How to import goods using Alibaba

With the likes of Alibaba you can now deal direct with manufacturers in China and beyond. It's an exciting prospect, but how do you begin?

by Alexander Garrett

Is it legal? Make sure the goods you want aren't banned or restricted, for example, endangered animals or rough diamonds, or 'counterfeit, pirated and patent-infringing goods'. There are restrictions on foods and vegetable products too - check on the HMRC website.

Get browsing. There are numerous sites for sourcing products from overseas: Alibaba, Tradekey, DHGate and Taobao are just a few. If you have a bespoke need, put out a 'request for bids'. But be warned: Chris Walworth of surfboard company Sea Rebel did just that. 'Pretty much everyone in China decided they would bid and within a week I had 1,000 responses,' he says.

Choose carefully. There are millions of suppliers in China but not all are what they seem. Wei Duan, a director at Alibaba.com Europe, says you should establish whether you are dealing with a manufacturer, agency or middleman. 'At the end of the day, it's the factory that has final say on what it is able to produce,' she explains. 'You'll also pay more if you buy from a middleman.'

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