How To
18 min read

How to Source Products to Sell Online

Mariana Krasteva

August 29, 2022

ECommerce has been gaining popularity due to the technological breakthrough in global logistics, supply chains, and online communications and payment methods. It’s expected to account for nearly a quarter of retail sales worldwide by 2025. In fact, in 2021 in the U.S. only, online sales generated a revenue of about $768 billion, which is expected to surpass $1.3 trillion by 2025.

Tempted to tap into this impressive potential? You’re at the right place, so just keep on reading.

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Of course, there is a lot of competition for that business. More than 26 million eCommerce sites are working to attract the attention of over 2.14 billion online shoppers globally. This makes it important to build an appealing eCommerce website and select products carefully so you can offer potential buyers high-quality merchandise at a competitive price.

If you’re also planning to make a fresh start in online retail, it’s good to know that product sourcing is one of the major considerations.

We’ll discuss how to source products and where to buy products to sell online. We’ll also reveal the steps to sourcing a product that will help you make online sales work for you.

Ready to get started with the nuts and bolts? Let’s dive in.

What is product sourcing? 

Product sourcing simply means searching for and acquiring products to sell online, which you can do by buying or manufacturing the goods.

The goal of sourcing goods to sell online is to find the right product for your business at the right price, and to ensure their availability in sufficient quantities to meet customer demand. And, as mentioned, those products need to be high quality and cost-effective, so you can satisfy your customers and stay competitive while maintaining profitability.

Many companies rely on their suppliers to source products for them. This means creating partnerships with suppliers who share your values and priorities and help them understand yours.

A good understanding of the principles and phases of product sourcing will enable you to avoid pitfalls, such as failing to set quality standards, payment risks, and lack of transparency. You’ll also be able to select and build relationships with the right suppliers.

Having discussed the basics, let’s dig deeper into the details.

How to source products to sell online

There are a few different strategies you can use to source products to sell online:

Online marketplaces

If you’re wondering where and how to source products to sell on Amazon, your website, online store, or any other eCommerce platform, this is the easiest and most straightforward sourcing method. 

You can search for products on Alibaba, AliExpress, GlobalSource, and other online marketplaces and find the best items to meet your customers’ demands. The downside is that sourcing from these sites may involve risks of scams and additional expenses like commissions, which add on top of shipping costs. We’ll cover more details about these marketplaces later.

Wholesalers

The best way to get low prices is to buy products in bulk directly from a wholesaler or distributor. They don’t charge any commission and they usually ship directly from their warehouse. 

The downside is that it takes time because you have to contact them first, discuss prices, and then wait for them to send you samples before placing an order.

Dropshippers

You don’t have to deal with any of the above challenges if you find dropshipping suppliers who allow you to buy products without keeping inventory — you pay the supplier when customers place orders, and the supplier ships directly to them.

This is an easy way to start selling without investing in inventory upfront. However, choosing suppliers carefully is important because there can be high fees associated with dropshipping contracts or late payments that could bite your profits. 

Manufacturers

Are you just starting out with a great idea for a product that may sell well? If you don’t have the resources or expertise to manufacture the product yourself, consider partnering with someone who does—this could be a local company or someone overseas. Working with a manufacturer is the most cost-effective way to get your business up and running without investing in production facilities and the workforce to run them. 

A manufacturer will take your design and bring it to life for you. They’ll handle all aspects of production and fulfillment. The best strategy is to partner with a manufacturer within your industry who already has experience making products similar to yours. Just make sure that you find a reliable supplier who can produce high-quality goods at an affordable price and deliver them on time. 

The downside is that it takes time (and sometimes money) to find the right partner and negotiate terms that work for both parties.

Trade shows

Trade shows are an excellent way to find new vendors and test-drive products before buying them wholesale. Also, this is an indispensable opportunity to talk directly with manufacturers, which facilitates negotiating prices and terms. 

Attend trade shows and networking events in your industry. You’ll meet other entrepreneurs who might be able to help you find suppliers, share some fresh niche eCommerce ideas, or collaborate with you on projects down the line.

Handcrafted or homemade products

Handcrafted products are popular because they have an artisanal quality that most mass-produced items just don’t have anymore. Opting for such products would allow you to reach potential customers who value creativity and craftsmanship and would readily invest more in purchasing a masterfully crafted unique handmade item.

Handmade products can be made using wood or metal, paper or fabric. They all have in common that they’re not mass-produced using machines or assembly lines like most modern products. You can reach out to local craftsmen or search globally.

Potential drawbacks of this method are the relatively higher prices and limited production quantities. 

