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How to sell on Alibaba

Practical tips for business-to-business selling on Alibaba.com.

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Launched in 1999, Alibaba.com is a B2B e-commerce marketplace based in China. The platform allows you to target buyers in over 190 countries and regions and sell items across more than 40 major product categories.

But Alibaba can be tough to navigate for new sellers. Here’s what you need to know about selling on this platform.

How do I decide what to sell on Alibaba?

Alibaba is an online marketplace for global import and export businesses to sell items in wholesale quantities. You can sell products across a wide range of categories, including:

  • Consumer electronics
  • Home appliances
  • Apparel
  • Fashion accessories
  • Packaging & printing
  • Beauty & personal care
  • Home & kitchen
  • Machinery
  • Vehicles & accessories
  • Sports & entertainment
  • Watches, jewelry & eyewear
  • Lights & lighting
  • Furniture
  • Garden supplies
  • Pet products
  • Health & medical
  • Office & school supplies
  • Tools & hardware
  • Accessories & telecommunications
  • Toys & hobbies
  • Baby
  • Gifts & crafts
  • Luggage, bags & cases

How to find products to sell

There are a few simple steps that you can take to help you decide what to sell on Alibaba:

  • Research the market. Find out which products are popular on Alibaba and why. Will you be able to offer similar products at the same (or better) price point?
  • Check buyer requests. Browse buyer requests for products on Alibaba to gauge the level of demand for different product categories.
  • Sign up for email alerts. Subscribe to Alibaba’s Trade Alert system, which sends the latest buyer requests straight to your email inbox.

How much does it cost to sell on Alibaba?

Alibaba doesn’t charge any:

  • Sales commissions
  • Transaction fees

US sellers can sign up for Alibaba as a Free Supplier or a Gold Supplier. Free Suppliers can post up to 50 products online and source potential buyers through the platform.

If you sign up as a Gold Supplier, there are two membership packages to choose from: Basic or Premium.

BasicPremium
Cost$2,289 annually$4,089 annually
Number of products you can listUnlimitedUnlimited
Keyword ad spend$500$2,000
Receive and respond to inquiries
Data and reporting
Sub accounts55
Personalized customer serviceLocal email supportDedicated account manager

Is selling on Alibaba worth it?

While it’s entirely possible to make money selling on Alibaba, there’s no guarantee of profit. Not only will you need to compete with a wide range of other suppliers — many of whom are based in China and can offer products at bargain-basement prices — but you’ll also need to consider Alibaba membership fees and other overhead.

Even though there’s no guarantee you’ll make money, there are a few things you can do to boost your odds of success on Alibaba:

  • Start out with a free membership. Register for a free membership so you can sample Alibaba’s features. This allows you to get a feel for how the platform works and the level of buyer demand before you commit to an annual membership.
  • Partner with a Chinese manufacturer. Join forces with a Chinese manufacturer to help increase your profit margins and fulfill orders.
  • Research the market. Research how other suppliers market and price similar products on Alibaba. This will help you understand how to attract your target buyer and how to price your items.
  • Seek out buyers. Get proactive about generating new business by browsing the latest buyer requests and offering quotes to potential customers.

How do I start selling on Alibaba?

You can register for an Alibaba supplier account by completing the following steps.

  • Good to know: Alibaba has an online learning center devoted to educating sellers about doing business in the international e-commerce space. It includes resources like industry analysis, information about how to conduct foreign trade, sourcing solutions and more.

How to price your items

You’ll need to consider two things when pricing items on Alibaba:

  • What you pay. Consider how much it costs you to manufacture, store and ship your products. What represents an acceptable profit margin above your total production costs?
  • What buyers are willing to pay. Find out how much Alibaba buyers pay for similar products. Use this information to work out a reasonable price point for buyers.

What types of payments does Alibaba accept?

