If you’re looking to source products from China, you have likely come across 1688.com. The platform is China’s leading online B2B marketplace for businesses dealing with wholesale orders and sourcing. 1688.com caters to businesses of all sizes, including those looking to open eCommerce stores and is a cost-effective option when considering wholesale marketplaces.
Background Of 1688.Com
As a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, 1688.com launched in 1999 with an initial focus on connecting local manufacturers, factories and wholesalers with local buyers.
When comparing prices on other B2B platforms, the products on 1688.com could be anywhere from 4% to 15%* lower, a substantial saving for small-to-medium sized businesses. Part of its appeal, also, comes from the ability to make small orders of as little as two pieces. As more merchants discover the benefits of purchasing from 1688.com, early adopters and those who are able to leverage the platform will gain an advantage over their competitors.
- 120M of registered users
- 10M suppliers
- 35M+ monthly web visit
- 1,700 sub categories
- 16 industries
- 136 counties / regions
Types of sellers
Wholesalers make up the bulk of shops on 1688.com. The majority have a minimum order quantity of only a few pieces, as well as a minimum spend amount. As a rule, wholesalers hold more inventory and stock than factories.
Brand owners are similar to wholesalers in that they offer a low minimum order quantity. However, while wholesalers will often sell white label goods, branded stores on 1688.com will operate a storefront with their brand name and logo
Factories & manufacturers
Factories specialise in receiving production orders, with the minimum order quantity (MOQ) starting at 1,000 pieces in some cases. There is a ‘Find a Factory’ option in the 1688 app, which buyers can use to filter for factories in different categories. Generally, factories do not keep inventory but make products based on orders
Sourcing agents or virtual factories
Similar to a middleman, these merchants help buyers find a reliable supplier, negotiate the best price, assist with documentation, coordinate with the factory or perhaps oversee the production to ensure it aligns with specifications. As sourcing agents, they don’t hold stock; rather, they help to secure products within the promised lead time.
Why Source From 1688.com
There are several reasons 1688.com offers buyers an advantage over other wholesale sourcing platforms in China
Low, transparent prices
As the majority of suppliers on 1688.com are factories and wholesalers, customers are able to bypass export agents or trade companies who add on a service fee or margin. On other platforms, these factories often rely on trading companies to reach a global audience; on 1688.com, they have an online presence and listed contact details, allowing buyers to purchase goods directly at a lower price.
Furthermore, strong competition and tiered pricing means prices are lower and the more units you purchase, the cheaper the per unit price.
Variety of products
As the largest local wholesaling platform in China with dozens of categories listed, 1688.com allows buyers countless options when it comes to products and suppliers. The majority of factories in China are listed on 1688.com, which gives buyers a variety of choices, compared to attending a trade show or expo.
Suppliers on 1688.com are required to have a Chinese business licence, with details listed on their store page, including the company’s date of incorporation, registered capital and company address. Buyers also have the option of procuring from 1688.com’s cross-border site, global.1688.com, which exclusively promotes reliable suppliers selling trending products in the global marketplace.
Keep in mind: 1688.com was originally developed as a platform for local Chinese suppliers to reach local buyers. As such, the website is listed in Chinese with no English support. Furthermore, the majority of the factories and suppliers won’t have English speaking employees to assist with requests from overseas. There are tools to assist with the language barrier, Google Translate and Google Lens among them.
How to get started?
If this the right place for you (I believe it is), next thing you need to do is to open an account at 1688
Opening an account
All users must register for an account on 1688.com in order to begin purchasing. There are two ways to open a 1688.com account:
- Via Taobao on mobile: To register for an account on a mobile device, you will need to register via Taobao. Both Taobao and 1688 accounts may share the same details as they are both subsidiaries of Alibaba Group. If you already have a Taobao account, you can use those details to log into 1688.com.
- Via 1688.com on PC: To register via the website, visit www.1688.com and click on the ???? tab, which means ‘Sign up for free’.
Top tip: If you can’t read Chinese, use Google Translate to convert the page into English. Make sure you’re using Chrome as your browser, right click and select ‘Translate into English’.
- A pop-up will appear for a user agreement. Please select to register as an individual. (Again, use Google Translate to change the text into English if necessary.)
Important: Registering for a company account on 1688.com is meant for domestic suppliers and sellers only. Foreign companies or non-local individuals are required to register as an individual, even if doing so on behalf of a company.
- Fill in your information on the registration page and click ?????, which means ‘Agree and register’.
- You will receive a one- time password at the mobile number indicated for verification. Enter the code and submit by clicking ??
- Completing your profile (optional): 1688.com will request that you complete your account profile on the following page.
Verifying your account
After registering for your 1688.com account, you can choose to verify your account. While this is not mandatory, if you would like to use the 1688 Cross-border Pay (???) solution, a verified 1688 account is necessary.
