Product sourcing represents the behind-the-scenes activity that determines a brand’s success from the shadows. While each ecommerce business model has its own demands, restrictions, and strengths, they all still draw from the same pool of product sourcing methods, more or less. The trick is knowing which ones are the best fit for your particular brand.
But to begin, let’s start with a general introduction to procuring products: why it’s important, and the 5 most common methods of product sourcing at your disposal.
What is Product Sourcing?
“Product sourcing” is just a phrase referring to the act of finding sources for your products. It emcompasses researching, price & cost calculations, and negotiating with suppliers, as well as the methods used for each. It goes without saying that the goal of product sourcing is to find the best goods for your store, at the cheapest prices, with the largest justifiable markup.
That’s where the skill comes in. If you educate yourself on effective product sourcing strategies and improve your ability to procure products at satisfactory prices, it gives your store an edge. If you find the same, best-selling product as your competitor for a cheaper price, you can undercut their sales and still make a profit. If you find your own best-selling products for cheaper, you can keep your online price the same and maximize your profit per sale.
5 Most Common Methods of Product Procurement
No matter which method you prefer, it’s important to understand every approach at your disposal in case one might be better, or inspire you to modify your own method. There’s also something to be said about trying everything — product sourcing is a field that rewards both diligence and curiosity, so leave no stone unturned.
Here are the 5 most common methods of product sourcing, and why they work.
1. Trade Shows
Let’s start with the most obvious: trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions. The single goal of these large-scale events are to introduce retailers and suppliers, showing off new and/or unknown products that sellers may not have known about prior.
These trade shows largely depend on your industry as well as your location. The more niche your market is, the more you rely on these to keep your finger on the pulse of your community. Conversely, the more mainstream your product line, the more freedom you have to explore other avenues.
2. Existing Marketplaces
Another obvious place to look for products is existing marketplaces — Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Etsy, etc. Depending on your search abilities and your product range, you may be able to procure products from another seller, raise the price, and make a profit… although that’s rare.
The real advantage of checking around these sites is market research. What products are people most excited about? How much are customers willing to pay for them? Which products sell well but have room-for-improvement in their marketing?
The more you know about the market you’re selling in, the better you can tailor your strategy to accommodate it.
3. Product Sourcing Companies
Product sourcing companies are professional middlemen — you hire them to do the product sourcing for you, hopefully delivering the best products at the best prices without you having to lift a finger. The cost of hiring a third party digs into your profits, so this method is only recommended for companies that don’t have the time or resources to do it themselves. Basically, you’re outsourcing your product sourcing.
The trouble with product sourcing companies is the potential scammers. The effectiveness of their claims varies, so pay close attention to their reputation — there’s a lot of fly-by-night rackets posturing as product sourcing companies. Look for companies older than 3 years and with verified references. Hard sells, too-good-to-be-true sales pitches, and incomplete websites are all red flags.
4. Sourcing Platforms
With ecommerce as popular as it is, it makes sense there are entire online marketplaces dedicated to B2B retail product sourcing. Sourcing platforms like Alibaba are marketplaces targeted to retailers and suppliers, which is why you often see notifications like “minimum quantity of 500.”
Sourcing platforms are great for comparison shopping as well as convenience. However, they’re victims of their own success in that, if it’s easy for you to find the best source of a product, it’s also easy for your competitors.
Last, we have product sourcing directories, such as Product Sourcing 101. These are similar to sourcing platforms, except directories only list out suppliers — it’s up to you to further the research and reach out to them. That’s more work for you, but it increases your chances of landing an exclusive deal your competitors don’t.
Again, be wary of scammers. Some directories let visitors browse lists for free; its mutually beneficial for everyone, including the directory, which enjoys a spike in traffic. Some directories charge a fee, though, so make sure they actually offer what they say beforehand to justify the expense.
To learn more, check out our guide with specifics of product sourcing for each business model. It’s important to point out that there will be plenty of overlap — most methods work for multiple models, and most models benefit from more than one method. Keep in mind that everything is fluid and flexible. The perfect plan for you might be a combination or mixture of the individual plans we outline in the guide.