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Guest blog: how to get the best out of your overseas supplier



Sourcing products from an overseas supplier doesn’t have to be a daunting proposition. In this post, the online marketplace connecting buyers and sellers across the globe, Alibaba.com, take us through some of their top tips…

Alibaba

For business owners, there are plenty of compelling reasons to source products from overseas. For one thing, items are generally cheaper. But in many cases, an international supplier may be your only option.

There are lots of attractive plus points to working in international market, but that’s not to say you won’t encounter major challenges along the way. Careful planning and taking the time to do your research is vital if you’re going to avoid the more major pitfalls.

The most important thing? The quality of the products you’re selling to your customers has to be top of the list. If you’re going to source your inventory from a global wholesaler, you need to do everything in your power to make sure the goods you get are exactly what you and your customers were expecting.

1. Get specific information

Once you find a wholesaler you’re interested in, start by asking for information about the products you want to source. You might want to find out what the product is made from, how it’s assembled, what the dimensions are, what materials are used to decorate it, how it’s packaged, and what it weighs.

Of course, the questions you ask will depend on the particular item you’re ordering. But whatever the item, you should be as thorough as possible – this helps avoid any unpleasant surprises when that first shipment arrives.

Drawings, diagrams or photographs can help both you and the supplier understand precisely what to expect and what can be supplied.

Where appropriate, you can also ask for samples. Depending on the product, the supplier might be happy to provide these free of charge, or you may have to pay a fee.  Having the physical item in front of you will give you much more confidence in the quality of the product that you’re going to be selling.

2. Check out the company’s supply chain

Finding out where a company sources its raw materials is also important – it can help you make sure you get exactly the products you’re looking for.

Depending on the products you want to sell, it might be a good idea to do a bit of research into their supply chain so you know the materials they provide are consistent and fit for purpose.

You should also confirm that the company will actually be the one making your product. Sometimes, one manufacturer will subcontract orders to another company. This could be due to a high workload, or the difficulty of a project. This really is something you should try to avoid – it can result in unexpected delays, an inconsistent product or other difficulties.

3. Check their accreditations

Companies can obtain a number of internationally recognised accreditations. These are designed to give you peace of mind that the organisation you work with is trustworthy and follows a set code of conduct, both in-house, and when working with its customers.

ISO 9001 is one such recognition. It’s an indicator of good quality management – businesses that earn it have shown they provide consistent products that meet customer expectations.

In some cases, it might also be appropriate to seek out companies that have achieved Fair Trade certification, which means they offer reasonable payment to producers and workers, as well as considering issues such as sustainability and community development.

4. Due diligence

While the majority of companies you come across will be legitimate firms working hard to earn your business, it’s an unfortunate fact that there are people out there who will try to scam you. It’s important to do what you can to make sure the organisation you’re dealing with is genuine before you send them any money.

There are a number of ways to do this. For a start, it’s recommended that you undertake various checks to make sure the company is legitimate. Reverse-telephone look-ups can be a good way to start and it’s sound practice to avoid companies that only use mobile numbers or free email addresses as contact information, due to their disposable nature.

It might be useful to ask the company for bank information or business certificates, or perhaps request the details of some of their other clients so you can get recommendations. You could also get in touch with your embassy in the country you’re dealing with – they should have access to a list of registered businesses.

Most of all, don’t forget to trust your own judgement and instinct. If something doesn’t seem right about the company, it probably isn’t. Do more research, or find another firm that you can trust.

Alibaba.com is a global platform that makes it easy for buyers and suppliers to do business around the world either sourcing products, finding manufacturers or selling their products and services abroad. You can find out more related international trade tips here: http://uk.alibaba.com/knowledge-centre/international-trade-guide.html

For more information on international trade, download the DHL guides for small businesses here

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