How to buy from Alibaba securely and cost-effectively

Remay Villaester (May)

If you’re on the hunt for supplies for your business, you could find what you’re looking for at Alibaba.

This popular global marketplace is based in China but features suppliers from all over the world, selling a huge selection of goods from electronics and fashion to home and garden supplies. As well as the enormous product range, Alibaba is also known for its low prices, especially when you buy in bulk.

If you’re looking to place your first Alibaba order, read on. We’ve put together a handy guide on how to buy from Alibaba, from communicating with sellers, protection for your purchases and of course, how to pay.

Well also look at how Wise for Business could help you save money when paying suppliers from Alibaba.

How to buy from Alibaba - the basics

Alibaba doesn’t work quite like an ordinary e-commerce site. You’ll still browse the site, look at product pages and find all the usual information you’d expect. It works just like any other search engine. You can even put a ‘request for quotation’ out there, asking suppliers to get in touch if they can fulfil your order.

But when it comes to actually ordering, you may need to negotiate a contract for the order with the seller. It’s not a case of just clicking to buy, as you’ll usually need to have a little back and forth with the supplier in Alibaba’s messaging centre to thrash out the details of the deal.

For example, you might want to discuss options for customisation, a discount for a very large order, the shipping date or your expectations relating to the standard or quality of the goods.

Once you’re both happy, you can place and pay for your order. If you go through Alibaba’s Secure Payment platform, you’ll benefit from Trade Assurance protection. Plus, your payment will be held ‘in escrow’ until you confirm you’re happy with the goods you’ve received.

A step-by-step guide to ordering on Alibaba

Here’s what you’ll need to do to order supplies for your business on Alibaba, starting with creating your account.

Step 1 - Sign up for a free Alibaba account

You can browse the site without one, but you’ll need to login to place an order. You’ll usually need to provide your name, trade role, country/region, business name, email address and phone number¹.

Step 2 - Search for products

Simply type what you’re looking for into the Alibaba search bar and browse the results. You can also use filters (i.e. supplier country or product certification) to narrow your search.

Alternatively, you can search by uploading a photo of your ideal product, or post a Request for Quotation so that sellers can contact you.

Step 3 - Compare suppliers

Alibaba has a certification system in place for its millions of sellers. You can take your pick from¹:

  • Trade Assurance suppliers - these are members of the Trade Assurance buyer protection service, so you’ll be covered by the service if you buy through these sellers and use the Alibaba payment portal.
  • Gold suppliers - these are paid members of the platform who have been verified as trusted organisations with commercial capabilities.
  • Verified suppliers - this means the seller has been vetted and certified by a third party institution.

You might also want to compare suppliers based on reviews, delivery timescales and of course, prices.

Step 4 - Negotiate the order

If a product is marked ‘ready to ship’, you may be able to contact the buyer and place your order right away. But otherwise, it’s time for negotiations to begin. Click the ‘chat now’ button to use Alibaba’s instant messaging tool to get in touch with the seller. It’s best to use this rather than taking communications off the platform, as doing the latter could mean you don’t qualify for Trade Assurance protection.

Before starting, have it clear in your mind what you want, how much you’re prepared to pay and when you need the order delivered. You may also want to discuss quality and standards in relation to the order.

Step 5 - Place your order and pay

With all the details ironed out, it’s simply a matter of placing your order. If you want your payment protected by Trade Assurance, it’s recommended to pay using Alibaba’s Secure Payment system - powered by AliPay.

Here, you can make a secure payment through the following payment methods¹:

  • Credit or debit card
  • Online bank transfer
  • Western Union.

Some suppliers will accept payment via PayPal, but this isn’t covered by the Trade Assurance service².

There’s also a ‘Pay Later’ option, which gives you up to 6 months to pay for your order. However, there is interest of up to 3.5%¹ if you delay payment.

If you want to save money on international payments to Alibaba suppliers, consider using Wise for Business so that you could avoid hefty international fees and poor exchange rates.

The final point to note on payment relates to the currency. As a global marketplace, Alibaba naturally has sellers all over the world. If you need to pay a supplier in another country, you could be charged high currency conversion fees, along with poor exchange rates, if you use your bank. Luckily, there is a cheaper way - which we’ll look at in just a moment.

Step 6 - Receive your order

All that’s left to do now is wait for your order to be shipped. Delivery times and freight shipping methods vary by seller, but you should have been able to agree on a shipping solution with the seller before placing your order.

If your order arrives on time and you’re happy with it, you can let Alibaba know and the payment will be released to the seller. You can then leave the seller a glowing review.

If the order is late or you’re unsatisfied with the quality of the goods - or you have another issue relating to the agreement you made with the seller - you can raise a dispute with Alibaba. You have up to 30 days of Trade Assurance protection² after receiving the order. Alibaba can investigate, mediate and hopefully resolve the problem, which could mean issuing you a refund if appropriate.

Wise - a cheaper way to pay Alibaba suppliers

Wise Multi-currency account

Before placing an order with Alibaba, it could be a smart move to open a Wise account first. You can use your account to pay suppliers in their local currency, for bank-beating exchange rates and low fees. It’s also up to 19x cheaper than using PayPal.

You can pay using your Wise debit card, or through a transfer - both of which are accepted payment methods for Trade Assurance cover.

Start saving today with Wise

So, that’s pretty much it - your step-by-step guide on how to buy from Alibaba. Negotiating with suppliers may be a new experience for some buyers, but it’s also a good way to ensure you get exactly what you want. Good luck!

Sources used for this article:

  1. Alibaba Seller blog post
  2. Alibaba Trade assurance

All other info from: Alibaba Seller - How to buy and source from Alibaba

Sources checked on 20-May-2021.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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