Finding the right overseas supplier

A guest blog by , Community Manager at The Wholesale Forums, the UK’s leading B2B networking community & advice forum for wholesalers, distributors, importers, drop-shippers and retailers.


Access to overseas suppliers is always linked to low prices and profitable margins. But as the word ‘overseas’ suggest, finding them proves challenging when your prospects are continents away. Do you really want the world to become your supply oyster?

Here we asked our community of international suppliers on the smartest ways to find, evaluate, and select the right overseas supplier for your business.

Where to start looking

We know you’re thinking China but remember, the world can be your supplier – not a single country. Other options include emerging BRIC countries and you don’t need to limit your horizon. You can start with the following B2B sites to find out different sources of your product:

  1. – they are world’s largest online business-to-business trading platform for small businesses that brings together importers and exporters from more than 240 countries.
  2. Global Sources – facilitates trade from Greater China providing sourcing information for volume buyers and integrated marketing services to suppliers.
  3. Trade Sparq – first site to bring social verification, customs data into a B2B platform, benefiting international trade with over millions of products and 100,000 manufacturers and suppliers.

Take note of upcoming UK tradeshows here.

You can also be creative and try unconventional methods of discovering a supplier. Dave Steele – a beauty products retailer at Simple Earth, suggests looking at the back of the products to identify the manufacturer and then find out if they have distributors in the UK. You don’t even have to buy the product, use your camera phone and take a photo of the back label!

How to select and qualify the right supplier

After arriving with some results from B2B sites or even Google, it is good practice to trim down your prospects and identify who you should prioritize based on your criteria.

  1. Check Pricing – Most suppliers will be legitimate, but this doesn’t mean they are any good, says Darren Brundell. It is essential to practice due diligence in verifying your suppliers. Don’t be blinded by too good to be true prices, always check pricing with other companies to find out if prices are realistic.
  2. Online ratings and supplier reviews – Many B2B sites also offer resources and security features such as badges to indicate whether a supplier is verified or not, ratings, and reviews. Here are more tips in filtering overseas suppliers from B2B sites.

Genuine feedback from online communities should not be taken for granted. These are usually from traders who have firsthand experience in dealing with overseas suppliers and share their positive or negative reviews. Search forums for your supplier’s company names or request for feedback from community members.

Bonus Tip: After identifying qualified suppliers, start your own ledger or spreadsheet with their details such as contact person, email address, phone number and website.

Make email your first point of contact with suppliers

Emails are the choice method of contact for gauging prospect suppliers. Not only is it more cost-effective but it encourages you to ask & prepare specific questions while having a record of their responses.

Remember that suppliers will also test if you are worth their time and business. Ensure that your emails look professional and one way of doing this is to use a proper email address and signature with your business details (logo, website, and contact information).

Once you get a reply and are ready to move to the next phase, schedule a phone call with your contact or to be more cost-efficient, ask if they are on Skype or their local version of it.

Don’t forget to take note of their official working hours and upcoming work holidays. Using your DIY spreadsheet, mark suppliers who’ve responded and those that require following up.

Should you use an agent or an inspector?

This really depends on your preference and on how confident you are with your due diligence. Some importers avoid using third parties that will cut into their profits. Inspectors and agents also involve costs and time to verify whether they are legit or not.

However, there are some businesses who were able to save themselves from significant losses by using an inspector. They act as your avatars that can verify the legitimacy of your overseas suppliers as well as the quality of products before they are shipped – all without you needing to travel.

A good alternative is to ask for samples, if your suppliers refuse to provide this – order in small quantities and slowly build up your orders as you become more confident and trusting of your supplier.

Finding the right supplier isn’t as painstaking as many would make you believe. Have a set plan of actions starting from research, verification, selection and contact. It’s a good idea to be methodical of this process to prevent yourself from deciding abruptly on something you might regret later on.

Don’t scrimp on proper research, learn from the mistakes and success of others by getting involved in online communities. Companies like DHL, Alibaba and government agencies like UKTI and The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills regularly run educating campaigns on social media where you can also ask for international trade advice for free.

Are you planning to find an overseas supplier? Tell us about it via comments below!


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