Buying from 1688 is quite fun and simple, and it is – provided you are Chinese or fluent in Chinese. If not, it will be a challenge. There are not many tutorials or experiences from people using 1688 to be found. Sourcing Nova has created this comprehensive guide specifically for international buyers interested in learning more about 1688, its products and the benefits found from using the site. Let’s get started!
What is 1688.com?
Founded in 1999, 1688.com was originally called ‘Alibaba China Market.’ It was, and remains, China’s wholesale platform for domestic buyers. 1688.com is a channel for buyers and sourcing agents working under the Alibaba Group to source products from local, Chinese suppliers. Today, 1688.com is China’s largest e-commerce company.
1688.com is China’s main website for wholesale and dropshipping goods from China for sale domestically. It is the Chinese equivalent of Alibaba.com and Aliexpress.com – combined. Before any supplier can sell on 1688, they must apply for and receive a license from the government. There is also an annual fee, currently 6,888 RMB, $1,085.00 U.S. This ensures that those who are selling on 1688 are legitimate, have quality products and commitment to commerce. The chance of finding a scammer on 1688 is relatively low compared to other sites.
The site is primarily for B2B and B2C customers and is China’s largest e-commerce company. A large number of Chinese wholesale businesses use 1688 for their products – approximately 80 percent. The remaining 20 percent are trading companies. More and more international buyers are using 1688 for larger selections and variety. This means that 1688 has made considerable changes to its infrastructure and online wholesale. However, more and more international buyers are learning about 1688 and turning to the site for larger selections and variety. This means that 1688 has made considerable changes to its infrastructure and online wholesales.
1688 currently has over 120 million users and 50,000 different companies. The name comes from the phonetic for 1688 in Mandarin, Yao Liu Ba Ba, and its close phonetic sound to Alibaba. This is common across most of Asia, substituting words for a sound similar to that of numbers.
Breaking this down further into two ways:
The combination of 16, yi lu, has a unique meaning in Chinese. It is a homonym of ‘all the way,’ representing ‘the whole route,’ which is a kind of blessing. For example, the Chinese often use yi lu shun feng to mean ‘Bon Voyage,’ and yi lu ping an to mean ‘have a safe journey.’
1688 means ‘to make a fortune along the way.’
The phonetic pronunciation for 1688 in Mandarin, Yao Liu Ba Ba sounds closely like ‘Alibaba.’ It is common across most of Asia to substitute words for a sound similar to that of numbers.
- The sound of ‘one’ in Chinese means “want” – Yāo
- The sound of ‘six’ in Chinese means “successfully and smoothly” – Liù
- The sound of ‘eight’ means “getting wealthy,” and the accent of 88 sounds precisely like baba in the Alibaba – Bā Bā
Either way you look at it, the goal of 1688.com is the same – helping you earn profits in a successful business.
1688 and Alibaba – Is there a difference?
Many wonder what is the difference if 1688 is owned fully by the Alibaba Group corporation. The main answer is simple – 1688 is for Chinese, domestic buyers, and Alibaba is geared to the international business. 1688 is written specifically in Chinese for the Chinese people, while Alibaba has a variety of languages available.
It is easy to find products on both Alibaba and AliExpress, but here is a secret many may not know.
A large number of sellers on these sites buy from 1688 for resell.
The products you see on Alibaba and AliExpress are the same as on 1688. The difference is the products are marked up about 20 to 30 percent for the seller’s profit. This means products on 1688 are cheaper!
It is common for a buyer to make a purchase on Alibaba and AliExpress only to have 1688 fill and ship the order on behalf of the seller – similar to FBA.
The MOQ on 1688 is often lower as well, chiefly because there is not the amount of shipping normally involved. All shipping from 1688 is domestic and does not require customs clearance, freight forwarding or many of the other forms necessary for international trade.
Any transactions made on 1688 must be in RMB. Anyone wanting to make purchases with another currency will require the supplier to have a separate account capable of accepting U.S. currency. All prices on 1688 are in RMB exclusively.
Similar online platforms
1688 is certainly the leader for domestic wholesale in China. There are other, similar locations, however.