Print-on-demand suppliers 

This is an easy and low-risk method of sourcing custom products to sell online. It blends features of dropshipping and manufacturing sourcing—you partner with a supplier of white-label products, such as T-shirts, caps, or backpacks. You develop the design and the supplier customizes the items. 

You sell them on a per-order basis, so you don’t purchase inventory and products in bulk and pay for the product's cost only after your customer has already bought it. In addition, the supplier handles order fulfillment and shipping. This means that the burden is taken off your shoulders and you only have to take care of coming up with great design ideas and marketing them to new customers.

The downsides of this strategy are the low margins because of the more costly products as compared to buying them in bulk, somewhat limited range and diversity of products, and restricted control over the shipping process.

Yet, if you’re looking for a quick way to get started with a product idea, POD products are worth considering.

Domestic vs international suppliers 

When considering the various sourcing options we discussed above, there’s a fundamental aspect you have to decide on—whether to use domestic or international suppliers.

Let’s deeply dive into both options' advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of domestic sourcing

Here are the main reasons to choose to work with domestic (and even local) suppliers:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Generally, the cost is lower than importing from other countries because of the lower shipping fees.
  • Shorter lead time: With shorter shipping times and no customs delays, you have more flexibility in managing your inventory.
  • The same time zone: Domestic suppliers are more likely to be available during business hours.
  • More options to get support: You may even be able to visit their offices in person if you have a complex issue. If they cannot help you immediately, they may be able to refer you to someone who can.
  • The benefits of local knowledge: If you’re working with a domestic supplier, they know the area very well. This can come in handy when navigating government regulations or finding out about recent developments in your industry.

Cons of domestic suppliers

Now that you know what benefits opting for domestic sourcing can bring, let’s turn to the risks that it involves. 

  • Insufficient level of expertise: Sometimes, the specialization and skills needed may not exist in your home country.
  • Potentially fewer customer service choices: They may not be able to provide the same level and multichannel options of customer service.
  • No global reach: This is one of the major cons of working with domestic suppliers. If you are looking to expand your business globally, then it may not be a good idea to work with domestic suppliers who may not be able to cater to your needs. They may also lack experience in the industry’s global trends.

Given these advantages and disadvantages of sourcing locally, you may wonder what the other option entails. Here we go.

Pros of international suppliers

Why would you opt for sourcing internationally?

  • A wide product range at competitive prices: International suppliers may offer a greater variety of products than you have in your home country, perhaps at unbeatable prices. More choices make it more likely you can have exactly what you need.
  • Potentially better customer service: As with any other type of service, the customer service experience and expertise may exist somewhere other than in your home area, and it can make a difference in your overall business success.
  • Enhanced production capacities: One of the biggest reasons for using an international supplier is if they have more flexible production schedules than your domestic companies (especially if you’re buying in bulk). Suppose your company needs products faster than your local vendor can deliver. In that case, an overseas provider may be able to supply them in line with your schedule, and may also give you options for increased product demands and scaling your business.

After all these benefits, where’s the catch?

Cons of sourcing globally

There are some drawbacks to partnering with an international supplier.

  • Cost of shipping: Shipping costs can be a significant part of the cost of goods, especially when importing from a distance or from multiple suppliers in different geographic locations. It’s important to factor these into your pricing model so you can accurately compare costs with other suppliers.
  • Longer lead time: It may also take longer to deliver the order. The time taken depends on the mode of shipping and customs clearance procedures if any. Note that you may not get your product on time or at all if there is a problem with customs or shipping.
  • Risk of scams: You may not be as familiar with trusted names in other countries, so you’ll need to make sure you have done your research well before choosing a supplier so that don’t end up with the wrong product or service at an exorbitant price.
  • Challenges of operating in different time zones: Communication, scheduling meetings, and receiving customer support may be difficult due to time zone differences.

So, considering all these advantages and disadvantages of working with a domestic and international supplier, you can decide which is the better option for your specific needs. 

Best online marketplaces to source products

Marketplaces are one of the easiest and most commonly used methods of sourcing. Let’s look at some of the best platforms where you can find products to sell in your online store. 

Alibaba

Alibaba is China's largest online B2B marketplace, with more than 811 million active buyers.

This is one of the most popular online marketplaces. The site is massive, with over 1 million sellers offering an endless number of products, so it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for products to sell on your own website, or if you’re looking for wholesale suppliers from which to purchase the merchandise for resale.

The platform has thousands of suppliers and offers millions of products grouped into over 5,900 categories at highly competitive prices. 

