How to Source Products For Your Online Store: The Ultimate Guide.

Ellie Vaisman

Ellie Vaisman

Sep 30, 2021 | 6 min read
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How to Source Products For Your Online Store: The Ultimate Guide.
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Have you thought of your winning eCommerce product idea?  Maybe you've validated your market, and are ready to commit to launching an online store?

If this sounds like you, you’ll need to source and develop your product. This is a crucial step in the process of selling online and doing it properly will make or break your business – do it well, and you could find yourself with a successful product & brand that generates profit for years to come. Do it poorly however, and not only will your product not take off, but you might also wind up holding thousands of dollars worth of unsellable, defective, or non-compliant inventory. 

You have a lot of options when it comes to finding manufacturers online, but you need to be very careful. You don't want your business slowed down by an unreliable or inexperienced supplier who transforms your exciting & ambitious plans into a draining and frustrating chore (rather than a lucrative venture). 

Identify Your Product

The first step of course is to identify a product that you want to sell.  Once this has been done, we advise running some market research on your competitors and identifying what they are doing well (and not so well!) in order to find out how you can quickly establish yourself as the leading brand for this type of product.

Prepare A Brief

Once you have understood the market for your product, you'll need to create a brief to provide to your supplier. Your brief should be as detailed and comprehensive as possible, including:

- Product specifications & drawings (including size, colours, features, materials etc.) 

- The style of packaging required including labelling or customisation that you require

- Your desired quantity for them to produce or an overall inventory budget

Once this has been completed the crucial part is finding the right supplier.

Types Of Product Sourcing

  1. Domestic Suppliers
  2. Sourcing Companies / Agents
  3. Manufacturers
  4. Trading Companies
  5. Supplier Marketplaces (eg. Alibaba)
  6. Dropshipping
  7. Wholesalers

If you are wanting to launch a winning eCommerce brand, then Sourci does not recommend working with dropshipping or wholesale suppliers for these  reasons:

  1. Very low / no customisation ability which means no brand recognition and, no USP.
  2. Wholesalers are selling the same product to everyone, and you are simply re-selling a product that many others are selling.
  3. No control over quality.

Once you have decided on which direction you are going to go in for your product sourcing, the crucial next step is finding the right supplier.

Finding Your Perfect Supplier

You can find suppliers in 3 ways: 

1. Finding a supplier domestically

2. Using a manufacturing marketplace like Alibaba (be careful)

3. Working with specialist agencies or agents that do the legwork & problem solving for you.

Finding domestic suppliers can be great for products that your country has strengths in manufacturing, and means you speak to them in your own language and are protected by your local consumer protection laws - something that international manufacturing does not provide.

If you can find domestic manufacturers for your products at workable prices, this should eliminate a portion of the inherent challenges of sourcing eCommerce products. This is a great option however, it can often be cost-prohibitive when comparing with the plethora of pricing options and flexibility from international suppliers.

Using platforms like Alibaba for research can be great, but can be very risky when wanting to find a manufacturing partner that you'll be putting everything on the line for, and sending thousands of dollars over to.

It is recommended for lower-risk ventures, where you plan to invest less than $10k, for example, and if that is lost you haven't risked your life savings.

You need to know who you can trust and who to steer clear of, and unfortunately, those marketplaces are not exactly designed for qualifying and screening quality factories - they profit from mass and scale and unfortunately finding a quality supplier on those platforms can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

If you're wanting to find and manage your suppliers directly, it can certainly be done, just prepare to be spending a lot of your upcoming time in eCommerce dealing with manufacturing challenges and less of your time marketing, selling, and building your brand.

On Alibaba for example, there are a higher proportion of "factories" that don't actually make, handle, or see the products that they sell, compared with actual factories. They are called 'Trading companies' and they are rife. Trading Companies are typically the reason that people have bad experiences with these platforms, because Trading Companies pose as factories but have zero experience with the products, mark them up heavily, make more mistakes, and often produce lower quality goods by switching factories behind the scenes try to make additional margins from your orders.

Sourcing agents, or sourcing companies like Sourci, have a lot of experience developing products and know how to ensure you get your winning products developed and launched in the least amount of time, at your desired quality levels, with a lot of the common risks mitigated and managed for you.

If your sourcing agent is Western-Based, they'll be looking out for your best interests, steering you out of trouble and doing things the way the professionals do it. Think in terms of quality control, contractual terms, materials, packaging, freight management, payment terms, and exchange rate fluctuations.

Conversely, without a party dedicated to representing your interests, your manufacturer may not be looking out for your interests, but instead of course- their own.

One of the biggest benefits is that sourcing companies will have existing relationships with top tier manufacturers meaning that they can get your products made the right way the first time, and you stand to benefit from preferential lead timings and best-practice solutions for your manufacturing.

As sourcing agents and companies have feet on the ground who can visit your supplier, they should be checking and managing the quality of your products for each and every order. Meaning you know exactly what is coming every time you place an order, and they are there to grow with you as you scale and add more products to your range.

They should be able to do a lot of the heavy legwork for you and provide you with great samples for approval, leaving you to focus on what you do best. 

Where To From Here

In summary, there are many ways to source your eCommerce products. 

It is vital to do your research and understand the pros and cons of each method, so you can find a solution that works for your risk appetite and your ambition trajectory to really scale.

If you are looking to start slow and to just 'dip a toe in' then Alibaba marketplaces might be the best place to start and learn product development through trial and error. If you are wanting to scale fast and spend your time building your brand whilst having a dependable, high value, & fast-moving supply chain, a sourcing company like Sourci might likely be the best partner for your brand.

And of course if you can source your product domestically at the right combination of cost, volume, and customisation then that will naturally be the best option to source your product.

The best place to source products for your online store is definitely the one that fits with you and your business goals which will depend on many factors like time, budget, ambition etc.

If you are looking for a scalable supply chain or if you want complete control over design & production then get in touch with a Sourci Brand Specialist today.

As always, happy sourcing & happy selling!

Ellie Vaisman

Written by

Ellie Vaisman

Co-Founder & COO

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