DHgate is one of the biggest competitors for 1688, although it still lags behind the giant. The platform offers a variety of products, and most of which can be purchased in small MOQ. Samples, as low as a single piece, are also available from certain suppliers.
This is a platform older than 1688 by a year and is another e-commerce site. Here there are plenty of high-quality products. The platform has a number of global buyers and serves the international community well.
The advantages of 1688.com for the international buyer
1688 is ideal for those buyers looking for a competitive edge over their direct competition.
Several internationally known companies such as Evonik, Dow Chemicals and BASF work with 1688. There are flagship stores on the platform for ease and access of purchases.
1688 is for anyone. This includes wholesale and retailers. 1688 features direct manufacturers and suppliers. You and your sourcing agent avoid the markups of a third party with direct purchases.
This does not answer the question – what are the real advantages of 1688. Sourcing Nova has only just started talking about 1688.com.
As mentioned before, the suppliers you encounter are the actual factories and manufacturers of the products. While there are a few middlemen on the site, it is very easy for a native Chinese to notice who is and who is not a middleman.
Many of these suppliers are looking to local buyers within China as a whole.
This does not mean you should not watch your purchases. It is still important to consider product quality and the amount spent.
Start with Alibaba.com. Suppliers mention products for sale between $1.00 and $10.00. This is not accurate because most sellers do not have products in this particular range.
The images you see are often copy/pasted from competition, so the final product you receive is not what you see.
1688.com is different. You see the real prices and can be safe in knowing the pictures are accurate.
The final price also depends on the product volume purchased.
Here is an example of purchase volume on a product:
- Two to five pcs. – 18.5 RMB
- Six to 23 pcs. – 15.5 RMB
- 24 pcs. and up – 14.5 RMB
Here is a more detailed example on how you can save money on volume purchases.
It is a common misconception that Chinese suppliers offer better prices to their domestic buyers. This is often the case, but the reasons are not what many think.
Suppliers quote higher prices to Europe and the U.S. for quality reasons. Suppliers cannot offer the same quality products to international buyers as they can to domestic buyers. However, it is important to remember this: a product specification on Alibaba.com does not mean you will get a better deal on 1688.com.
More products from better suppliers
At one time, it was only possible to find Chinese suppliers through trade shows or Alibaba.com. Even then, you were limited to the number of suppliers you could reach.
1688.com has almost every supplier available in China since they deal almost exclusively with Chinese buyers. There are many unique sellers with features and qualities you cannot find on other platforms. There are also plenty of suppliers within your set budget.
The sheer number of suppliers means a full range of product quality. You have a chance to get samples of various quality. This way you can find the perfect quality based around your specific budget.
Imagine being able to get to suppliers that your direct competition cannot. This is the main advantage of 1688.com over Alibaba.com.
Some suppliers are inactive, however, for a variety of reasons. Some suppliers may not have an export license or business on the mainland. This a chance you will take.
Do enough digging and work, and you will find the perfect supplier with the perfect deal on the exact product you want. It is there. Sourcing Nova stands behind this fact.
We have previously covered MOQ in detail. It is important to understand MOQ when using 1688.com, even though there are few restrictions on MOQ. Here is what you need to know:
- If you ordering a single product, there is likely to be a higher MOQ.
- Sellers define the MOQ based on their order capability.
- You can meet MOQ with a single product or a variety of products from the same supplier.
- Each supplier sets their own MOQ.
Small quantity orders can be rather costly if coming from 1688.com. Chinese customs will often assess duties depending on the size of the order. It is always best to consider larger orders for the best overall value.
Friendly to smaller businesses
You are just getting started selling products. You want to be cautious and not order too much inventory. On 1688.com, it is possible to fill your store with as little as 10 products with a $100.00 to $200.00 investment.
Do enough work, and you may find a dropshipping service. They can ship your products to any customer anywhere in the world.
There are few ways to get started with less investment.
Quick answers with good quotes
All suppliers on 1688.com are responsive and will willingly communicate. There are plenty of different ways to communicate, and we will discuss these in detail later.
There are some who have staff strictly for answering queries. 99 percent of the responses will be in Mandarin. Again, more coming on this fact later in the blog.
Buyer protection services
1688.com has several failsafes within the system to limit scammers and protect the customers. Their secret is credit points.