Unfortunately, less than scrupulous suppliers use the site too, so to avoid getting scammed when buying:

  • Always tick the Verified or Gold supplier and the Trade Assurance boxes. 
  • Check the reviews and the price—don’t feel tempted by irrationally low-priced offerings (the chances are they’ll turn out to be too good to be true). 
  • And finally, avoid branded products—they’re most likely fake. 

With these three steps, you’ll be able to find reliable, quality, and cost-effective product sources.

AliExpress

AliExpress is very similar to Alibaba, however, the two sites have different focuses and goals. While Alibaba focuses more on B2B transactions, AliExpress is geared more toward consumers.

Based in China, AliExpress is similar to eBay and Amazon, but with cheaper prices because of the lack of taxes on imported goods. 

You can find everything from clothing to electronics, home appliances, jewelry, and more. 

They ship all items directly from factories in China and Hong Kong, and most of them have a free shipping option.

To avoid scams, take the following precautions:

  • Stay away from sending money to the supplier’s account directly, as you’re no longer covered by AliExpress’s buyer protection policies and you’re susceptible to fraud.
  • Opt for sellers with high scores.
  • Don’t be tempted by incredibly low prices that sound fishy.

As a whole, AliExpress is a user-friendly platform that is especially useful for smaller orders. It’s a good option to start your product sourcing.

Global Sources

Global Sources is a leading B2B eCommerce platform that connects buyers and sellers across Asia, Europe, and North America. The company has been around since 1971 and launched their website in 1995. 

The platform has over 1.5 million registered members worldwide.

Global Sources offers more than 20 product categories from over 150,000 suppliers worldwide with low minimum order quantity requirements (MOQ).

This is an eCommerce platform where you can buy products to sell online; just be sure to evaluate your potential supplier before placing your order. 

DHgate

DHgate has been in business since 2004 and has become one of the largest online marketplaces for wholesale goods. 

As of June 2020, the marketplace had 32 million products for sale by 2.2 million wholesalers and manufacturers. The site provides a wide selection of items, such as clothing, jewelry, electronics, home improvement, etc. 

You should consider the downside of the platform before you decide to use it is the many user complaints regarding poor customer support, quality and size mismatch, and sluggish refund procedures. 

On the upside, the company offers its customers a wide range of payment options, including PayPal, Western Union, and leading credit cards like Visa, American Express and Mastercard. It also has a reputation for providing safe and secure transactions.

ThomasNet

ThomasNet helps North American businesses find the products and services they need by connecting individuals with a global network of manufacturers, distributors, and service providers.

They are an online marketplace for industrial products with more than 1,4 million registered users and 500,000+ suppliers. The platform offers various product categories, including machining tools, heating equipment, metalworking machinery, etc. 

ThomasNet also offers marketing services, press release distribution, and thousands of standards and technical documents.

Worldwide Brands

Founded in 1999, Worldwide Brands is an upper-market directory for wholesalers and dropshippers that offers a huge range of products from an expansive list of suppliers. 

Worldwide Brands prides itself on being the only 100% certified legitimate directory offering over 16 million certified wholesale products.

So, if you’re exploring where to buy products to sell on Amazon, eBay, or other online sales giants, Worldwide Brands is an excellent way to avoid the risks of scams and over-pricing and find reliable suppliers.

But as usual, quality and security come at a price. The lifetime membership fee charged by the platform is $299 or $197 if you can sign up for their discount offer. 

Another drawback is the hidden potential costs on any extras, such as tools and perks that you’re likely to find useful and necessary—keep in mind that you’ll have to pay extra if you decide to opt in.

Worldwide Brands is the perfect option if you’re trying to find low-cost suppliers and cut out the scams. The steep fees could easily be worthwhile if you get reliability and a good return—after all, once paid, you have access to the directory for life.

Jungle Scout Supplier Database

Jungle Scout’s Supplier Database is a solution that allows you to find and contact suppliers. It focuses on helping businesses succeed on Amazon and includes over 600,000 different suppliers and 500,000+ sellers. The tool analyzes data from over 500 million Amazon products, tracking their sales history and providing insights on sellers and customer buying behavior and preferences.

You can search products featured on the platform by category or keyword and filter results by price, location, minimum order quantity, and more. This feature aims to make it easier for you to source products from anywhere in the world.

A potential drawback of Jungle Scout is the monthly fee, which comes in three options: $29/month for the Basic plan, $49/month for the Suite, and $84/month for the Professional plan that allows for six users.

The supplier database is a great tool to help you find suppliers for the products you need. However, it is still important to do your due diligence and ensure the supplier can fulfill orders before signing a deal. 

Now that we’ve discussed the best places to look for products to source, we’ll look at the overall process for finding viable sourcing options for your store.

12 steps of sourcing products to sell online 

Let’s walk through the major steps of the process together.

