Sourcing online: caveat emptor

As a rule I try to discourage people from sourcing on sites like alibaba and global sources for several reasons:

– You have absolutely no idea who the vendors are. Certifications like “Gold Supplier” and “ISO 9000” are more easily obtained than one would expect and give buyers a false sense of security.

– 50% of the vendors you contact never get back to you and the seductively low prices one sees are often attached to unattainable MOQs. In short you can spend a whole afternoon contacting vendors on alibaba and get absolutely nowhere (I don’t know anyone who has not done this).

– There is simply no substitute for meeting a vendor in person and visiting their FTY. For this reason, trade fairs are much better venues to meet vendors.

This is not to say that there are not good vendors to be found on sites like alibaba. Of course there are. But you really need to do your due diligence before you enter into an agrement with any vendor you meet online and this includes getting samples and visiting their FTY ( hopefully).

A case in point is a vendor I met at last month’s Canton Fair. I was at the fair sourcing bags for a customer of mine and had found this particular vendor on the Exhibitor List and contacted them prior to my visit to China. The vendor has a very nice website and I somewhat expected that they would have an equally presentable booth at the fair and a wide selection of bags ( my customer was equally impressed with the vendor’s website and wide array of product). I would add that the person I had corresponded with prior to my trip always replied to my emails promptly and in flawless English, leading me to believe that I was dealing with a company that could count many overseas customers and had the experience to service them. When I visited the company at the fair, however, their booth was nothing short of dingy (see picture) and their selection of bags was nowhere near what I had seen on their website ( obviously because their space at the show was limited). The cherry on the cake, however, was they did not even have batteries in their digital camera to take photos of a bag I had requested samples on. Based on everything I saw at the show (or should I say didn’t see) I could not recommend this company to my customer.

As they say in China, 百闻不如一见 ( bai wen bu ru yi jian). Seeing is believing.

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