Sourcing Tips on Alibaba with Marissa Sayers

blog product sourcing May 22, 2022

As your subscription box business grows, it becomes necessary to find new sources for products. When you need 100, or several hundred, or even 1,000 of the same item, finding vendors to supply them is a challenge. Many subscription box owners choose to work directly with manufacturers, many of them overseas. 

Working directly with a manufacturer has advantages. It also has challenges. You can either work with the manufacturers yourself or outsource it to someone who specializes in these relationships. After discovering that managing all the ins and outs of sourcing products overseas for my Monogram Box was not my zone of genius, I turned to Marissa Sayers of Sayers Imports. 

Marissa understands all aspects of working with subscription box owners and overseas manufacturers of the goods we want to put inside those boxes. Keep reading to learn what subscription box owners need to know to successfully navigate sourcing products from an overseas company like Alibaba.



What is Alibaba?   

Alibaba is a website used to source products overseas. It is a business-to-business (B2B) website that connects buyers and sellers. 

Alibaba is a great place for small businesses like subscription boxes to start to understand the sourcing process. You will not need any special type of credentials in order to source through Alibaba, although most manufacturers do have minimum order quantity requirements (MOQ). 

The vast majority of the manufacturers on Alibaba are in China. Others may be in Japan or India. 

AliExpress is another website from which you can source. However, this is a business-to-consumer website, so you’ll find prices to be higher than on Alibaba. Some subscription box owners start sourcing through Ali Express because there are no MOQs required and they can still realize great savings. 



How do I find what I need on Alibaba?  

Sourcing products from a large, overseas, online marketplace like Alibaba can be overwhelming. If you want to order a special pen to go with a journal you are planning for a future subscription box, you may simply enter “pen” in the search bar. You may then be surprised when thousands upon thousands of “pens” come up from which to choose. This is not an efficient or effective way to find products. 

The following steps will help you narrow down your search, one step at a time, until you are left with a reasonable number of manufacturers to reach out to and start a conversation. 


1. Search for products. 

Be specific. Instead of “pen,” or “t-shirt,” provide a description that tells the search engine exactly what you’re looking for. Try “bright blue felt tipped pen” or “women’s v-neck short-sleeved t-shirt.”  


2. Narrow your search.

This is where you start vetting the manufacturers. Click on listings of items you are interested in and scroll down to the company information.

Look for high numbers of transactions, large factory square footage numbers, and high numbers of employees. This indicates the items are being sold by a legitimate factory, not a middleman who is simply selling items they purchased from a manufacturer. 

Work directly with a manufacturer in order to get the best prices and have the most control over the quality and timing of your order.


3. Further filter your search based on delivery options. 

This is important! You can filter your search by delivery type. There are several options. The only delivery type you should choose is DDP.


DDP shipping means the seller assumes responsibility for all of the fees. 

  • Import duty
  • Taxes
  • Customs clearance 
  • Freight charges
  • Terminal handling
  • Export duties
  • …and more! 


DDP means the seller covers all of these charges. Of course, that is reflected in the price. Your price with DDP shipping will be a good bit higher than the listed price, but all the fees are handled for you. 

Ordering without DDP shipping means you’ll be hit with all kinds of unexpected costs and possible complications. 

Make sure to also ask each manufacturer for their current production time, packing time, and shipping time.   



4. Talk to several manufacturers.

Find at least 2-3 (preferably more) manufacturers you may want to order samples from. Contact each factory directly via the contact system inside Alibaba’s website. 

Offer information about your subscription box business to help them understand you are serious and the potential exists for selling large numbers of items. It is important to realize as you go through the process of vetting manufacturers, they will be vetting you in return. 


When a manufacturer responds, consider: 

  • How long did it take them to respond?
  • Did they answer all of my questions? 
  • How is the language barrier? 


The answers to these questions should narrow your list down further. Now it’s time to ask manufacturers for pictures of items you are interested in. It is a good idea to ask for multiple pictures taken in different lighting. 

Sarah’s tip: I like to ask for an “in real life” photo to verify the appearance of the item. Sometimes I’ll even ask for a short video of them showing the item to me.


5. Order samples. 

Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of manufacturers again, it’s time to order samples. 

When you order samples, you are vetting the manufacturer, but this is another step where they are also vetting you. They want to see if you are really serious about purchasing from them. 

The cost of ordering samples will surprise you the first time. Consider that if you’re ordering a custom item, the factory may need to create a special mold or create custom colors in order to create your item. You can try to negotiate a free sample and just pay shipping or negotiate taking the price of the sample off the total of the first order.  



6. Place your order. 

Once you’re happy with the sample and ready to move forward, it’s time to place your order. Communication is important at every step along the way, especially now. You will need to follow up consistently during the period between when you place your order and when it is received. 

It was this part of the process that convinced me I needed to outsource this function. I was not good at following up and keeping on top of the status of my many shipments. I reached out to Marissa, who is VERY good at every part of this process. 


7. Receive your shipment. 

When you receive your shipment, immediately open your boxes, checking to make sure you received the correct items, in the condition you expected, in the quantity you ordered. 


Plan ahead when ordering overseas. 

You cannot panic buy from Alibaba! 

We’ve all done it. You realize you don’t have an item you need for your subscription box. Or you don’t have enough of an item and you scramble to find enough of what you need in time. 

When you buy from Alibaba, you have to plan ahead. Pre-pandemic, I would have recommended 60 days ahead. Now, I strongly recommend ordering 90-120 days ahead. It will give you time to work through any delays and will save you a LOT of stress and worry! 


Is this going to be the year you find new sources for products? Remember, as a subscription box owner, you have a great deal of buying power. Own that power. Hear more about ordering from Alibaba from Marissa on episode 54 of the Launch Your Box podcastMarissa offers two courses all about product sourcing. Find out more HERE.

Learn from me:

  • Subscription Box Blueprint eBook: This $10 ebook covers logistics from product selection to packaging to shipping. Plus a 90-day launch plan and bonus ‘Instant Scripts’ for your social media.
  • Launch Your Box: My complete training program that walks you step by step through how to start, launch, and grow your subscription box business.
  • Launch Your Box Podcast: I share tons of practical tips and strategies to help you start, launch, and grow your subscription box business. You’ll also hear from industry experts and current Launch Your Box members who are crushing it - get ready to get inspired!
  • One Box at a Time: Inside my book One Box at a Time, I show you the steps you need to follow to start and launch your subscription box. To turn your dream into reality. This book is filled with proven teachings, valuable resources, best practices, and action steps for you to take.


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