Sellers who violate rules are sanctioned and suspended. Those who have enough sanctions are banned from the platform completely.
Beware of scammers
As a buyer, you can do your own part to protect your interests. For example:
- Branded products at exceptionally low price
- Look for the blue tick as this is a verified seller
- Get samples
- Never make payments to personal or individual accounts
- Do not buy tech. 1688.com is not a preferred tech platform
- Do not use Western Union or MoneyGram. Use Alipay or WeChat
- Do not make payment advancements
- Watch for inflation on the proforma invoices
- Have trade assurance when using new merchants
- Use Sourcing Nova for the best overall protection
The vast number of the suppliers on 1688.com are verified and authentic. This means your chances of scams and scammers are limited, but this does not mean you can be irresponsible.
If you are serious about a custom product for your e-store or because you have significant following, 1688.com has plenty of suppliers who can help with almost any product.
Can I buy from 1688.com as an international customer?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
1688.com is Chinese and for the Chinese buyer. This means you will need a Chinese account to make payments. You can do this in one of two ways:
- A mainland Chinese bank
Alipay is the easiest way, but you still need a mainland Chinese bank card and account.
Opening a Chinese bank account means coming to China in person. It is not possible to open an account over the Internet. This is the second major barrier for using 1688.com after language.
Even if you are using Sourcing Nova for your product order, it is still a good idea to have your own account. Here is why:
- Alibaba will not let you view as many pages in 1688.com without an account
- You cannot use the picture search
- You will only see promotionals and discounts
- You can save and bookmark products
- You can make direct communication
Registering your account
There are five simple steps to registration.
- From the 1688.com page, click Register. This opens a registration agreement. Click the orange button at the bottom to agree.
- Fill in the appropriate information by following the directions. Complete this with the “Agree to Register” button.
- Fill in the six digit SMS verification code.
- Complete your profile (This and #5 are optional.) Fill in the areas with red marks.
- Update or add information.
Verify the account
You should be fully registered at this point. It is not necessary, but recommended, to verify the account. There are tangible benefits for doing so:
- The account is considerably more secure.
- If the account is frozen, you can retrieve it yourself.
- Alipay requires a verified account.
Your Alipay account
Again, the information will be in Chinese. However, you can still verify your account with Alipay. Here are the steps:
- Go to the settings page: 设置
- Click ‘My Verification:’ 我的认证
- Click ‘I want to verify:’ 我要认证
Now you are at the verification page. You will need your Alipay Login ID and password. Click the orange button ‘Link to Alipay account: 绑定支付宝账号.”
It is best to have the same account name for both accounts. Alipay will prompt you for the Alipay account name if the 1688 account name is different.
If you have the same account names, click, “Confirm.”
Return to the ‘My Verification:’我的认证 tab. The blue button is gray. The verification status is complete (✓).
Who should use 1688.com
There are going to be suppliers and sellers on the site who will also be selling on Alibaba. Keep in mind that 1688.com is not strictly for the wholesaler. There are plenty of businesses buying from 1688.com. Businesses like:
- Those who need promotional gifts or other consumer products
- Local purchasing agents who take larger order from larger customers (think big box stores)
- Grocery and department stores
- Dollar stores, offline and local businesses
- Resellers like Shopify, eBay and Amazon’s
Using 1688.com directly is the best way to save money from overhead costs.
1688.com has almost anything that can be produced in China. This ranges from simple apparel like socks to industrial equipment and everything in between. More information on how to find your specific products is coming, but first, consider what NOT to purchase on 1688.com.
Products to avoid
It is important to remember that as an international buyer, there are some restrictions that you will face. This means certain products are limited for your purchase because of shipping costs and limitations. This is another reason why Sourcing Nova recommends small, durable products for sourcing.
If you are looking into standard shipping, the following products are limited and restricted:
- Powerful magnets
- Liquids and creams
- Certain batteries
- Powders of most sorts
On a similar vein, some products like chairs and tables are inexpensive to source and buy, but the shipping costs are incredibly high – up to 10 times the cost of the product. Shipping them standard, by sea, means a higher cost. This does not mean you cannot find these products on 1688.com. If you have the market and can meet the price of shipping, there are manufacturers available who can meet your specific needs.
