WoOHoo! This year sure is flying by.
In January of 2019, I made a resolution to learn something new about digital marketing, eCommerce, or physical product sales every month by doing rather than just reading.
The first thing I wanted to try was finding a product to import from China and then go through the entire process first hand to better understand the challenges importers face.
Importing Products From China
I spent hours pouring through the products I found on Alibaba. It really was amazing seeing what prices were available for products I expected to be “high end”.
For instance, Bluetooth earbuds had recently gained popularity. In the states, a decent pair would run you between $79-$300.
So when I found pairs for as little as $1.95 on Alibaba I was skeptical, to say the least. I was also immediately interested. How could they even get the materials needed for the product at a cost that low? My mind was spinning, had I never considered what material cost should be on supposedly high-end products?
Rather than make a large purchase I decided to test the waters and buy a single pair of earbuds on aliexpress (Alibaba’s single item marketplace similar to Amazon). I had to pay a whopping $4.69 including shipping for the pair (which actually seemed pricy when comparing to the price of $1.95 when ordering 50 or more).
After completing the purchase I hoped over Into the general electronics section. Another product caught my eye… Backup batteries. Again I was shocked that including shipping I could get a backup battery for less than two dollars.
The thing about it is… these were the exact same batteries I had just purchased a few months prior for over 10x the price.
I decided on buying 10 of them. I would just put a vinyl decal of my Agency’s logo (MassConvert) and give it to clients to help keep us top of mind. I mean… everyone uses them right?!
After making the purchase I hoped over to sticker mule and ordered some vinyl decals. My total cost was less than $70 for giveaways that would have cost $250-350 through local providers.
Pretty cool stuff.
I hadn’t even received my first product but I was hooked. How could such low prices be available for products I always considered to be “premium electronics”.
Shipping Products From China & What to expect.
While shipping was included for free on most orders. However, products typically took 30-45 days to arrive. In a world that delivers products within 2 hours of clicking a button, this was a VERY long time. I actually forgot about a few of the purchases by the time they arrived.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised each time something came in. Sellers keep open lines of communication, which honestly can get a bit annoying, but is also nice because you can tell it’s important to them that you receive what you ordered.
After about 35 days my earbuds arrived. The sound quality wasn’t even close to my Bose earbuds (I call them Frankenstein’s). Then again I didn’t actually expect them to be amazing, but a boy can dream.
I was still impressed. I had just imported my first product, it was super cheap, and they worked.
As an audiophile, I couldn’t use them, however for most people they would work just fine.
The Jig was up! Prices I was used to seeing my whole life in stores like Walmart and Best Buy now seemed laughable. I now found myself double checking prices on Aliexpress before buying anything over $20.
Okay, Let’s Do This.
The First Big Import
Now that I understood some of the logistical problems I was ready to find the first product to place a big order on.
While traveling Asia a month prior I noticed all the signs letting customers know restaurants didn’t serve plastic straws anymore.
I’ve been a proponent of not using straws for years and knew the American public was starting to wise up about their plastic waste (although admittedly we are still years behind other areas on this).
I remembered seeing something on TV about a reusable, collapsible straw. I went on Amazon and quickly ordered one that I knew I could also buy wholesale off Alibaba.
The product was $20 shipped from Amazon and arrived 2 days later. It was cool and worked exactly as a regular straw does.
After confirming it was a product that had the cool factor, usability, and portability I hopped over to Ali and checked pricing.
If I bought 200 of them I could get the price down to $2.38 ($476 total). I already knew people were buying them on Amazon for $15-20 which reassured me a little bit. But I would need some sort of a safety net Incase I had trouble selling them.
The last thing I wanted was to get stuck with 200 items and no way to get my money back. Sure, learning costs money at my level but I’m still a marketer and thinking about the sales and marketing channels first is in my blood.
So I went to my local coffee shop Cafe Creme and spoke with the owner. We made an agreement for them to resell the product and take a 20% commission which I thought was more than fair. To make sure it would work I also asked them to allow me to put up a few signs around the cafe to encourage people to buy them.
Once I had my safety net I placed the order and after about 30 days they arrived.
Now it was time to get to work.
Reselling products from China online.
I spun up a landing page, found the keywords and competitors I wanted to target and began selling them online.
I found some pockets of gold that worked and sold about 80 of them pretty quickly.
Around this time I realized why people use drop shipping services. I was having to go by the post office every day on top of running my digital agency full time & hosting/coordinating events for my nonprofit.
The margins were there, just not enough for me to justify the work at the time so I paused the campaigns.
But the idea was validated.
I went back to my local coffee shop the next day and dropped off some product and the signs to let them sell passively.
In about 45 days all of the remaining product was sold without my lifting another finger. There were some returns which we replaced with new products that cut into the profits but overall it was a success.
Here are the stats
- Total Cost: $1,149 ($470 Straws + $650 Landing Page & Advertising spend)
- Total Profit: $2,138
- Net Profit: 989
- How Long It Took: Around 120 days (Including the first two months of exploring the marketplace)
What I Learned & Final Thoughts
This was a super cool way to kick off my new year and start learning new tricks.
That’s what it’s all about after all. Whoever acquired the most skill, learns the most tricks, and can sprinkle a little digital marketing magic on their ideas grows the fastest.
Here’s an overview of the timeline
- Jan 2019: Search for items from China and import something small
- Feb 2019: Receive the first item, get super excited and order a bunch of crap I didn’t need. Then find a product that could actually sell.
- Feb 5th, 2019: Find my safety net and place my first big order
- Mar 5th, 2019: Receive order, pop up a landing page and ad account and get rolling.
- Mar 25th, 2019: Realize I didn’t enjoy the post office, shut down the digital sales, and deliver the remaining product to the safety net.
- April 2019: Sit back and relax as the product sells itself passively.
What I learned
We Pay WAY Too much for stuff in the US. Our need for immediate gratification has created a need for things to be delivered the next day. This has caused resellers to need more product in stock at distribution centers like Amazon which means they have sunk cost in holding inventory, ultimately driving the price of goods up again.
Shipping stuff sucks. So resellers need a drop shipper to hold additional product if they want to sell on their own website. Again, driving the price up.
It’s wild. It’s crazy. But honestly, I love it.
Heck, I just ordered my grocers with a few clicks of a mouse… they will be here in about an hour.
What were we talking about? Oh well on to the next one.
Leave a comment and let me know what your product you first tested the waters with & what you learned along the way.