Questions to ask Suppliers on Alibaba: The best questions to get the most out of a supplier

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Don’t know what to ask suppliers? What should you know from suppliers before you buy from them?

If you're reading this we already assume that you have found suppliers on Alibaba or another website like Global Sources, and are now ready to reach out to them. By this point, you should have a large list of suppliers and if you don’t or want to add more, check out our guide on Alibaba alternatives. Once you have the suppliers, Now comes the hard part-- talking to them. When asking suppliers questions you need to be polite and professional yet thorough and assertive.

This guide is based on our previous post about how to avoid scams and fraud and is part of our FBA sourcing series.  

What to ask when you first message a supplier

So you’ve gone to Alibaba, or one of the many alternatives and have found several suppliers. The next step is to send them a message that introduces yourself, the product you are looking for and the attributes you want. Be careful about which ones you are messaging and that you are contacting factories as much as possible and not resellers. If you’re unsure, go ahead and message them to gauge their response and at least get a feel for you how your message is worded.

If you don’t know what to ask here is a basic Alibaba supplier template you can use:

Subject: “I’m interested in [Product Name]”  or “RFQ for [Product Name]”

Hello [Potential supplier] (Note: use their given name if you have it),

I’m (your name) the procurement manager for [company name] and I’m interested in receiving a quote for [product name]

If you manufacture [product name] please email me more information to [your email]

In your response, include:

  1. Pictures of the product, and a photo of [product detail] (note: the detail can be anything just make sure it forces them to use pictures taken for you and not found elsewhere)

  2. The Minimum Order Quantity

  3. The price at the MOQ and [some other amount] (Note: I find that getting 2 prices for different quantities lets you know their flexibility on a price and helps in negotiations later on)

  4. [the price to make any changes or customization that you want] (be specific on this part but you can skip it if you want a product as-is)

  5. What is the shipping cost of sending a sample?

  6. What are the shipping terms?

  7. The Closest port (note the port should be close to where they claim they are located if you’re dealing with a factory if it’s too far be cautious)

Thanks, I look forward to hearing back from you!

[your name]

Procurement manager

[Company name]

Note:  the salesperson answering these emails sees the same email templates all the time so take time to personalize it and make it yours. This will help it stand out from the crowd. Another thing is that English is almost certainly not the first language of the person you are talking to. Be sure to use clear and simple language, while making sure you are getting your point across.

Additional Questions to ask

When first talking to a supplier I try to keep the questions list short so I do not overwhelm them; but immediately after the first responses, I will have a second list of questions prepared to ask. The questions often vary based on the potential suppliers' answer as well as some relating specifically to the product.

Questions you should ask

  • What are the payment terms

  • What payment options do you accept

    • See our guide about paying a Chinese Supplier: https://www.cosmosourcing.com/blog/what-is-the-best-way-to-pay-a-chinese-supplier

  • Do you have a Bill of Materials?

  • Shipping method, cost terms?

  • Can I get a quote for the product to be FOB as well?

  • What is the production lead time?

Optional questions to ask

  • What are you sample terms?

  • Do you have a catalogue?

    • This one is good to see if there are a factory or a sourcing agent

  • How many years of experience do you have?

  • Can you add our logo to the product and/or the packaging?

  • What packaging options do you have?

Shipping Related Questions

Not factoring in shipping is one of the most common mistakes that first-time buyers make. Most people think that shipping is easy, but it’s not. The most common mistake is not knowing the intercom terms and forgetting to negotiate which terms to use. If you do not know about the intercoms then check out our guide here . The questions below are a good first step to get you started.

  • What are the shipping terms?

    • See our guide for shipping

  • Can I get a quote for the item in both EXW and FOB?

  • Can you do DDP and if so can I get a quote?

  • Which port will this ship  out of? Or What is the closest port?

  • What is the weight of the package?

  • What are the dimension of the package?

  • How many units per packages?

  • Will you have individual units packages and then packaged in a master package?

    • Note usually if your item comes packaged they can pack bundle the several of the packages into a large box.

  • Are you familiar with FBA fulfillment and prepare the packages so that that they can be received by a Amazon Fulfillment center?

PRODUCT SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

Every product is different so it’s impossible to come up with a list of your exact product, but There are many things you need to know about it from a supplier. Before you source, you need to know the attributes that of the product you want. This can be the material its made of, the color, the production method, how it’s packaged and more. So spend a little bit of time and brainstorm what you want and what question you need to ask to get the product the way you want. You should revise this questionnaire multiple times throughout the sourcing process as the more you talk to the supplier the more you learn and figure out or the more you want to know.

FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS TO ASK SUPPLIERS ON ALIBABA

Now that you’ve gotten an initial response from your supplier, you need to sort the ones that you think are worth following up with. Before and during the negotiation phase you should be talking to half a dozen suppliers or more depending on the product. While questions can vary depending on the product, here are a few to ask to use as a reference.

  • Do you understand what FBA is and what the packaging requirements are?

  • Have you ever exported to the USA (Or wherever you’re shipping to)? If so, how often?

  • Do you have the proper certification to ship to the USA?

  • Do you have SINOSURE or other trade insurance?

  • If I place a full order, how quickly can you ship it?

  • What payment terms do you require for a new customer?

  • Can you refund my sample fee if I place a full order?

  • What is the best selling product made in your factory?

SUPPLIERS TEND TO BE YES-MEN

There are two things to note when you get your responses. First, Chinese very often say yes, regardless of if they can or not. Second, they often give vague answers. When you get a simple ‘yes’, make sure you follow up so that they explain and you can get a feel for how knowledgeable they are. Chinese culture is very hesitant to say ‘No’ to save face, so you’ll almost always get “yes” or “we’ll try,” or something similar as a response. ‘We’ll try” doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t, but it does mean they may give an effort, with no guarantees.

It’s perfectly fine for you to press them on vague answers, in order to get more specific details. While it isn’t uncommon for them to give vague answers if they don’t know, there is also a fair chance they may not understand your question due to poor English. If you believe it’s the latter, rephrase the question in simpler terms. Keep pressing until you get firm answers you are happy with or move on.

WANT A PROFESSIONAL TO HELP?

Cosmo has been helping Source products from China, Vietnam and more for years.  If you’re interested in hiring a sourcing company feel free to Cosmo for all your sourcing needs. you can email us at Info@cosmosourcing.com or visit our Product Request page. Even if you do not need any sourcing service feel free to reach out to us and we will answer any sourcing questions that you may have. Thanks for reading!

James KennemerComment