Sourcing Nova has previously covered a few different excellent, low cost, high profit products that you can source and private label.
Sourcing Nova has covered quite a bit of background information to prepare you for using 1688.com. It is time to get the to good stuff – how to find the products that you want.
Sourcing 1688.com in English
If you are choosing 1688.com, there will be some issues you will encounter. You will need to understand Chinese or be able to translate from Chinese into your chosen language.
English, by default, is the most effective language for translating the information on the site.
There are a few keywords that will work for you in English, but remember: 1688.com is a Chinese platform for domestic users. This means the website is in Chinese, and you will need to use Chinese to search successfully.
It is highly likely you are not familiar with Chinese and its lettering system. You will need a translation tool.
Google’s Chrome browser has a translation function built-in and is very easy to use.
Note: Chrome’s transator is a machine and not a human. The majority of text may be translated and correctly, but there is always the chance of errant translation. You can resolve this with synonyms and related words before searching a second time.
Do not try long keywords for your searches. This will return more irrelevant results and become frustrating.
Pictures are universal when it comes to understanding information. It is easy to do image searches, provided you have product pictures ready.
On the 1688.com homepage, there is a camera icon in the search bar. Keep the text in Chinese for a moment. This will insure you have the best search results based on your image.
Image search example
Your plan is to import from 1688.com and sell on Amazon via FBA. Your product of choice are charcoal grills. Here is how you would do your image search:
- Find, and save an image
- Upload into 1688 with the camera icon
Within a second, you will have any number of suppliers with example charcoal grills for you to view and learn about. Now, is the time to shift your search to English. It is also recommended to have a currency exchange tab open. This way you can determine prices from RMB to U.S. dollar.
Some products will not have pictures. You will need a few simple keywords translated into Chinese. Those who attempt a search in English will be sorely upset as there will be next to no decent suppliers. It is far better to use an image search, or the best option you have.
Use a professional sourcing agent
It should go without saying that the absolute best way to search for products on 1688.com is to have someone that is:
- Native Chinese
- Native Chinese speaker
- Familiar with 1688.com on a fine level
- Capable of speaking and communicating in good English
The advantages of a sourcing agent on the ground in China cannot be overlooked. We have extensively covered the advantages in other blogs.
Finding the best supplier
A business license is necessary from the start before a new supplier can start on 1688.com. As a new business owner looking to source from China, it is understandable if you are concerned about finding the best possible supplier.
The platform makes it exceptionally simple to find the best possible supplier.
Look for the blue tick
Verified suppliers who have been on 1688.com for some time will have a blue tick mark.
Verified supplier’s will have the company details available to read. These include:
- Company name
- Registration location
- Main products made
Suppliers with medals are the most credible. These will be clearly visible on the profiles.
Manufacturer, trader or both
Those who are on 1688.com may double as manufacturers and suppliers. Before placing your order, check. If they are both, the convenience is well worthwhile.
The sheer number of categories on 1688.com is staggering. You can be sure to find a manufacturer that will specialize in a particular product with ease. If you are looking for a very specific product, search for that product exclusively.
The number of employees matter
Counting employees is a strange metric for choosing a supplier. The number of employees does make a difference when it comes to finding the best products from China.
- 51 – 100 employees – small business
- 101 – 500 – mature business
- 501 – 1,000 – huge wholesale business
A larger number of employees means more production capability and not necessarily better products.
Study the entire profile
Take time, and look through the supplier’s information. You need to read reviews, delivery times, return orders and other important details you find.
Also look for pictures of the manufacturing plant, equipment and the like.
The Industrial Cluster
Sourcing Nova has talked about the Industrial Cluster phenomenon previously. It refers to how many manufacturers and suppliers gather in the same province or city. This can be great for you and your products as you will be able to leverage this into your benefit.
Know the symbols
The supplier profile will have a good number of individual symbols.
- A red bull symbol means a strong work ethic.
- Two things to note about the red bull symbol:
- There is an annual fee of 36,800.00 RMB ($5,800.00 U.S.)
- A deposit fee of 16,000 RMB ($2500.00 U.S.)
· 7X24H响应 – The seller is available all the time to reply to queries.
