What can you get from Alibaba?

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alibaba.jpgAlibaba is the world's leading e-commerce service provider and the most active online market and trading community in the world. It is a good platform to pull buyers and sellers together, and because it has a huge database of Chinese suppliers and made-in-China products, it has almost become an indispensable tool for international buyers to find suppliers in China. In my experience, people may have any of the following three outcomes when they search for suppliers on Alibaba:

  • Buyers can find many suppliers and most of them are good. This will be the case for some commodities which Chinese suppliers have developed mature experience of manufacturing and international trade, like toys, bicycles, T-shirts, etc. Buyers can make good judgments about the quality of the supplier from the suppliers' English introduction and by chatting with them online. 

  • Buyers can find some suppliers but cannot judge if they are good. This will be the case in some industries where China is developing trade experience, like chemicals, machinery, etc. The suppliers in these industries usually have poor English skills, a bad homepage, simple company and product introductions and nobody online for chatting. In addition, since many small and middle-sized plants do not have their own export department, you cannot be sure if you are merely talking to a trading company using the plant's name.

  • Buyers cannot find any qualified suppliers. Many big suppliers have no registration on Alibaba or a very simple one, with only a company name and a telephone number not updated for years. Also, some suppliers only register on the Chinese version of Alibaba.

In all Alibaba is a good channel for international buyers to start from or to refer to. But people are usually not sure what they will get from it and how the result will be. There will always be a need for more desk research and on-the-ground inspection in order to choose the correct supplier.

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Alibaba is not an “online market”: it is just a platform, or rather a directory. Buyers beware, Alibaba is not eBay!!
I also don’t agree with this sentence: “Buyers can make good judgments about the quality of the supplier from the suppliers' English introduction and by chatting with them online.” Whatever the product you source, polished English skills have little relationship with the reliability of a supplier.
You can do a google search for alibaba + scams and you’ll see what I mean…
Overall, I think Alibaba should try to be more than a directory. It should try to “organize” and help the sourcing efforts of the buyers. Or at the very least truly verify whether the suppliers’ assertions are true. That’s why Alibaba is strong only in China, and has a hard time developing in other Asian countries.
Alibaba only gives a list of options, which should be refined with emails, credit checks, factory visits/audits, sampling, and small trial orders.

David said:

First, I agree with the other comment that you absolutely 100% cannot trust any supplier you find online just because they have good English. The opposite is just as true--how many factories/trading company mangers hire a relative who graduated in English or "International Trade" for the express purpose of presenting an "international face" but have no international experience?! More than you'd believe. I've been here for 7 years, and this is more common than not.

Second, you can buy any ranking "trust pass" or "gold status" you want on Alibaba. I've had their sales people in our office before and they sell the upgrades to "trading companies" so that they can "look like a factory." They specifically sell this concept. There is NO filter past biz license for registration on Alibaba.

Third, because they will list anyone with money on their site you have no clue with whom you are dealing, in any language.

Fourth, Alibaba has so many (real) factories that it can't be ignored. But it's only a starting point.

Finally, we do use Alibaba because we have Chinese staff that can both talk with the potential suppliers in Chinese and we are full time in China and can visit the factory directly before we place orders. Anyone that can't do these two checks might as well go to Macao--you'll have the same odds.

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