How to find suppliers beyond Alibaba? PART TWO: Online Sourcing for Small Volume Orders

This post is a part of a series on “How to find suppliers beyond Alibaba”. (Part 1)

Before we dive into online sourcing, first you need to identify what type of supplier you’re looking for.  It’s like in dating – a gold digger (big supplier) isn’t gonna waste her time going out with a bootstrapped entrepreneur (testing the waters as a small volume buyer), get it?  You have to find a supplier that is right for your needs so we will be discussing Aliexpress and DHgate for small volume orders.

Before we do that, you need to identify your needs first: what kind of product you’re looking for, how much do you need to start off and in the future if your business explodes, your budget, and your timeline.  If a supplier makes the right product but has a minimum order quantity of 1,000pcs and you only need 5pcs, then obviously this is not going to work.

Gold diggers (large suppliers) don't want to deal with small volume buyers. Find the right fit using Aliexpress and DHgate to test the waters
Gold diggers (large suppliers) don’t want to deal with small volume buyers. Find the right match using Aliexpress and DHgate to test the waters


Best practice: I know it doesn’t sound sexy and you want to go straight in, but doing a little work upfront will save you a lot of time and headaches in the future. First put together a request for quotation (RFQ) and then select the right platforms to connect to the suppliers in your ballpark. If you have questions about RFQs, please leave them in the comments below.

Small volume orders

You might be thinking: why are these suppliers offering such low quantities?  It could be several reasons.  The factory could have leftover inventory from a previous order they want to liquidate.  Or they could have an order cancellation because of product quality problems or defects. Another possibility is they could be middlemen.

In any case if you’d like to start small to test the waters then try Aliexpress or DHgate.  Minimum order quantities (MOQs) can be as low as 1 piece.   In this case middlemen can actually work in your favor because they can offer lower MOQs than ordering from direct manufacturers.  Some suppliers offer free shipping as well so it’s relatively easy.

On the hand expect to pay a higher price, normally at least 30% more than ordering direct from a factory.  Prepare for a long wait because free shipping is normally by China Post and may take upwards of 30 days.  Also beware quality problems because there is a risk they are defective items.

Best practice: Instead of asking for a sample (not worth the cost for such a small order), ask for a photo of the actual product and packaging before placing an order so you can “see” if there are any problems.  Also ask if these products have any defects.  They may or may not tell you but it doesn’t hurt to ask!  If there are defects then try to negotiate a discount.


Aliexpress Grill Gloves SS
Grill gloves for sale on Aliexpress – MOQ is only 1 piece, but not cheap!

Think of this as an eBay with sellers from China shipping to buyers around the world.  They sell individual items and small wholesale lots.  This is good if you want to test the waters with a small order or to sell locally (e.g. Craigslist, swap meet, bricks and mortar store, etc).  I know some people who buy off Aliexpress to use for themselves as well.

Aliexpress if fine if you volume is small and if you’re just starting out.  I don’t recommend it if you want to build a scalable business because you likely are not dealing with the direct manufacturer but with a middle man who will not reveal the factory to you.  This means you won’t get the best price.  Another major disadvantage is that you are not building a relationship with the supplier.  This relationship is critical if you want to build a sustainable business.

Just as in dating as you get to know each other better you grow together to find out their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes to find out if you’re compatible.  Similarly as you grow your business with the supplier you want to decide if you will invest in a long term relationship where you be able to negotiate lower pricing, better payment terms, smoother communication, etc.  In good scenarios you will continue dating.  In bad situations, such as poor quality products, missed deliveries, miscommunication, etc you can drop them.


  • Find same products offered on Alibaba
  • Lower MOQs
  • Escrow service for added protection (but you will pay a few % more)


  • Higher prices (at least 25% more)
  • Dealing with middlemen – higher prices, hidden factory, risk of disappearing overnight
  • Difficult to establish long term relationship with direct manufacturer
  • Beware defective and counterfeit products


DHGate Grill gloves SS
Grill gloves for sale on DHgate. MOQ only 1pc, but not cheap!

DHgate is another online directory of suppliers that target small volume buyers.  The main advantage again is lower MOQs – as low as 1pc.  Users report that there are a larger variety of products on DHgate it can be a good resource to complement Aliexpress or for certain niche items.  They also offer an escrow service to protect you but this will cost you a few extra % points on top of the quotation.  Or it will already be embedded in the quotation.  This is common practice in China.