· 工业品牌 – The seller has a solid reputation with their products.
· 48小时内发货 – Products ship within 48 hours.
· 实力商家 – Strength Factory . Like the Gold Membership of Alibaba, only a few suppliers qualify for this. The products are top notch and have excellent delivery times.
· 加工定制 – The supplier offers customization and private label services.
· 通用排序 – Personalize selections based on past browsing.
· 最低价-最高价 – Price filter for ranges. Enter any amount like 501 – 1,000.
· 起订量以下 – Filter the MOQ.
· 所在地区 – Find the location of the supplier in China.
· 经营模式 – Filter one of the business types of the four available:
- Business services
· 深度认证 – This means in-depth inspection from 1688.com. The supplier has comprehensive capabilities.
· 深度验厂 – Approximately the same as the previous label, this means the factory has a certification report from an internationally known certification company.
- 深度验商 – This the same as the previous but for Wholesale and distribution.
· 诚8年 – The supplier is a paid seller for eight years. The more years of selling, the more reliable the seller.
· 成交1万+元 – The sales numbers for the most recent month for the specific product. Use only as a reference.
Know the four elements of the name
A business on 1688.com will have four distinct parts:
- Registration location
- Company name
- Main products
It is always best to choose manufacturers with easy access to shipping ports on coastal areas. This means you will pay less in shipping costs. Look for suppliers that have your product as the main product made. This guarantees better production capabilities.
Super Factory – the best of the best
The Super Factory is certified under 1688.com. It can meet the demands of highly customized processing. Additionally, the super factory will offer:
- High sales
- On-time delivery
- Well-made products
To qualify for Super Factory status, there is an annual fee of 106,800.00 RMB ($16,800.00 U.S.) and a deposit fee of 16,000 RMB ($2500.00 U.S.).
It should go without saying that you need to use super factory suppliers on 1688.com.
Understanding the Super Factory logo
We remind you that 1688.com is written in Chinese for the benefit of the Chinese people. You are likely to encounter an image on the site similar to this:
Here is a more detailed explanation of what you see.
- This means the supplier is a Super Factory as mentioned above.
- Safe purchase – The official introduction of 1688.com has a disclaimer about trust between the two parties. 1688 records all seller transaction records and customer reviews. Those who do not have many bad reviews and recorders receive this particular badge. Buyers and sellers are able to build solid, long term business relationships in this way. This leads to better sales and profits for all. Suppliers pay a two percent technical service fee for each individual order.
- Gold medal manufacturing – This represents the most elite of the super factories on 1688.com. It is a new concept, dating back to June 2021. Suppliers pay additional ‘Gold Medal Manufacturing’ service fees in addition to the standard Super Factory fees. The precise amount has not yet been disclosed.
- Total years – How long the supplier has been doing business on 1688. The higher the number, the more reliable the supplier and products.
- Specific product category – This can vary widely. It is best to copy/paste into Google Translate for the most accurate definition.
- Classic customers – This particular supplier is an umbrella supplier for the 7-11 convenience store chain in the U.S. It is important to note that not all suppliers will divulge this information because of NDA, non disclosure agreements, or because of being lost to competition. Sourcing Nova has several avenues available for us to mine this highly specific and often important information.
- In depth – As mentioned above, this means in-depth inspection from 1688.com. The supplier has comprehensive capabilities.
- In-depth inspection company – This is an independent company with no vested interest in the supplier. This way you can be certain the inspection is done without prejudice. This is only an example company.
- Overview – What you see here represents the overview for the supplier. These expenses can quickly reach 150,000 RMB ($23,500.00 U.S.). Those who join Alibaba.com as well will need an additional 150,000 RMB for technical services. This is in addition to PPC advertising, done daily. Some of these packages reach into the millions of RMB annually. Some factories do not want to spend this much and stay off of 1688 and Alibaba entirely.
- These did not all arrive at the same time. Many of these figures were not part of the supplier when 1688 began. The goal was to attract factories with low fees. As more and more joined, the Strength Factory concept was initiated, giving certain factories an opportunity to stand up and out from the others. Soon thereafter, the Super Factory concept was initiated. Many joined, and this led to the Gold Manufacturing certification. Is there an opportunity for Platinum or Diamond Manufacturing in the future? Sourcing Nova does not have an answer. We will have to wait and see what decisions are made.
