I created a short guide for people looking to start sourcing on their own using Alibaba. Alibaba is a great tool to use as I am sure many of you are aware, but it can be risky at times. These are some of the tips my staff use and I use to ensure factories are who they say they are and being truthful.
Once you've found a product you are looking for, a quick search on Alibaba will show countless suppliers advertising a product similar to what you are looking for.
Goal: Separate the factories from the trading companies
This can be done in the search engine of Alibaba, I try to always look for a factory first. While a middleman or trading company might work better for smaller order quantities, knowing the source first makes the process much easier.
The obvious Gold Seller Rule
Every guide will tell you that the longer the factory is listed as a Gold Seller the better. Don't look this one over as it is often as easy way to rule out the fake or unreliable sellers.
Creating Multiple Identities
Alibaba shows sellers your location based on IP address. The best way around this is to use a VPN or Virtual Proxy Network. Since I live in China, I am almost always running one so I can get passed their ridiculous censorships, but it is not a bad idea to look into if you are outside of China too.
When I find a supplier, I often contact them through a couple different Aliases using different countries IP addresses. Sometimes I'll be Mike from California, an hour later I will contact them as Fernando from Venezuela, and then I'll be Vikram from Pakistan.
The reason for all of this is for two things, one is to see if they tell each person the same information or if the information is contradicting. The other reason is, many factory workers assume USA buyers are wealthy and can pay a lot more. If Vikram gets a lower quote than Mike, I will know about how much bargaining room I have.
Since I am in China and have a Chinese staff, we mainly use China's internal Alibaba and not the international one, this one, while all in Chinese, usually gives us the best prices and is almost always less expensive than the International accounts. Most of this has to do with the fact that I am speaking to them in Chinese and not English, or my native Chinese staff is bargaining with them. So if you do have a friend who can speak Chinese, I highly recommend this route, but you will also need a VPN to make it look like you're coming from China.
Test Them : Act Like an Airhead
Don't be afraid to ask them countless amounts of questions. You want to try to figure out how well they know their business. Look up their local port and then ask them what port they ship out of, have them explain to you what their Inco terms mean, don't waste their time, but use their time to determine your comfort level with them.
Get their address and look it up on Google Maps. Tell them your friend is in China and would like to visit the factory on your behalf. Gauge their reaction, if they are welcoming, that is a good sign. If they are hesitant, I'd back away immediately.
Trust your gut
If anything feels off about a supplier, don't risk your money. There are plenty of factories in China, and if you are doing this on your own for the first time, make sure you are 100% confident before pulling the trigger.
Overall, buying from Alibaba is not extremely difficult. I am happy teaching people how to do it on their own, and while we can usually get lower prices and simplify the entire importing process, I understand and respect the fact that people often like to get their hands dirty first.
Feel free to ask me any questions if I skipped over something. Good luck importing and have fun, it is a great feeling!