How to use Alibaba for Market Research

Alibaba has been in the news a lot lately. It’s founder, Jack Ma, is China’s richest person, has become the first Chinese national to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine, and in 2014, pulled off the biggest IPO the world has ever seen. There are now rumours swirling around that Alibaba will buy eBay.
So what does Alibaba offer to companies looking to do some due diligence on a supplier?  It’s a starting point - nothing more. Even Alibaba admits that 23% of their customers were scammed by a Chinese company. Here’s a few tips to avoid that happening to you.

When using the search box and search filters on Alibaba, you can find out who makes the product you want. Just be careful about those entries that are listed as “Gold suppliers”. These suppliers have been authenticated and verified by Alibaba as legitimate traders, but they have also paid a premium to Alibaba to get this certification. Think of it as a bit like Google Adwords. There’s information to suggest that the checking to get ‘Gold Supplier’ certification may be suspect.

Also check to see whether a particular company’s product offering takes up most of the catalogue on Alibaba. This gives an indication that they understand and specialise in the market, and may have more robust quality standards. No guarantees though.

Another thing to do is to check out their company profile. Here’s you’ll find information on how many quotes they have sent out in the last 30 days, lead times, whether English is spoken, business terms etc.                                                                  

Check out the certification side of things too. You can search for products that have CE standards for example.

When using the search box, change the option from ‘products’ to ‘suppliers’. Here you will see a broad indication of revenue of the supplier, plus their top three markets that they sell to.

Alibaba is a great starting point to locating suppliers in China. You can view a range of products, see certification, find out response rates from a supplier etc. The big caveat with everything is to also get an independent assessment of the supplier. Alibaba have discussion forums where you can look for feedback. However, don’t just trust what is on Alibaba. For starters, consider doing a Google search with the name of the supplier and look for customer feedback or reviews.