Have you ever sourced for products globally, using any worldwide sourcing service, Alibaba.com, or another of the Alibaba Group's marketplaces?
In the recent article from EcommerceBytes Update, "From Alpacas to Custom Bras: Product Sourcing with Alibaba," I spoke with Alibaba's Director of Global Marketing, Linda F. Kozlowski, about the differences between their various marketplaces, what sellers can do with each, and how the company has tightened controls to combat fraud, which she said is now down to 0.2%. (New figures from Alibaba: their fraud rate is now down to 0.03%).
In fact, it seems to me that when online sellers hear the word "China," they have an automatic reaction of worrying about fraud. But do you think this matches up with the reality, and why or why not? I was also surprised to learn that in terms of Alibaba.com's international marketplace, comprised of some 240 countries, China suppliers are only 6% of that. (New figures have been provided by Alibaba: the percentage of Chinese gold suppliers on Alibaba.com international marketplace is 15%). This is not to be confused with Alibaba's other services and marketplaces, some of which, such as Taobao.com, are China-based and oriented.
I also spoke with one of their successful users of their "Customized Sourcing" services, Jane Ivanov, who has created a business that met a need in the marketplace for comfortable and also pretty pregnancy and nursing lingerie and clothing, Eve Alexander.
However, I did not have the sense I would have liked about who all is using these types of services successfully, lessons they have learned that they would pass on to others, and how these sellers would advise not to get burned. Some of the advice in the article addresses, from the standpoint of Alibaba, those issues of how to be careful and safe when buying supplies or inventory from another country, sometimes on the other side of the world from where you live. But I'd like to get more online sellers' points of view. So I'd love to open this blog post's comments up to hear as many experiences as possible, so sellers can learn from each other.
In the case of Jane Ivanov, I asked her what advice she would give other sellers starting out, especially those looking to invent or create a new product, like she did with Alibaba's Customized Sourcing program.
Above: Jane Ivanov, founder of EveAlexander.com.
Ivanov's company is based in Indianapolis and their sales are "in the low seven figures," she says. Their manufacturing takes place in China, LA, and "some in Columbia," she said, and she happens to live in Moscow and in between all those other places.
"Ironically enough, in my business, the actual design part is actually pretty easy; it's easy to draw something pretty and say this is what I'd like it to look like," she said, and that "the hard part comes in, in finding a person or a company out there that will make it look like what you had envisioned and the quality will be what you're expecting it to be, and it will have the features you're expecting it to have."
She also strongly recommends having a business plan, and not being afraid to approach people for advice, whether in similar industries or in completely opposite industries, if you admire them and think they may have something to teach you.
Alibaba also just launched a survey to help buyers find out what their is score in terms of safe trading. You could win one of 10 iPads by entering the drawing here entering the drawing here.
What advice would you give others? Have you tried global sourcing, and if so how did it work out for you, or not? What would you tell the newbie looking to order supplies or have something manufactured in another country?
[Note: Blog post was edited for clarity on 4/17/12.]