibaba though if you don’t feel confident enough about them.

      But I also do orders outside Alibaba with my regular suppliers. So both options can be ok, if you know that supplier is genuine and trustworthy.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  13. Hi Andrew, thanks for this excellent blog and information.

    I have a question about advertised prices, this seems to be very misleading as f.o.b price ranges advertised are nowhere near what the manufacturers catalogue prices are. For example, I will see an item listed for fob 1-2usd then when I contact the supplier, the quoted price is much higher. Do you have nay experience/thoughts with this, can the prices be negotiated? At the moment the prices advertised are of no use to me!

    Thanks

    Sam

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Sam,

      Yes, the advertised prices are wrong in 99% cases. I personally ignore advertised prices completely.

      I get in touch with each supplier that I’m interest in and get REAL prices from them, for order size/quantity I’m interested.

      You have to understand that advertised prices can’t be real by de facto as product price will always depend on the quantity you order.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  14. Hi Andrew, I found this article very helpful. I have received several emails from suppliers and their inquiries. I was wondering what would be the best way to respond in sounding professional and as if I am not super new to this.
    Thanks,
    M.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Michelle,

      Don’t worry about it really – just reply in a normal, usual way you do.

      Chinese suppliers are not picky on who they work with, so they won’t refuse dealing with you based on the words you use in your message 🙂

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  15. Hi Andrew

    Thanks for all the helpful info. I have a question about purchasing a product on Alibaba to sell FBA on Amazon. I have a professional sellers account with Amazon and an account with Alibaba. My question is, Alibaba is asking me to confirm my business profile although I am not actually a business per se. Will this be a problem when I contact suppliers on Alibaba and am I less likely to get a response if I am not an “actual” business. Any feed back on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again

    1. Andrew Minalto

      HI Ed,

      Thanks for your comment.

      No, don’t worry about it. Suppliers on Alibaba really don’t care (in most cases) who they sell to – all they care is that you place those orders and pay! 🙂

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  16. Hi!

    First off, thank you so much for all your useful information; it’s extremely helpful.

    I had a question about how shipping would work for small items, such as keychains or rings. Like if I just bought 50 or 100 would there be fees after it arrives in America, could I just have it sent directly to myself, would paperwork need to be filed? I have never ordered from a manufacturer before, so I’m not sure what all is needed.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Christie,

      Small items, small quantities like these are usually sent via courier service (DHL, TNT, UPS etc.).

      They take care of all the paper work and IF there will be any taxes to be paid, they will inform you about it when goods arrive in the US and take care of paper work too.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  17. Hello,

    Your site is soooo helpful. Thank you for your expertise. I recently asked for samples and the supplier wanted a fedex, ups or dhl account number so she can send me the samples. Should i pay through paypal as oppose to giving her my ups account?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Frances,

      Please check this article for more information on samples shipping:

      https://andrewminalto.com/product-samples/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  18. I very much appreciated this, and your other articles. I am in contact with a manufacturer in China (Sinosky Corporation Limited) that I found on Alibaba. They seem to have all of the criteria you mention to look out for — 12 year gold supplier with Trade Assurance. I am looking to have them manufacture knit gloves for children and have a few designs that I had created and would like re-produced. Is there a risk/need to protect myself from sending my designs and having them copy the idea? This is not something I can patent but it is a concept that I would not want others to duplicate until I get my product out in the market.
    Thanks in advance for your feedback.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Michelle,

      Yes, there’s a risk and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You can of course sign a contract with supplier but in reality it’s a piece of paper that gives you no protection whatsoever.

      So basically you just need to hope that company you’re dealing with is genuine and won’t steal your designs. Maybe they won’t see them as something valuable and won’t even consider stealing your work.

      But it actually doesn’t matter – if you’re very successful and sell a lot of this product, other manufacturers will start copying you anyway.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  19. […] Go to Alibaba.com and search for your product. 2) Find the best suppliers using these filters. 3) Contact them – get prices and terms and then negotiate the best possible deal. 4) Put together a virtual order […]

  20. […] professionally and politely (take a look at this post if that’s something you struggle with: How To Deal With Alibaba Suppliers) then you will almost always get a response from these Chinese […]

  21. HI Andrew,

    First of all can i just say, embarrassingly so, I had to use a calculator to answer the verification!

    Anyway, I have been talking with many suppliers on Alibaba the past couple of days. I have been very close to making an order but I am still very wary so i have started looking at sourcing agents. I have been wanting to use Dan Cassidy (young money china) which I’m sure you’ve recommended before. But he appears to be AWOL at the moment and is website Fetch china hasn’t worked since day 1 so I’ve had to find alternatives.

    Have you heard any positive (or negative for that matter) reviews on my office in china or maple sourcing?

    Thanks for your time and always look forward to your blog posts.

    Cheers
    Tyler

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Tyler,

      I’m sorry but I can’t help with sourcing agent recommendations – those few times I have used them in the past, it always ended up with some problems so I simply don’t use sourcing agents anymore.

      I’m sure there are many legit sourcing companies out there but you’ll have to do some online research to find best ones.

      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew

        Thanks for the reply.

        Would you recommend to go ahead with Alibaba then? I can’t seem to find the manufacturer for the product i want to import. And the suppliers who have offered me a low price, such as $340 including delivery by DHL i think may be too good to be true.

        Ive also read on another forum where they don’t rate the supposed ‘safe’ features of a alibaba supplier. The gold membership was apparently reduced by 90% before their IPO. The verification feature only suggests the ‘company’ is where it says it is and that the Escrow payment method which is supposedly the safest way for transactions, can be used in the suppliers favour by submitting any tracking number regardless if the product is correct or in working order. Its also common for any issues with the Escrow, the suppliers will wait till the deadline is up and the case is cancelled.

        Thanks
        Tyler

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Hi Tyler,

          You should read my other posts/guides on how to find legit suppliers on Alibaba, avoid scams etc.:

          https://andrewminalto.com/start-ebay-business/

          There are many, many legit suppliers on Alibaba but you really have to know what you’re doing.

          Andrew

  22. Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for this article. I found it very useful.
    Once you find a supplier with FOB price, how does the relationship between a supplier and freight forwarder work? Which one should I contact first? What will the freight forwarder want from me to arrange the shipping?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Noury,

      You’ll always contact supplier first to arrange order and everything. Then you simply contact freight forwarder, give them order size/dimensions, factory address and they will then contact supplier directly to arrange pick-up time and everything else.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  23. Hi Andrew,

    Do you find you get a lot of emails sometimes with suppliers? Pestered is too strong a word, but it’s nearly there! I have a 3 month long email conversation with nearly 50 emails one of my prospective suppliers (in gift box category) and would regularly get chasing up emails in between my deliberations.

    A supplier I have gone with is similar, but not quite as bad.

    Is it due to desperation for our business, pushy sales, or just the way business works out there?

    Paul

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Paul,

      Yes, this is quite common. Not all suppliers are like that, but from time to time I get such situations when they send emails almost every day with new offers, updates etc. etc. IF I don’t work with that supplier, I simply ignore/mark as spam those emails in gMail and I don’t see them anymore.

      It’s just the way Chinese work I guess! 🙂

      Thanks,
      Andrew

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