Red Flags of Alibaba Series: #4 Working With a Factory Who Doesn’t Know Your Product Well (Often a Surprise)

Mar 18, 2024 | 0 comments

The sun is out and I’m back with my “Red Flags of Alibaba” series.

Red flag number 4 often trips people up. Because it’s made to be believable

So let’s jump in and break it down, including tips on how to avoid this red flag.

Red Flag 4: Unknowingly Becoming a Factory’s Guinea Pig

Suppliers on Alibaba are trying to get new business. No secret there.

So sometimes—or many times—you will see your desired product type listed throughout the search results.

But it’s important to not always believe what we see.

Because suppliers often put up products they “could” make, hoping to get inquiries. They may pair the offering with “an unusually low price” – see my Red Flag #2 post for more on that.

The danger here is a buyer takes the Alibaba listing at face value. And they move forward with sampling and production—investing time and dollars.

You may get lucky and it works out. But often problems will abound as you become an unwitting “guineapig as the factory figures out the new process for a product type they lack experience with.

Worse? They may take your order and partially—or completely—farm it out to a different supplier without you knowing. In this situation, you lose an entire degree of connection and transparency, making communication and quality control extra challenging.

So here are my recommendations on how to navigate this red flag:

(1) Play “which of these things doesn’t belong” on their Alibaba storefront

If your target product differs from their core offerings, it might be new for the factory.

(2) Do a video call with the supplier

Ask for a showroom or factory tour during the call without prior notice, asking for a quick 5-10 minute walkthrough.

On the call, keep an eye out for your product type. If they claim to make metal bread boxes but all you see are wooden kitchen items then something may be off.

(3) Hire a good agency to help audit

That’s us! As a rule I avoid being salesy on here because I truly want to lead with delivering value.

So it could be ANY good agency that can perform an audit for you. Just know that you don’t always have to go it alone.

(4) The ultimate move – go visit in person

Depending on your budget and schedule, it may be worth taking the trip to visit your factory in person.

Again, here it helps to have someone on the ground to accompany you if possible to ensure you are taken to the right factory.

This might sound far fetched but by now we’ve seen it all. And sometimes that includes the new supplier taking you to a different location to give a certain appearance.

In general, Alibaba is a great platform to connect with potential suppliers. And there are many good suppliers on there! But like any buyer-seller platform, we need to be careful not to believe everything we see. So ask as many questions as needed, look further, and try out some of those above tips.

Happy sourcing!

Stay Ahead of the Sourcing Curve

Become a sourcing super hero! Get the latest China sourcing news and tips—handcrafted and delivered to you by our team.

No spam, ever. Our monthly newsletter will share tips on negotiating, increasing quality, best ways to communicate with your suppliers, and many more insights and stories.

Subscribe Now to get “in the know” about what’s happening on the ground in China.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Newsletter

Join a community of forward-thinkers. Receive curated insights, expert analyses, and the latest trends directly to your inbox. Don’t miss out on exclusive offers, event invitations, and valuable resources. Stay informed, stay inspired — sign up now for a future of informed decisions and endless possibilities.
Minimalist panda flying over factory

You’ll Love Our Newsletter

Become a product sourcing superhero! Get our best tips and insights to your inbox once a month. No spam, ever.

You have Successfully Subscribed!