If you have sourced in China before, I bet the first thing that comes to mind is Alibaba.
This is a perfectly normal reaction. Alibaba is a very useful and convenient sourcing platform.
Post a buying lead, and you will have dozens of responses within a few hours. Even some in a few minutes. You can just sit back and relax while suppliers come to you. To most this is ideal. Put in minimal effort, for maximum returns.
But have you ever asked yourself whether there are alternatives to Alibaba? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. And many might be better suited to your needs.
Before we look at a few alternatives beyond Alibaba, you might want to know why you should look any further, if Alibaba has worked for you.
Simple logic is that you can only judge the effectiveness of Alibaba if you have something to compare it to. If you have not looked any further than Alibaba, you have nothing to measure it against, objectively or even subjectively.
I could write about the shortcomings of Alibaba, but this is not what this article is about. A simple Google search provides enough of these.
Instead we will simply look at some alternatives you can explore.
A useful alternative to Alibaba is networking, both offline and online.
I am sure that you have colleagues in the same industry as you. Ask them for a supplier reference, or if they know of any good suppliers.
It is in their interest to give you these details. It might seem counter intuitive for a business to share its good suppliers with anyone else. It actually gives them a valuable tool. Leverage.
Think about it. If the supplier misbehaves with an order, it also risks the referred buyer’s order. The supplier knows the two buyers are in contact, and that they will probably discuss any misdeeds by the supplier. Therefore, the supplier risks losing more business than it would without the referral.
Make use of professional networking sites such LinkedIn . There are thousands of suppliers in every industry here, and they are connected to thousands of buyers. There are also plenty of industry specific groups that are also a good source of suppliers.
One of the best things about LinkedIn is that you can get supplier references by connecting to a supplier’s network.
If you use a supplier you have found on LinkedIn, and there are problems with your order, the supplier risks this being discussed on the site. If a supplier does a good job, you can create some goodwill by mentioning this to your network.
The main downside with LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, is that it takes time to build up a network, and use it effectively. A strong network can also take a few years to build up.Joining groups is far quicker and will result in quick references and advice.I suggest checking out the following link; LinkedIn-Beginner Tips.
Joining your local Chamber of Commerce, is also a way of networking with others. So is joining the local federation representing your industry.
There was a world before Alibaba, and many businesses sourced through trade shows, both in their native country, and abroad. There are still thousands of trade-shows every year, and they are still valuable as sourcing tools for a number of reasons.
You can meet suppliers face to face. This goes a long way to establishing a relationship. It is far better than an “email” introduction.
Face to face meetings usually result in clearer communication. Important points can be stressed.
Face to face meetings give you the ability to “feel out” suppliers before doing business.
The supplier will have physical samples of its products.
There will be multiple suppliers in one venue.
Business deals can be done immediately at a trade-show if you so desire.
Here is a link to the important annual trade shows in China. China Trade Shows.
Many Chinese suppliers will also exhibit at local trade shows in your country. A good example is Magic in Las Vegas every February.
There will be plenty of trade shows in your country, too. An internet search is a good start.
Other B2B Websites
Although Alibaba is the biggest and most well-known B2B site, there are many more. Some of these tend to offer a better user experience. I personally prefer the interface (less clutter) and ease of Global Sources. You can also check out Made in China.
Another advantage of alternative sites, is the lack/reduction of spam. I can honestly say, out of the numerous sites I use, Alibaba creates the most spam. They are also extremely pushy in their mails trying to sell me Gold Member status, which I do not appreciate. It often borders on unprofessional behaviour
A Web Search
An old-fashioned internet search often leads to good results. Not all suppliers have Alibaba membership, for a multitude of reasons. An internet search often gives you more detailed and accurate information about a supplier than Alibaba. It is not in Alibaba’s interests to police poor performing suppliers, as they risk losing these fee-paying suppliers. The internet is not as kind.
A simple Google search of Ningbo, China apparel factories nets a lot of options. There are the usual suspects such as Alibaba and Made in China caught in the search. It also gives some other B2B sites, as well as direct supplier websites.
Another good thing is that peripheral information is caught up in the search, such as advice in finding factories and other useful articles. Some of this makes interesting reading.
In conclusion, a sound sourcing strategy requires that multiple channels are explored.
Being prudent and ensuring all possible channels are explored will not only improve your sourcing ability, but will give you access to new connections, up to date information, and industry news that can directly affect your business.