Determine a profitable product to sell online

Finding a product that people want and will pay for is important. Also, it should be based on something you enjoy doing and that will allow you to make money. 

If you have some hobby you’re interested in and keen on doing, it’s a great idea to start with products related to it—you know what it takes, what the best brands are, and what features to look for in a product. Plus, being passionate about what you offer is key to successfully presenting it at its best to potential customers.

You can start with something simple like an eBook or a physical product that is easy to source. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who will buy my product? (For example, parents of young children or people who love music.)
  • What are the needs of my potential customers? (Do they want something easy to use or something educational?)
  • What would they like about my product? (Is it fun or useful? Does it come with some special perks?)
  • How can I make this product better than others on the market? (By making it more eco-friendly or by adding personalization options.)

When choosing a product, make sure it has good margins to make money after paying for your listing fees and shipping costs.

There are several ways of doing this:

  • Look at products already being sold on Amazon and eBay, then see how much they cost to buy wholesale.
  • Check out other sites like Alibaba and AliExpress, where people have already done all the work for you by listing their products online. You can also use these sites to find suppliers who can help you find a niche market that doesn’t have many sellers yet, so there’s more room for competition.
  • Shop around retail stores such as Walmart and see what they’re selling at what prices. 

Remember that most items sold at retail stores have been marked up quite a bit because they have overhead costs associated with running their businesses. However, this can help you understand the reasonable prices for certain items.

Find reputable suppliers

Now that you’ve researched and know what you want to sell, it’s time to find the perfect suppliers. If unsure where to start, reach out to other sellers in your niche or industry. They may be able to point you toward reputable suppliers or even recommend specific companies.

If you’re still having trouble finding reputable suppliers, check out the platforms we’ve listed above. Once you’ve found a few potential options, here are some tips to consider:

  • Check online reviews. Search the supplier’s name and read what other people have said about them. If there are many negative reviews, listen to them—what’s the chance of so many people making up the same story? 
  • Ask around on forums and social media groups related to your niche. People who sell in the same space will know which suppliers are trustworthy.
  • Look at the supplier’s website carefully before signing up with them. Check out their terms and conditions, shipping policies, payment options, etc., to know exactly what they offer before signing up with them (and so that there are no surprises later).

Set up a business email to communicate with suppliers

You’ll need an email address that will help you get in touch with suppliers. Set up one that’s specifically intended for this purpose. This way, you’ll know that the inbox will get emails only from the suppliers you’ve contacted. 

Contact suppliers or manufacturers

Once you’ve found some potential suppliers, contact them directly to get the best price. Write them an email and provide information about your business and contact details, letting them know what kind of product you’re looking for. 

You can talk about your goals and expectations and include links so they can see examples. The more information you give, the better they can understand what you need and how much you are willing to pay for it. This is an effective way of sourcing products, as it enables you to negotiate with suppliers directly. 

Since this is cold outreach you’re doing, check out our cold email subject line suggestions that can boost your open rate, and learn the essence and the principles of writing cold emails to make your attempt a sure shot.

Or, if you still have doubts about how to structure your message, using our cold email template can save the day.

Consider product customization to stand out

With so many products listed for sale, how do you stand out from other shops? There are many ways to customize your products and make them unique. Here are some ideas for how product customization can help you grow your eCommerce business:

  • Included extras: Include a variety of accessories with a product. For example, if you sell phone cases, include screen protectors and cleaning cloths with each case sold. This will increase sales volume while increasing average order value (AOV).
  • Custom materials and finishes: For example, you can use wood instead of plastic for the handles of your kitchen utensils, or use leather instead of fabric for some bags or wallets.

Use your imagination and create/upgrade the best product on the market. By offering something unique, you’ll attract customers who want something different.

Negotiate pricing and quantities

Be prepared to negotiate the price of the products you want. You might also get free shipping or other perks by purchasing large volumes of products at once. Don’t just accept the first price you are given—it may be worth exploring a little more.

If these negotiations don’t work out and the supplier doesn’t offer terms that are good enough for your business, walk away; there are plenty more manufacturers who would love to be your partners.

Factor in shipping times and costs

When choosing products to sell, shipping time is one of the first things you’ll want to consider. Shipping time varies depending on where your products are coming from. 

If you have to ship from China or Hong Kong, expect your products to take a while to arrive in the U.S.

