For the unsuspecting novice in e-commerce wanting to start things out the right way, China might be as foreign as foreign could get.
For the unsuspecting novice in e-commerce wanting to start things out the right way, China might be as foreign as foreign could get. With the language barrier alone, it already proves to be quite a challenge. Add to that the difference in business culture as well as the logistical obstacles brought about by mere physical distance and the proverbial red-tape in almost all institutions involved in importing. Where does one kick things off without losing one’s mind? Or should one even bother at all?
Well, ask any successful e-commerce entrepreneur who’s actively doing business with Chinese manufacturers now, and he’ll tell you that all the benefits come rushing after all those initial jitters. And the process isn’t all that complicated as long as you’re well-informed and amply armed going in.
In this article, we’ve put together some steps and tips to help you find suppliers, build relationships, source profitable products, and be on your way to e-commerce growth and success!
Let’s start with the uber-important first step…
You’re here now reading this article so clearly you’re on the right track. Awesome work, indeed!
The value of research in business, whether you’re just starting out or working hard to sustain and grow, couldn’t be stressed enough.
Research, explore, investigate. Know exactly what you’re getting yourself into and have options in terms of what the most logical and profitable path you should be taking.
Start with the right questions:
These are just a few examples. There will even be industry-related, product-type, or niche-specific questions that might guide you even further in your research.
Already got ideas or answers to the above? Gravitating yet towards specific products? Time to lock in on actual suppliers.
Your web browser will point you to easily a million directions here.
Be very careful. Be extra selective. In fact, skip the Google search and head straight to the popular, and thereby sufficiently reviewed, platforms. This should be a good starting point.
The more favored ones are Alibaba and AliExpress, both from the same mother company with the previous one preferred for bigger bulk orders. We’ve discussed a few alternatives to AliExpress in a previous blog post. Thrones operating from China are Chinabrands, DHGate, Lightinthebox. Banggood, and DX.
Head on over to these website e-commerce platforms, create an account, and select products you might be interested in. Click through to their suppliers, check out reviews and ratings, and start listing down the ones that catch your attention in a good way.
You might also want to be on the lookout for tradeshows happening in your location; tradeshows where manufacturers from China are exhibitors, participants. In this case, Google is your friend.
Some of the more popular trade shows that are based in China are:
These trade shows and expos publish their list of exhibitors ahead of time complete even with contract information.
Which brings us to our next step. Once you’ve compiled a list of China e-commerce sources, you’ll want to start connecting with them.
These suppliers will turn into partners in your operations. They will have a direct impact on your bottom line because of how they might affect the quality of your wares, your order fulfillment, customer satisfaction, etc.
So the name of the game at this point is building the right relationships. And it’s up to you to make first contact.
It’ll be easy enough to pick the phone up and start a conversation. That’s an option right there.
But whether you start by dialing or some other method, they’ll want to send you some documents and information packets. So another way to open communication lines is through messaging. Most platforms have some sort of messaging system you can use. Otherwise, there’s email.
Send a simple, straightforward message. Something that’ll be easy to digest. Don’t forget that, unless they have a foreign rep, English won’t be their first language.
Introduce yourself. State your purpose. Feel free to set expectations from the get-go.
An important tip here is to appear big. Not conglomerate big, but big in the sense that you’d be an ideal partner to them.
Remember that a lot of these suppliers get massive amounts of messages per day. You’re probably one of hundreds of inquiries that week. Of course, this shouldn’t be an issue once the relationship has been built but it is important to get your click rate close to 100% as possible for there to even be the potential of a relationship.
At the end of the day, this is still part of the whole research process. Did they respond quickly? Do you feel they fully comprehend the purpose of your communication? Did they make you feel that this will be the way communication will go throughout your partnership?
Clear and timely exchanges are important when partnering with suppliers from China. We can’t stress enough that this will greatly affect your whole e-commerce operations.
Communication down, enter the negotiation phase.
Your foot is in the door as you have successfully opened communication. Tables get turned a bit because experienced suppliers from China know for a fact that you most likely contacted other suppliers, too. They know they are now competing for your business. Make sure you take advantage of this while maintaining professionalism and friendliness.
Let them know that you’re in this for the long haul and that you want to give them business while you’re also making a good profit.
If you already have your business plan down, then give them an idea around it. They’ll understand as they’re in the same business ecosphere.
Be specific whenever possible. By this point, you’ve received their information packets and pricing structure. You most likely also have basic discount information. Is this the best they can do? With this kind of pricing, will you be able to sell comfortably at a price point that would be acceptable to your customers?
Let them know your thoughts and mention that you are, in fact, looking for the best deals out there.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. The stories are true about rampant haggling that’s prevalent in China. This isn’t something new to them and they’d be happy to engage. Just make sure you’re being reasonable and that it ends up making sense for both parties.
Most suppliers offer discounts for would-be partners wanting some samples. They stipulate this in their information packets most of the time. If you don’t see it off the bat, then go right ahead and ask for a sample rate.
It is recommended that you buy more than just one because you’d like to open a few to see about consistency in quality among others.
A few reasons you want to order samples:
If you ever decide to go right ahead and purchase a substantial amount of initial inventory, make sure to open several of them for yourself. Check out the quality and try to use them more than how your end customer might use them. Make notes whenever possible, and mention the same to your supplier.
Overall, purchasing samples or opening up a part of the initial inventory is a great way to test and even validate your products. Once you cross this point and you’re happy with what you have, it’s time to list them for sale.
The initial process, from manufacturer to you, which is a big chunk of your whole e-commerce operations is down. Or at the very least, you’re trialing one or two contracts.
Time to make sure what will fuel this venture is also up and running.
Are you listing your product(s) on your own website or are you putting them up on platforms like eBay and Amazon? Be sure to check out the articles on our dropshipping and e-commerce blog as we have several on there that’ll guide you here.
To give an idea, you might want to launch your own website and run the system on tried and tested builders such as Shopify, WooCommerce, or Volusion.
The more advanced e-commerce businesses even have listings on both their own website and on marketplace platforms.
Whatever the case might be, here are a few pointers for your product listings and pages:
Take note that this listing will change over time and this is not your final version.
Off the bat, be sure to track your data so you can…
Next order of business requires you to optimize your store for conversion. Where are you at at this point? How is it looking? Are you making any sales? Is your inventory holding up?
Are there visitors to your website? What steps can you take to grow your visitors and ultimately your sales?
Look at the data and you’ll see where visitors, if at all, are either dropping off or perhaps making the decision to purchase.
You should always come to a decision only after measuring and analyzing data from your results.
Are you seeing opportunities to correct some issues? Endeavor to correct them right away.
Are you happy with how it is going so far? Then it might be time to scale.
Scaling can mean adding more inventory. It can also mean adding more items to the product line. Whatever the case might be, we suggest going back to researching.
At this point, there might be enough cashflow to test new products, be more liberal. In other words, time to experiment.
Be sure you’re experimenting cautiously even though doing it semi aggressively.
When re-ordering, does it make sense to order the same amount as before or could you have a bigger number shipped in and thereby getting a better price?
Sourcing products from China to sell online allows e-commerce entrepreneurs the highest possible profit margins without actually manufacturing the products themselves.
It is important to go through this journey armed with the best information and with a little extra effort in testing and building relationships, you will go quite a long way.
Never ever go through this process without heeding the tips above or even just plain common business sense.
We hope you learned a lot from this article and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out.