You've heard of Alibaba but do you know 1688.com? It is a wholesale platform owned by Alibaba mainly serving domestic businesses. While Alibaba was designed as an export machine for international trade, 1688 has a wholly China focus, and does business in the local currency renminbi. Why, then, should you know about 1688 sourcing agents? We break it down for you.
Overview of 1688
1688.com was established in 2010. It is a Chinese language website offering services to B2B, B2C, manufacturing and wholesale businesses. On par with Alibaba's reputation as the largest B2B marketplace, 1688 is the biggest wholesale website for Chinese locals. As you can imagine, it is also a 'marketplace' for trading companies that buy from here to sell on Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress and other websites.
The procurement platform has legitimate sellers. Several among them are manufacturers selling apparel, home appliances, electronic products, clothing and various other categories. Sellers on the platform have a business license from the Chinese government.
What are the prices like on 1688?
If you want to buy directly from 1688 factories, you probably will have factory direct prices. They're cheaper than what you might find on Alibaba or other China wholesale websites.
If the prices are better, why not buy from 1688 rather than Alibaba?
As 1688 was created for the domestic market, sellers on it are not equipped to serve international buyers. They do not have an export license so are unable to ship their products overseas. They're also not as experienced as their Alibaba counterparts when it comes to understanding the design requirements of Western buyers. it is a bit risky, especially if your product needs to meet stringent quality or safety standards. It doesn't imply that sellers on 1688 offer inferior products, rather, their understanding of acceptable quality is limited to the expectations of the local markets.
What's the use of visiting 1688 for Amazon FBA sellers?
A way in which 1688 sourcing can potentially work is in comparing the price of a product on this site against what you're charged on Alibaba or another wholesale website. You'll see the markup applied for importers versus the price for the domestic market. As prices on the website are in Chinese currency, you'll need to convert to your currency for the evaluation.
Yet another reason to have a look at 1688 is to find more suppliers for your product or industry. On Alibaba, you and your competitors have access to the same suppliers. Your supplier may also be selling to your competitors, making it difficult for you to differentiate your product on Amazon. Suppliers on 1688 are not on Alibaba, and this creates the opportunity to find something different in terms of product original design and price.
Tiered prices from 1688 suppliers are helpful in determining how much bulk purchases will cost you. The dictum 'more at a cheaper price' applies here as well.
Should you buy from 1688?
You can buy from 1688 so long as its suppliers meet the standards of your market and deliver a good experience to your customers. But the actual sourcing process can be complex. For one, suppliers on 1688.com don't have export permits, so you'll need to figure out how you can get the products to your country. For another, back and forth communication with suppliers is likely to be challenging as the normally don't have English-speaking sales staff.
Pay Chinese supplier on 1688 will also be a hassle as they accept domestic payment modes like Alipay and WeChat. You'll need to open an account in a Chinese bank for this or make bank transfers or cash payments in RMB.
Unless you've been manufacturing in China for many years and can speak passable Chinese, you're better off looking elsewhere. There's another way to make the most of the low prices and numerous product categories on the site - use a reliable sourcing agent in China for assistance with procurement.
What's it like to buy products on 1688.com?
1688 sourcing is different from what you can expect on Alibaba despite their connection. Alibaba is tailor-made to appeal to buyers from all over the world. It has a decent user interface and offers a comfortable navigation experience for the English-speaking buyer.
Your browsing experience on 1688 will depend on how comfortable you find using the English version of a website. Generally, the translations on multi-lingual websites are done pretty poorly and you'll need to grasp what is inferred. Moreover, as prices on the website are in renminbi, you'll need an online converter handy when you have to crunch the numbers. As already mentioned, the language barrier and suppliers' Chinese-speaking sales staff also make communicating on 1688 difficult.
What to look for when buying products on 1688.com?
Pretty much the same things you'd review on a China wholesale website. On 1688.com, you can search for products by typing their names in the search box and filtering them based on your exact requirement. Or you can upload product photos on the website and a collection of similar products will come up.
For example, if you saw a hot-selling selfie stick tripod on AliExpress or Amazon, you can save the image on your desktop and upload it to 1688.com. Searching by image is faster than searching by name on bilingual websites. The other thing to note is that 1688 isn't exactly a fast-loading website. So, don't expect a super-fast browsing experience.
Like Alibaba, 1688 also provides supplier profile metrics. You can see the company size (by employees) and select suppliers based on their reputation for quality, timely deliveries and sales volume. You can filter suppliers by various criteria, including:
- Delivery within 48 hours
- In case of quality issues, the supplier will accept returns and pay the return shipping fee
- 7-day replacement
- Customization services
- Shipping times
- Audited and passed inspection
- A paid seller for the past 2 years
Can you buy from 1688 and ship to Amazon FBA?