  • Higher prices (at least 25% more)
  • Dealing with middlemen – higher prices, hidden factory, risk of disappearing overnight
  • Difficult to establish long term relationship with direct manufacturer
  • Beware defective and counterfeit products

There are a few more minor players who I will not get into because I believe you can find 80% of the Chinese small volume sellers using just these two platforms mentioned above.  80/20 rule!

In the next article we will cover platforms for medium to large volume buyers.  Please signup to my newsletter to receive free updates.

Meanwhile have you’ve used Aliexpress or DHgate before?  Please share your success or horror stories below.

Please signup for my newsletter for a “deeper dive” into these topics.  Good luck!

How to find suppliers beyond Alibaba? Part One: “Yellow Pages”

iStock_000001814881_phone booksThink of Alibaba as the “Yellow Pages”

When you think of sourcing from China what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Hopping on a plane and flying to Guangzhou to find a factory?  No, you go on Alibaba!  But can you really find the right supplier for you on Alibaba without getting scammed?  Or getting the wrong product?  Or deliveries getting delayed? Or getting shipped a container full of dirt?  You’ve heard the horror stories.

If you learn nothing else from this article, here’s the takeaway – Alibaba is an online directory just like the “yellow pages“.  In other words, it’s a listing of suppliers and you shouldn’t trust Alibaba to vet them for you.  Just like the yellow pages a supplier can pay for a bigger and nicer-looking ad.  This is exactly what “gold suppliers” are.  Alibaba does verify supplier information to a certain extent, but don’t naively believe that the “gold supplier” badge means they are a good supplier.  Many of them are in fact trading companies and middlemen and things can go wrong.

In my experience working with Chinese suppliers, I don’t trust anyone unless they prove themselves to me.  I’m not saying all suppliers are evil.  But they need to earn your trust through their actions.  Many suppliers with good intentions may have poor communication skills, misaligned quality expectations, dysfunctional teams, and other problems.  Having said that, there are the bad apples and I will share with you the common “dirty tricks” they play and what to look out for.  Think “guilty until proven innocent.”

On the other hand, if you are a multinational corporation like a Walmart, Target, or Carrefour you will have an entire supply chain department and sourcing team to vet suppliers and do the proper due diligence.  They may use Alibaba as part of their sourcing strategy but it definitely will not be the only method.

I’d like to show you ways to find suppliers beyond Alibaba to help grow your business. Here’s why:
1) Quality – Alibaba has a broad range of suppliers but there are a lot of middlemen, trading companies, and bad apples.  So you really have to sift through the mess to find the good ones.

2) Many quality suppliers are NOT on Alibaba – Do you honestly think that all Chinese suppliers are on Alibaba?  FALSE.  In fact, I have worked with numerous reliable suppliers who purposely choose NOT to be on Alibaba.  If you rely only on Alibaba then you will never find them.

You may be thinking why aren’t they on Alibaba – isn’t this the #1 marketplace?  True but the same low quality standard that you associate with suppliers on Alibaba, they associate with you the BUYER!  In fact it’s become so common and easy to use that there there are tons of looky-loos who “spray and pray”.  They blindly post requests for quotations (RFQs) to dozens if not hundreds of suppliers at once with no serious intention to buy.  They are just shopping around.  If you are the supplier, would you want to waste your time on them?  Of course not.  So many quality suppliers who want to deal with serious buyers do not bother with Alibaba.  There are other reasons as well such as language barriers, lack of resources, and different priorities but you get the picture.  Good luck trying to find Apple’s contract manufacturer Foxconn on Alibaba. Do you really believe XYZ trading company is selling real iPhone LCD screens? Get real!

Do you really believe XYZ trading company is selling authentic Iphone LCD screens?
Do you really believe XYZ trading company is selling real iPhone LCD screens? Get real!

3) Diversification – Your competitors are sourcing from Alibaba.  If you are sourcing from the same supplier how will you differentiate yourself?  Price?  I don’t know about you but anytime there is a price war I find it’s a race to bottom and there’s no money to be made.  The smart ones will find unique suppliers which deliver differentiated products at competitive prices.  So I will show you ways to find suppliers beyond Alibaba to differentiate your products from your competitors.

Now tell me why you are considering sourcing beyond Alibaba?  Welcome your comments below.

This series will be published in three parts: online, offline, and thinking outside the box.  If you want to have the articles sent FREE by email to you, please signup here.