- These are provided to you as a reference only and should not be used for final decisions on product purchases. Professional purchasing agents do in-depth research into each factory, industrial chain, cluster, planning reports from local governments and financial reports of companies. This is all public information and can help purchasing agents with a more thorough understanding of the company.
- Lastly, there is additional information from non-public locations. Industry research from consulting companies, internal research reports from B2B platforms and internal information from private relationship networking.
Making your purchases
There are several ways to purchase your products on 1688.com.
China takes its financial system very seriously. As a foreigner, you can deposit no more than $50,000.00 U.S. dollars into a personal account. The vast number of sellers on 1688.com do not deal with foreign currency nor are able to explain how to pay with foreign currency.
Basically, on 1688.com you are paying in RMB or CNY – period.
This does make things complicated but not impossible. You have several available options.
WeChat is to China as WhatsApp is the the U.S. Almost everyone in China has We Chat. Many suppliers on 1688.com use WeChat for promotions and products.
If you are looking for a long term relationship, adding the supplier to WeChat is a great idea.
Their mobile number is often the WeChat i.d.
AliPay is cheap and convenient – provided you have a Chinese bank card for verification.
You cannot open an account remotely, so a trip to China is necessary to open your account.
1688 Cross-Boarder pay
1688 cross-border Pay, 跨境宝/Kuajingbao/KJB, is for certain countries and regions.
The system allows users to use AliPay and 1688 to make payments as a foreigner. Since this system is a part of 1688.com, it is secure and safe.
There are very low fees, often lower than 1688.com agents and better than a bank’s rate.
AliPay ‘Pay for You’
If you have friends in China, this system allows those friends to pay on your behalf.
Suppliers can take bank transfers but only in RMB. You can use some payment transfer services like Transferwise to send RMB directly to a private account.
Western Union is quick and simple. An address and name is all you need. This is great for ordering samples.
Chinese nationals in your country
If you have a Chinese national in your country and are close, you can have the nationalist make the purchases on your behalf and reimburse them.
A trusted sourcing agent and agency like Sourcing Nova can use their accounts to pay for the products. It is necessary to send your money first, but the agent will handle the rest with ease.
1688.com is for the Chinese domestic market. This means the primary language will be Chinese and very little will speak English or any other language for that matter.
Communication will be an issue.
Your sourcing agent will handle communication on your behalf, but there is always the chance of a bad purchasing agent lying and stealing from you.
This means if you are going to buy on 1688.com independently, you will need to communicate in Chinese.
Fortunately, you will have some tools to use to bridge communication gaps.
Chinese is a very difficult language to learn and will take considerable time to master the language well enough to conduct business. If you have a few years to devote to study, it is a great option.
Hire a translator
This can be expensive. The translator will also only translate what information you provide. They will not bargain or work outside of what you say.
Aliwangwang is the official chat tool on 1688.com. Download the program, install and click the blue icon to start the chat.
Once you find a supplier, introduce yourself. The goal is to determine if the supplier speaks your language. It is a waste of time if the supplier does not speak anything but Chinese.
WeChat, as we mentioned above, is standard for the Chinese people for communication and payments.
Sourcing Nova live in China, speak Mandarin as a regular language and know the language of business for 1688.com.
Your purchasing agent will work for you as your partner on location in China. What else do you need?
Most products bought on 1688.com are in Chinese packaging and will be an issue for resale on platforms like Amazon. If you are selling in a local shop, packaging will not be a problem.
If you are looking for a private brand, then you can find a supplier that will help you easily.
There are two ways to ship from China – air and sea. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Your purchasing agent can help you with shipping options.
Customs and taxes
Sourcing Nova has a freight forwarding company to help with customs clearance in China and import to the country of destination.
The relevant information including invoices, packing lists and the rest of the documentation is handled in China as part of the sourcing agent services.
1688.com is a great platform for finding and sourcing high quality products from China, but there are some inherent difficulties for non-Chinese buyers.
Sourcing Nova has excellent understanding of 1688.com and its innerworkings. How can we help you get started?