Generally, it takes:

  • 1-2 weeks for a package to arrive when sent by regular post 
  • 3 days for air express freight 
  • 8-10 days for regular air freight 
  • Up to 40 days on the high seas with ocean freight

And for the EU, it takes:

  • Approximately 30 days for freight forwarder from China to Europe by sea 
  • From 3 to 12 days by air freight

It’s also important to factor in how much it will cost you to ship the items. For example, if an item sells for $50 but needs to be shipped from overseas at a cost of $15 per unit, chances are it won’t make sense for your business. Consider selling other items that don’t require shipping at such high rates.

Request samples from multiple vendors

When looking for a new product to sell online, it’s best to get samples from as many suppliers as possible. This will help you get an idea of the product's quality, their shipping processes, and whether everything matches your expectations.

After receiving samples, compare them side by side and evaluate each one based on its appearance and function and how they were packaged. 

In addition to quality, note other factors, such as packaging cost or delivery times, before deciding who will become your new supplier.

Test products before your first order

When you’re just starting out, it’s better to test the market with one or two small orders before committing to bigger quantities. This way, if your product doesn’t sell well or if there are any other problems with it, you won’t end up stuck with a bunch of inventory that you need to sell quickly at a loss.

Order a trial run from best vendor

Once you’ve found a few vendors who seem to be a good match, order a batch of products from them and see how it goes. 

Note how long they take to process your order, which delivery company they work with, what the lead time is, and how much it costs you. 

Select the vendors that deliver your batch on time, at a low cost, and with high-quality materials. 

Consider using more than one supplier

This will give you more options for choosing the best product for your store. It also gives you more bargaining power when negotiating prices or terms with suppliers. 

In addition, you’ll be able to switch suppliers in case of overloaded production schedules, so you’ll be able to ensure the availability of your products even if over-demand for them occurs.

Use freight forwarders if shipping internationally


Freight forwarders are third-party companies that specialize in helping businesses ship goods internationally. 

They can take care of everything from customs clearance and insurance to transportation and delivery—all at a fraction of what it would cost if you tried to do it yourself.

If you’re importing goods from overseas (say, China), freight forwarding companies will help with customs paperwork, distribution, and more so that you don’t have to worry about it yourself.

Final thoughts on sourcing products to sell online

Online shopping has been gaining momentum over the past years, and because of the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and wide product selection it brings to the end customer, the trend isn’t likely to slow down. 

To tap into the potential profits it can deliver, you need to make sure you source the right products of high quality at a low price. You can become your prospects’ go-to and stay on top of the stiff competition.

Choose the sourcing method and platform that will work best for your target buyer and follow the steps we discussed to make online selling successful for your business.

Remember that there are 2.14 billion online shoppers that could be interested in what you have to offer, so waste no more time. Go out there and find the products your target customers would love to buy.

Product sourcing FAQs

Can I source products from the USA?

Yes, definitely. As we mentioned above, ThomasNet and Worldwide Brands are USA based, so you can contact them and source from them.

How long does it take to ship products from China?

The answer depends on where you’re shipping to and what kind of goods you’re shipping.

If you’re based in the U.S., it will take:

  • 1-2 weeks for a package to arrive when sent by regular post.
  • 3 days for air express freight.
  • 8-10 days for air freight.
  • Up to 40 days on the high seas with ocean freight.

The product type also affects shipping times. Smaller items that are easy to pack and ship typically take less time than larger items. 

Where do online sellers get their products?

Online sellers can get their products from several different places. Here are some of the most common:

  • Manufacturers: Many online sellers work directly with manufacturers and have close relationships with them. They may even be able to visit the factory to inspect products before they’re made available on their websites. The advantage of this is that you can get exactly what you want in terms of size and color, and even packaging.
  • Distributors: Distributors are companies that buy large quantities of items from manufacturers and then sell them to multiple retailers at once. 
  • Wholesalers: Wholesalers buy from manufacturers in large quantities and then resell these products to retailers or other wholesalers. They also might sell directly to the public, but this is less common.

What are some of the best products to sell online? 

The best products to sell online are the ones that people want and need. 

The best way to figure this out? Set up a survey and ask your customers. 

Also, doing eCommerce keyword research can go a long way in helping you feel the pulse of buyers. You can use tools like Google Trends and Trendhunter to see how popular certain keywords are. Trending product blogs can also be a source of valuable ideas. 

To learn the ropes of the art of finding the best products to sell online, check out our dedicated guide.

How can I sell my products online?

Before you start selling, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to sell and how you plan to sell it. In short, several steps will help you get started.

  • Decide where you’ll be selling your products. For example, you can start with online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay.
  • Build your online store with platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce, Magento, and Squarespace.
  • Choose the right shipping method.
  • Choose which social media you’ll use to promote your products.
  • Set up payment processing. The most popular option is Stripe.
  • Continually work on the quality of your product and make it better for your customers.

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