Alibaba.com: If You’re Looking for Chinese (and other) Suppliers, Get to Know It.

I’ve heard so much about Alibaba.com, the online resource for connecting suppliers (many Chinese) with buyers around the world. I asked Andrea Meyer, Americas PR Manager, a few questions about Alibaba.com and have the interview here.

Most of Alibaba.com’s suppliers, if not all, are Chinese. Right? So it’s mainly a platform for US buyers (or others) to find Chinese suppliers, not including the other marketplace you have for Japanese suppliers?

Actually, no. We have members in more than 240 regions around the world and suppliers are available anywhere in the world. The Alibaba.com international platform is a website for small businesses anywhere in the world to find products they need or have them custom-made from suppliers anywhere. We frequently hear from customers that they use suppliers in India, Taiwan, Brazil and other countries, in addition to China. I’ve included our corporate fact sheet with a further breakdown of our members.

For those not using Alibaba.com, how are people finding suppliers?

If you aren’t using Alibaba.com you have to find suppliers the old fashioned way. This means traveling to trade shows, finding an import agent or using a wholesaler. Using Alibaba.com significantly decreases the time it takes to find suppliers and lowers the costs for buyers because they no longer have to spend money traveling to trade shows around the world and they work directly with supplier, eliminating the middleman.

I’ve been using Elance quite a bit to find vendors to help with some things. I’m curious if there is any correlation between finding a human service provider vs. a vendor to sell you a product.

You actually can find human service providers on Alibaba.com as well as vendors to sell you products. The process for qualifying services and product vendors is very similar. You need to establish trust, payment terms, timelines, deliverables, etc.

What are the top tips you’ve found over the years for American buyers working with Chinese suppliers. I would think it all boils down to trust and clear communication of expectation in some way.

  • Do your homework. Don’t just take a supplier’s word to be the truth. You are ultimately responsible for your business and the deal you do so make sure you are comfortable. Once you find a supplier you would like to do business with, Google them. Do a search on Alibaba.com forums on the Safe Trading Center. Ask other people involved in global trade if they’ve heard of them.
  • Ask for references. When you find a supplier it will tell you how many years they’ve been an Alibaba.com member. We strongly recommend that you work with a Gold Supplier (this means they’ve been verified by a third party), but you should also ask them for references of other companies they’ve done business with in the US.
  • Do a bank reference check or credit check on your potential supplier. This way you can find out if there are any outstanding problems pending.
  • Familiarize yourself with import/export terms and laws. You don’t have to be an expert t do this, but you need to know the basics to make sure you are covered and that your goods don’t get stopped in Customs. The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide by Brad and Debra Schepp is a great place to find out everything you need to know to get started.
  • If a supplier is pressuring you to make a decision fast or send money quickly, don’t do it. This is a red flag and a quality supplier will be willing to work with your timeline. Be very careful in the payment method you select as this will make a big difference in how you are protected later.

What are other marketplaces that compete with Alibaba.com and how is Alibaba.com different?

There aren’t any marketplaces that compete directly with Alibaba.com and offer everything that our site offers. There are some smaller players who offer a service in one industry and there are some wholesale sites that compete with our wholesale service, www.aliexpress.com. AliExpress is an Alibaba.com product that we formally launched in April 2010. It allows buyers to purchase smaller quantities of goods (sometimes as low as 1) and transactions are available on the site. AliExpress also offers Buyer Protection for all payments made through the site and buyers can use the payment method of their choice (Visa, Mastercard or PayPal).

What are some common ways your suppliers and buyers communicate with each other – beyond email?

Suppliers and buyers communicate in a number of ways and it is really up to what is comfortable for all parties involved. Alibaba.com offers an IM client called TradeManager that allows Alibaba.com members anywhere to chat directly with one another with a live translation tool. We also recently partnered with RingCentral to offer local 1-800 numbers to Chinese suppliers. This is helpful for small businesses in the US because they can now call a Chinese supplier directly without making a long distance phone call.

What about language barriers, how is this resolved – in email, official documentation and anything else.

The language barrier can be daunting for small businesses who are starting to use the platform, but we offer a number of services to make it easier. The first is TradeManager, an IM client that allows Alibaba.com members anywhere to chat directly with one another with a live translation tool. We also recently partnered with RingCentral to offer local 1-800 numbers to Chinese suppliers. This is helpful for small businesses in the US because they can now call a Chinese supplier directly without making a long distance phone call. We also have a California-based Customer Care team that is available to help customers who have any questions or need help dealing with suppliers.

Can you provide some numbers on the makeup of the Alibaba audience and other stats? How many suppliers? How many buyers? Average transaction size? What are the top 5 items purchased? Who are the buyers (any stats on them)?

Please see the attached fact sheet for most of these statistics. We do not have statistics on the average transaction size as transactions on Alibaba.com actually take place off the site. From our experience with our customers they can vary from

Does Alibaba have a presence in NY?

There is no physical office in NY, but NY is our second largest customer base in the US

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About Ramon Ray

Ramon Ray, Marketing & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com & Infusionsoft. Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook