If you’ve never purchased from Alibaba before it can be somewhat confusing, especially considering each supplier will handle product samples a little differently. Below I’ve tried to cover all the need-to-know information so you know how to order samples the right way.
Should You Always Order a Sample from Alibaba?
Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive first? Ordering product samples from Alibaba is the same concept. There are always risks associated when making a large purchase and ordering samples is the best strategy to mitigate the risk.
The product quality can vary drastically between Alibaba suppliers. It is not only recommended, it’s essential to order a sample before purchasing a bulk order as the images and specifications on company product pages can be incorrect or misleading.
The only time a sample may not be necessary is if you’re working with a sourcing agent based in China. If the agent is someone you trust and have worked with previously, they can visit multiple suppliers and perform quality control and relay the information back to you.
If you’re working with a manufacturer to print your logo and customize the product to your specifications, you will want to order a test sample at each phase of the process.
In addition to the original development sample, you will want to request a pre-production sample you can inspect before going ahead with manufacturing as well as a pre-shipment sample before shipping your final order.
The reason for this is, you need to confirm the pre-production and pre-shipment samples are identical. If there are any discrepancies it’s best to rectify the issue/s whilst the product is at the factory instead of shipping the entire order back to China.
Suggest Reading: How to Dropship Individual Products from Alibaba
How to Request Product Samples from Alibaba?
Each supplier will have a specific approach as to how they handle samples. Some will offer samples and be happy to send them, whilst other suppliers will try and talk you out of ordering them. I’d be skeptical of any supplier who is trying to talk you out of ordering a sample.
You can request a product sample by asking the supplier through Alibaba’s messaging service. It’s best to introduce yourself, your business and your interest in working with them before asking for a sample.
Writing a very professional inquiry message prior to requesting a product sample signals you are a legitimate business and worth taking seriously. Not only is the company more likely to respond to you, but they will often send you a product sample at a low price.
I have created several Alibaba inquiry templates you can use.
Why are Alibaba Samples so Expensive?
Sample prices are notoriously expensive on Alibaba but the prices will differ from supplier to supplier. You may want to request samples from several suppliers for various reasons, one may be to see who is overcharging you.
It’s not unusual for a sample to cost $50 to $100 for a product retailing at $10. This is because the business is set up for producing and shipping large quantities. To be shipping an individual sample is not a good use of the supplier’s time or resources.
There are certain considerations to take into account with product sample pricing. First of all, is the supplier a trade company or a manufacturer?
Manufacturers are configured to produce products and deal with large quantities. For them to send you samples will require an employee to individually pick, pack and ship the product to you so don’t expect it to be cheap.
Trade companies on the other hand will often deal with multiple suppliers and have smaller MOQ (Minimum order quantities). You are more likely to get a sample at a lower price with trade companies. For advice on MOQs, I recommend you read my article on lowering MOQs with Alibaba suppliers.
The next question to consider is, what kind of sample are you looking to order? There are several types of samples, the main two are; factory samples and custom samples.
- Factory samples – Products the factory has already produced and can be shipped off quickly and at a reasonable price.
- Custom samples – Products that are manufactured specifically to the sellers requirements. (Depending on the customizations required it can be a lengthy and more expensive process.)
How Many Samples Should You Order from Alibaba?
Because of how expensive samples can be, it may seem obvious to order a single sample. However, the price increase for several samples may not be the price jump you expect as it’s not much more work or money to send multiple samples in the same package. This is something you will have to negotiate with your supplier.
Ordering 3 to 5 product samples from Alibaba allows you to check for quality consistency, give to friends and family for honest feedback, as well as allow you to create quality lifestyle images and videos of the product.
The extra samples may seem like an unnecessary expense, although if you’re ordering 1,000 units after only physically inspecting one unit, it can be a risky purchase.
If you have friends and family who are your target audience, give them the samples to test for a candid opinion. You should test the product yourself for quality to make sure it can withstand its use/purpose.
Whether you’re taking your own photos and videos of the product or having a professional photographer do it, you will need samples.
You always have the option to send one of your additional samples to a customer who is requesting a return so the sample is not really eating into your overall profits.
How to Pay for Samples on Alibaba
Each supplier will have different payment options when paying for samples. It is advised to make a purchase with a method you’re comfortable with.
Unless you already know and trust the supplier you are requesting a sample from, it’s always best to use either Trade Assurance or PayPal. Because there is no contract between the two parties, you want to use the most secure payment methods to ensure you receive a refund if anything goes awry.
These payment methods are the safest way to pay for samples and protect yourself. Some suppliers will prefer only using Trade Assurance for bulk orders, although you can use PayPal in these situations.
Having a supplier scam you and take your money without sending your sample would be rare, especially if you’re dealing with a reputable and experienced supplier. I have an article on avoiding deceptive suppliers which will help you evade being taken advantage of.
How to Get Free Samples on Alibaba
You can’t expect a company to pick, pack and ship a product at their expense to some random person online because he/she claims they will buy a lot of products from you in the future.
Asking for a free product sample with an Alibaba supplier you’ve never worked with will often result in them assuming you’re not a legitimate business and they may not even respond to you. The best way to get free samples is to pay for a sample and request the price be taken off future bulk orders.
By requesting the sample price be taken off a future order, you are not only potentially saving money but it shows the supplier you are serious about doing business with them.
If you’ve traded with a company previously, they may send you a free sample and only charge you for the shipping. It would be unlikely for a supplier to grant this for a new client.
For more information on dealing with Alibaba suppliers, I suggest you read my article 23 Questions you have to ask Alibaba Suppliers.
Tips for Ordering Product Samples
- Not only should you order multiple samples, but you should also order samples from a variety of suppliers to compare quality and specifications.
- If you want the sample shipped fast, request a quote using a fast shipping carrier such as, DHL or SF Express.
- Test the product thoroughly for the purpose it’s intended to be used.
- Request samples from multiple suppliers and narrow down your list to 2 to 3 depending on their response and pricing.
- Based on the type of product you’re selling, you may want to order samples of the packaging you intend to use, as images can be misleading. You will also want to confirm how durable it will be during shipping.
- To avoid paying any import duties on samples, remind your supplier to write on the documentation “Sample of no commercial value – $1” this tells customs you are not purchasing the product for personal use. Visit this article for more information.
- A possible scam when ordering samples is the supplier will send you a high quality sample but the bulk order will be of inferior quality. To avoid this, only work with experienced suppliers, use Trade Assurance for protection or you can use a product inspection company to inspect the goods prior to shipping.