Ramon Ray got together with Li Hayes, Daniel Rosenfield, John Lawson, and Jonah Mandel to bring business owners advice on how to grow their e-commerce businesses with the help of Alibaba.
Jonah Mandel from Alibaba.com says their platform helps US business owners better source and sell products and they can use it to reach a global audience. Jonah says many people have the misconception that Alibaba is the “Amazon.com of China.” But, he says what they really are is a wholesale trading platform that helps US business owners reach a global audience and it’s replacing and digitizing the trade show experience.
Li Hayes, the creator of Cool Me Scarf, used Alibaba as a source to find a manufacturer for her product and e-commerce business. In the US manufacturing is a huge undertaking, but Alibaba has really opened that up for Li. John Lawson, speaker, entrepreneur, and best-selling author, says that the beauty of Alibaba is that you can have a thought or idea and find someone on the platform that can start making your idea a reality. They can start working with you on a product and get you some samples, all without having to travel anywhere.
Jonah jumps in to clarify that initially Alibaba “was built for US businesses to find global suppliers with a heavy concentration of suppliers located in China.” But, Jonah says that they are finding that the number one request from their B2B buyers is more US suppliers. “Our top buyers want to purchase from US manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers.”
Daniel Rosenfield, of Totally Products, adds to that saying “international buyers are looking for top-quality American products…and they’re willing to pay top-dollar for it.” He also notes that “it’s an exciting time to be a US-based seller on Alibaba.”
He also adds, that the definition of an entrepreneur is “a giant mistake.” His last 10 ideas were all failures. But, Daniel said what made his e-commerce business what it is today was getting away from the one-product business model. With multiple products, Daniel says, “somebody is always buying something” and with Alibaba, the sky's the limit.
One of the biggest lessons learned for Li in e-commerce was in the marketing sphere. Many business owners starting out focus too much on the mode (i.e. social media) and forget about the message and the market. Li says it’s easy for beginners, herself included, to “start with the tactics and forget about the strategy.”
John says he sees new business owners eager to just jump in and start marketing. But, he urges them to slow down and listen. He says to find out where people are that are using similar products or using your product, and start listening to how they talk about the product what they’re doing with the product, how they’re using it, what are their issues. He also advises businesses to go read reviews on similar products. “Bad reviews are awesome…that’s an area where you can improve your product to be more competitive in the market space.”
Jonah points out that a whopping “60% of US-based manufacturers have no dedicated B2B e-commerce channel.” He finds that those businesses often make these mistakes when starting out on Alibaba:
- Not taking the time and effort to set up an Alibaba minisite that explains your brand.
- Setting and forgetting their advertising campaigns on the platform.
- Not looking into the finer details on your product listing score.
He advises sellers to think of Alibaba as “as a wholesale trading platform” and there is some legwork involved such as using high-resolution photos and looking at the data. His advice to users is to “find out what keywords are creating conversions into orders, not just impressions or clicks, and double down on those.”
Shipping and Fulfillment
For those working in the global market, Daniel says he swears by DHL Express. John says whether you’re shipping high-volume domestically or internationally, don’t be afraid to negotiate with different carriers to get the best rates.
Li has a business coach because “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Her priority is focusing on how to scale her e-commerce business on a strategic level and discovering who her market is. For everything else, Li says, there’s wine!
Jonah shares the many shipping solutions that Alibaba offers. First, he touches on geotargeting which means you don’t have to fill every inquiry or order request that comes through on the platform. You only have to ship to areas that you are comfortable sending to. When you are ready to ship, Jonah says business buyers can take advantage of Alibaba Logistics where they offer LCL (less than container load) and FCL (full container load) shipping options. Alibaba Logistics simply passes its enterprise discount to its business buyers through Alibaba Logistics. Sellers can also opt to give up control of the shipping process ones the product reaches the port and the buyer would be responsible for getting the product the rest of the way. In the future, Jonah says they will be adding features that enable sellers to maintain control of the shipping process.
Cost of Use
When sellers use Alibaba, the platform does not charge users a percentage of the sale. They offer 2 levels of annual memberships to be a seller:
- Premium: $4,199
- Basic: $2,399
The fees include the creation of a mini-site, an assigned account manager, and help with marketing solutions.
Growth and Scaling
Daniel shares that getting on board with Alibaba and going international has increased his sales by 30%. But, to Daniel, Alibaba’s value goes beyond increased sales. He says “being on Alibaba is like being at 5 conventions at the same time.” He said it only made sense to stop spending the $5,000-$10,000 a year on conventions and spend the $4,199 on Alibaba because he would have 2 convention loads of business over a single weekend.
Daniel says that going international is the next step in growth for business owners, and Alibaba is the best way to do that. He says it’s easy, “sign up with Alibaba, make more money.”
John agrees that once you have an established brand, the next step is to go international because “people want US goods.” Another way for business owners to grow is to get into private labeling but to help those buying your product grow so their success will continue to fuel your own.
For buyers who may want to buy your product but not in your preferred volume, Alibaba offers Alibaba Pay Later. Alibaba loans the business buyer money so they can afford to purchase in larger volumes in order to drive down the price per unit and increase their margins.
Li hopes to bring other wholesalers in to help grow her brand and business. Daniel recommended rangemate.com to Li to help her get her product out there and receive feedback as well as retail interest.
Li: “Go for it expecting that you’re going to fall on your face a few times because you are. But keep looking for experts.” Li says keep seeking out expert advice, watch webinars, there are resources out there—learn from them.
Daniel: “If you’re not an expert, freelance it out…focus on your strengths.” Stick to the fundamentals and don’t give up.
John: “Test organic.” See what gets traction organically and then support your organic results with paid advertising.
Jonah: Alibaba has 20 million active buyers who submit order requests on a monthly basis. 200,000 sellers on their platform. Less than 1% of sellers are US-based businesses. The #1 request from top buys is more US supply.