Other benefits of a verified 1688 account include the ability to restore your account in the event it is frozen or restricted.
What is the 1688 Cross-border Pay (???)?
Cross-border Pay solution (???) is the official cross-border payment method jointly launched by Ant Group and 1688.com. It allows foreign companies* to pay suppliers on the platform securely to avoid your account from being frozen. The Cross-border Pay solution has no annual limit transfers which makes it easy for foreign buyers to make large purchases.
Verifying your identity
For 1688 accounts opened by individuals based outside of China, the verification process requires you to connect with a verified personal Alipay account.
- Click on your account name and navigate to ???? (account management)
- Under ???? (my verification), go to ???? under ???? (verify using personal details)
- You will be redirected to the quick verification page. Enter your Alipay login ID and password, then click the orange button ‘link to Alipay account’
- You are now verified and your Alipay account is connected to your 1688.com account
How to source goods
With 16 industries represented on 1688.com and over 1,700 sub-categories, there’s no lack of products to search for. Top categories include fashion, accessories, sports equipment, home decoration, office supplies, automobile supplies food & beverage and raw materials.
The platform offers a convenient tool where buyers can upload an image of the product to return search results.
eCommerce sellers may want to consider the cross-border version of 1688.com. The global site is targeted towards international trade and as such, filters suppliers who are willing to distribute overseas, can offer low MOQs and list trending goods.
Using a sourcing agent
There are several ways to source on 1688.com as a foreigner. For those with little cross-border business experience or who are overwhelmed by the language barrier, sourcing agents can assist with language translations, timely delivery of your products and quality control. Agents generally charge a commission between 1 – 3%.
If you feel confident in sourcing yourself, you’ll need to take care of selecting a supplier, communication and payments on your own.
Selecting a supplier
Visit the 1688 website. Once you have searched for your product, you can filter the search results by:
- Categories (????)
- Cross-border capabilities ( ????) which includes international certification and patent certification
Other options include:
- MOQ: Enter your preferred MOQ in the field ?????
- Time: Dispatch within 24 hours (tick checkbox 24 ????; not available for cross-border delivery)
- Trustworthiness: This option is only available to suppliers who have achieved a certain standard in quality and timely delivery (tick checkbox ????)
- Manufacturing time: Enter the maximum number of days in the field next to ????
- Location ( ????): This allows you to filter by proximity to your logistics provider, potentially saving on shipping costs and time
As with all of Alibaba Group’s brands, trust is an integral part of the platform. On a supplier’s shop page, you can see how many years they have been operating on 1688.com their response rate, return rate, other customers’ rating and whether they offer buyer protection. You can also access a cumulative history of transactions from the last 90 days compared to the industry average. This will allow you to benchmark their service and capabilities against their competitors.
Communication with suppliers is one of the most important but sometimes most difficult aspects of product purchasing. A sourcing agent can help with translations and requests; without one, you have to rely on digital tools and your own abilities.
You can communicate directly with factories and wholesalers, via the details listed on their shop profile. The majority will provide options for chatting via WeChat as well as Aliwangwang, the official chat tool on 1688.com.
Most suppliers have a limited understanding of English or other languages, so it’s important to keep communication simple, professional and concise.
Some questions to ask include:
- Can products be sent outside of China or are they for domestic sale only?
- What is the return policy?
- What is the delivery timeframe?
- What is the inventory and/or manufacturing timeframe?
- Product certifications (if your product requires these)
The most cost-effective and secure way to pay cross-border suppliers is by using the the Cross-border Pay (???) solution, which allows registered companies in selected countries to pay using their WorldFirst account and Alipay business account. Compared to bank transfers, the exchange rate is generally more competitive, with minimal fees.
Do you have an Alipay business account?
Once you sign up for an Alipay business account, click on ‘???’ in the menu to open the settings. The blue ???? button (meaning ‘open now’) will take you to the page where you can provide the details of the 1688.com account you want to link to.
Paying from Singapore and Malaysia
- Register and activate an Alipay Business account
- Register for a World Account with WorldFirst
- In your Alipay Business account, add funds into your currency accounts and make an outward transfer to WorldFirst
- Pay your suppliers on com via Cross-border Pay solution (???)
*This payment solution is applicable to registered companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the British Virgin Islands only.
As shipping costs can vary widely depending on the delivery method, it is one of the most important aspects to consider when making a purchase. Below are the four most common methods of delivery from China to Asia.
Have you considered a freight-forwarding partner?
Freight forwarders are intermediaries specialising in cross-border shipping. They take the headache out of getting your cargo from the factory to your warehouse with services that include preparation of documentation, insurance, customs clearance and storage options. They can also advise on the best shipping method for your cargo.