We know that as you read this you are likely taking a brief and much-deserved break from listing, selling, processing and shipping your holiday inventory. You most likely sourced everything you're selling now eons ago, in e-commerce time, and you're way too busy to think about your next sourcing dilemma. But we're here to remind you that January is just around the corner, and the holiday rush of 2008 will pass as surely as all the holiday rushes before it. Perhaps a brief distraction to consider your next great product source is just the sauce you need for your holiday goose.
Fortunately, we've spoken with sellers about where they've found international sources of products and how they've worked with those sources to create product lines that are consistent and reliable in quality and delivery. That's pretty much what anyone wants in a new product source. You want to be assured the manufacturer you're working with will provide the product you want according to your specifications, and you also want to be assured the manufacturer will do what is promised and fulfill your sourcing needs as seamlessly as possible.
That's why it's best to work with a reliable partner, especially when you're going overseas to find sources. We'll look at several companies that fit the bill.
The largest b2b marketplace
Let's start with the giant in the industry: Alibaba.com. Simply put, Alibaba.com is the largest business-to-business marketplace in the world. When you visit the Web site, you gain access to 25 million manufacturers, distributors and retailers who come together to buy and sell just about anything you can think of. You'll find everything from furniture to handbags, from solar cells to firewood. Products come from virtually every corner of the world. And, in the end, whether you purchase inventory from a supplier in Turkey or Toronto, you'll have Alibaba's guidance and support. Also, Alibaba.com is a bit of a media darling. Forbes Magazine included it in its annual "Best of the Web" roundup for seven years in a row.
But now let's see what some successful sellers have told us about international sourcing in general and working with Alibaba.com more specifically.
Jane Ivanov of Eve Alexander Maternity/Nursing Apparel says the information she gathers through Alibaba.com is unparalleled in online merchandising. "I never had the need to look elsewhere after our initial search," she notes. "We've been pleased from day one. The site is easy to navigate, and all the contacts for prospective manufacturers are well-vetted and researched."
Elena Neitlech of MomsonEdge.com agrees Alibaba.com has proven to be home base in an international arena. Working with Alibaba.com, Neitlech has built a Web-based business right from her kitchen table. She is the mother of two young children, and her inventory includes products she's designed and identified to make parenting easier and family life more enjoyable.
Suppliers who come to Alibaba.com are eager to see their own businesses grow
"It would have been impossible to create Moms on Edge LLC without Alibaba," she says. "Manufacturing in the U.S. was cost prohibitive, so I took a deep breath and jumped in feet first. My experience with Alibaba has been nothing but positive."
Neitlech had specific design issues in mind when she started building her family-friendly product line. "Every company that I've worked with has delivered what I have asked of them," she reports. Neitlech even notes that communicating internationally has been simple. Rarely has miscommunication occurred.
"The one mistake that a manufacturer made was immediately corrected and delivered quickly to my warehouse," she says.
Invanov found some real advantages to working with the manufacturers on Alibaba.com. First is the large pool of potential suppliers who offer competitive pricing. Most interestingly, however, Invanov notes that suppliers who come to Alibaba.com are eager to see their own businesses grow. "They are willing to send samples and answer questions promptly," she says.
But both women say there are some pitfalls to avoid. According to Invanov:
- Personal relationships are more difficult to build across many time zones.
- Personally checking out a company requires a trip overseas.
- Quality control must be in placeand there is an element of risk in receiving the order of what you expected from the samples. You never know until you get the order.
So be sure to check the manufacturer's references. Talk to current and former clients to see what their experiences were and what types of issues they may have had with the company.
Neitlech agrees that the advantages of sourcing through Alibaba outweigh the disadvantagesplus she's found a real willingness among the manufacturers she's worked with to accommodate her schedule and needs.
"I understand that I have to make accommodations when working with businesses in China, like getting up early to e-mail manufacturers, but they often stay late in their offices to accommodate me, too," she notes. "Very rarely has language been an issue, but e-mailing directions clearly and concisely and inserting diagrams and pictures clears up confusion easily. I have felt that my manufacturers want a long lasting relationship and value my business."
It takes a leap of faith to look offshore for your product sources
Other sites of interest
Of course, Alibaba.com isn't the only alternative for international sourcing. Made-in-China.com is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It is the online trade platform of Focus Technology Co., Ltd., a pioneer in electronic business in China. Focus's goal is to help small and medium-sized Chinese enterprises compete in international trade. Buyers and manufacturers can use Made-in-China's Web site to search for products and sourcing opportunities throughout China. Products from agricultural items through toys and transportation are available for sourcing on the site. Global suppliers and buyers use the Offer Board to promote their work. Although Made-in-China is much smaller than Alibaba.com, you'll find several interesting items available through this site.
Global Sources is another company working to link Chinese manufacturers with the rest of the world. This business-to-business media company builds trade bridges between manufacturers in China and their international customers. These are supported and facilitated in English. The company is also working on an initiative to promote trade within China. That part of the company is supported by Chinese-language media. According to the company, suppliers receive more than 36 million sales leads annually through Global Sources. The company helps more than 725,000 buyers source items. Global Sources is an established company with more than 37 years of experience in global trade. So, you can be sure that working with it means the company has helped someone like you at sometime in the past.
It takes a leap of faith to look offshore for your product sources. It's certainly isn't the purview of the newbie, although Neitlech says she was a total newbie when she started. Still, once you've cut your e-commerce teeth, you may just find some juicy deals waiting for you.
But what if you end up having to take a trip to China just to be sure your manufacturers are doing everything right? Well, that's what happened to Brandon Dupsky of the eCommerce Merchants Trade Association. Stop by his blog to see that this would not be such a bad way to start 2009 after all.
Now, back to finishing up the details of holiday 2008, and we'll see you in 2009.