Logistics is straight-forward when you use 1688.com. You can have your freight forwarder arrange sea or air freight to the desired Amazon warehouse. We advise you to work with a freight forwarding company that has experience coordinating the delivery of goods to Amazon fulfillment centres.
Given the low prices on 1688.com, you may think about placing multiple orders and having them delivered together, using the Less than Container (LCL) or Full Container Load (FCL) shipping term. Air freight rates are higher and will likely cost you more. Make sure you do the math to decide the best freight mode and shipping term that saves you more and lowers your sourcing cost.
Communicate directly with a 1688 supplier or use a 1688 sourcing agent?
Aliwangwang is the instant messenger on 1688 for communicating with suppliers. It is the Chinese equivalent of Alibaba's TradeManager. You'll need to translate messages from Chinese to English using Google Translate or search online for an extension that can help you with it.
If you're comfortable using the tool and don't mind translating every message, make sure you ask everything you'd ask the supplier in person or on a phone call. This includes:
- Inquiring about quality and safety certifications their products have received
- Requesting a discounted price on a large volume order
- Confirming product details and delivery dates
You can also take the conversation on WeChat. Use the supplier's WeChat ID from the product page and begin discussions on the instant messaging app.
The alternative is to have a 1688 sourcing agent handle communication on your behalf. As suppliers on 1688 do not have English speaking staff on their payroll, you're likely to have a harder time getting across to them than, say, a supplier on Alibaba. You can do away with the hassle of translating messages and clarifying details more than once just to be sure that they understand what you want perfectly.
In general, relationship-building with Chinese suppliers is challenging for Western buyers regardless of the communication channel. You'll have better luck with trading companies that are savvier when it comes to conversing in English and knowing the needs of buyers in the West. However, trading companies work with many factories and there's no knowing which factory you're buying from. To have more control over product quality, it is better to work directly with a factory.
What are the benefits of using a 1688 sourcing agent?
Most sourcing agents are able to help you find suppliers from their existing network or serve as an intermediary between you and the supplier you've selected on Alibaba or 1688. If the supplier is from the SEZ near which the agent has their office, then the procurement process will be smooth and the agent will be able to offer additional services like quality inspection and brand labelling.
Whether you're an Amazon merchant using FBA or an experienced importer sourcing multiple categories of goods for white labelling, you can get product design, packaging and labelling done to your exact specifications by working with a 1688 sourcing agent.
As explained above, effective communication is one of the biggest benefits of engaging an sourcing agent. You can get things across to your supplier faster and better with an agent than if you were to do it yourself. When you need to inform the supplier about the customisation you need or strict delivery times, an agent will make the details clear to the supplier and leave no room for doubt. Any clarifications will also pass quickly between you and the supplier.
Such a sourcing agent can also fix the payment problem you face when using this platform. Rather than paying by RMB - the only currency in which 1688 suppliers accept payment - you can pay your agent in dollars and they will pay in RMB to your supplier. Sourcing agents accept various payment methods, including PayPal and bank transfer (T/T).
If the sourcing company provides a full range of eprocurement services, you can focus on your business while they handle factory inspection, order monitoring and quality monitoring. The importance of these services is greater when you want a tight control over product quality and delivery times. Chinese and western notions of quality differ quite a bit, making it vital that you stay on top of your order and ensure that you get what you paid for.
A sourcing agent can also be assistance when you have specific shipping requirements, such as combining orders into a single one and ensuring secure packaging. Combining orders is a common way to save on shipping costs, but it will require proper coordination at the manufacturing destination, which the agent can handle quite easily.
Finally, having an agent on your side can make certain the rules of return and exchange you wish to negotiate and establish with your supplier. You can define which circumstances will allow you to return or exchange products.
Your existing sourcing agent can also help you connect to a supplier that has caught your eye on 1688.com. When you're looking to expand your business or enter a new market, your agent can be a key source of support.
How to find a 1688 sourcing agent?
1688.com has manufacturers, wholesalers, agents and business services. So, you can search for a sourcing agent directly on the platform. But you'll need to do your due diligence by finding out more about the agent online or making inquiries offline.
Is the agent a solo entrepreneur or do they have a team? Dealing with a solo agent can be risky as there's no knowing when they might decide to stop providing their services and disappear. If the agent has a website, go through it to check their expertise, product and industry specialization, scope of services and fee. A China sourcing agent with five or more years of experience is preferable to one that has been in business for less than a year.
Maple Sourcing is a trusted 1688 sourcing agent. We specialise in sourcing consumer electronics, beauty products, daily hardgoods, promotional items, household utensils, and tools and hardware. We serve the needs of importers looking for custom manufacturing, and provide a broad range of services apart from sourcing, such as order monitoring, manufacturing control and quality inspection. Talk to us to learn more about how you can make the most of the sourcing opportunities on 1688.com.