Alibaba accepts a variety of payment methods:

  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • Wire transfer
  • PayPal
  • Online bank payment
  • Western Union
  • Boleto
  • Pay Later

How to get paid by international buyers

When a customer pays you with foreign currency, it’s important to find a cost-effective way to convert those funds back into USD. While you can let your bank take care of the currency conversion for you, this means paying high transaction fees and accepting an exchange rate that’s well below the mid-market rate.

That’s why many businesses choose to open an online seller account. These multi-currency accounts allow you to receive fast payments in the buyer’s local currency, as well as access superior exchange rates when you convert your earnings into USD.

How to organize Alibaba shipping

When you’re working out an order agreement with a buyer, you’ll need to quote shipping costs and delivery timeframes. Because Alibaba lets users buy in bulk, depending on the size of the order, you may need to consider using an international freight service.

There are plenty of international couriers to choose from, so compare quotes from several providers to find the most reliable and cost-effective option. For international orders, you’ll also need to choose between:

  • Shipping by air. Sending orders by air is quick and reliable, but also more expensive.
  • Shipping by sea. Ocean shipping may be slower but it can be much more cost-effective for large, heavy shipments.

Finally, if you need to ship products from China, Alibaba offers its own logistics service, Alibaba Logistics. There are two options available:

  • Alibaba.com Parcels ships from China to countries around the world.
  • Alibaba.com Air Express ships from China to the US.

How do I market my Alibaba products?

Alibaba offers a range of tools that you can use to market your products to buyers, including:

  • My Keywords. Assess listing keywords for increased exposure and search engine optimization.
  • Product Showcases. Promote top-performing products through Alibaba’s Product Showcases feature.
  • Keyword Advertising. Tap into Alibaba’s Keyword Advertising feature for pay-per-click advertising to help increase product visibility in search results.
  • Customer discounts. Offer discounts and coupons to buyers to encourage repeat business.

What to watch out for with Alibaba

Make sure you’re aware of these risks and drawbacks before you start selling on Alibaba:

  • Competition. Alibaba is based in China, and in some cases, it may not be possible for your business to compete with the lower prices offered by other suppliers.
  • Alibaba fees. The cheapest paid membership from Alibaba is $2,289 annually. Be certain that the platform is the right choice for your business before signing up.
  • Not suitable for all online sellers. According to Alibaba, businesses that have the most success on this B2B platform usually:
    • Sell 10 or more products
    • Have two or more employees
    • Have an annual revenue of $500,000 or more
    • Have some export experience
  • Export and customs requirements. Alibaba can help your business connect with buyers around the world, so you’ll need an understanding of any rules and regulations required in order to ship your items overseas.
  • User-friendliness. Alibaba can be overwhelming for new sellers. There’s lots of information to take in, and it may take you some time to become comfortable navigating the platform.

Compare e-commerce platforms

If you want to sell across multiple channels at once, or start your own online store, you may want to consider signing up for an e-commerce platform rather than signing up on marketplaces like Alibaba directly.

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Products Prices start at Hosting
BigCommerce
Payment processing
Website builder
Inventory tracking
Shopping cart software
Shipping software
$29.95/mo
Hosted
BigCommerce is an all-in-one e-commerce platform created to help you sell more.
Helcim
Payment processing
POS software
POS hardware
Website builder
Inventory tracking
0.10% + $0.10 per transaction
Hosted
Conveniently packaged into three service tiers for in-person and online sales.
Square E-commerce
Payment processing
Website builder
Inventory tracking
Shopping cart software
Shipping software
$0/mo + processing fees of 2.9% + 30¢
Hosted
Easy-to-use online store builder lets you create beautiful layouts to help drive business
Shopify
Payment processing
Website builder
Inventory tracking
Shopping cart software
Shipping software
$29/mo
Hosted
Shopify offers both e-commerce and in-person POS systems designed to help you build a new online store from the ground up.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Alibaba offers access to a massive worldwide customer base across a variety of product categories. But the platform can be daunting for new merchants and its free service tier limits your online store to 50 product listings. If you’re looking to start an online business quickly and easily, you may want to compare e-commerce platforms that let you sell through multiple channels rather than signing up with marketplaces like Alibaba directly.

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