Five Tips for Choosing a Manufacturer or Supplier for Your ECommerce Business

  •    Rob is a creative content strategist from Detroit. When he’s not developing integrated marketing campaigns, he’s probably watching Netflix.

Imagine this: you've got a great idea for a business, you've nailed your target audience, and you're all set to build an incredible eCommerce website. But when it comes time to actually develop the product, you just can't get it right. Scary thought, right?

​Finding the right manufacturer or supplier for your business can be challenging. If you don't choose the right partner, you can run into a wide range of issues, from product quality to cost to shipping delays. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you make this important decision.

1. Don't Rush Into a Relationship

Choosing a supplier or manufacturer for your eCommerce business is kind of like dating. You don't want to rush into a long-term relationship before you get to know the person. Feel free to play the field and test multiple suppliers.

Make a list of the most important attributes you're looking for (price, quality, customer service) and compare them. Your final product is a reflection of everything your brand stands for, so it's not something you can afford to take lightly.

2. There's an Upside (and Downside) for "Made in America"

Sourcing your products from American suppliers or manufacturers can be a great way to differentiate your business and show your patriotism, but it comes with a cost...literally. In an Associated Press/GfK poll, nearly three in four Americans said they'd prefer to buy goods manufactured inside the United States, but they're often too costly or difficult to find.

So if you can manage to find a partner based in the U.S. it can be a valuable messaging point in your marketing, but make sure to consider how it will impact your pricing.

3. Price Isn't Everything

Speaking of pricing, while it's extremely important, it shouldn't be the only factor you use to select a partner. Quality is also essential. If your product immediately falls apart, your customers won't be happy (and will inevitably leave negative reviews).

Finding someone who is reliable is also important. Nothing can be more frustrating than having an in-demand product that's constantly out of stock. Ideally, you should find a partner that delivers a quality product on time at a cost that allows you to be competitive.

​4. Get Advice

There are thousands of suppliers and manufacturers you could partner with and they're all going to have something unique to offer. Since it would be impossible to research all of them personally, consider using small business groups, forums and social media to connect with other business owners for advice. Search for small business groups on Facebook, where you can get as specific as location or industry.

In a recent Future of Business Survey — a partnership between Facebook, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank — "42% of small businesses said they learn from each other, second only to online searches (64%)."

5. Look for a Real Partner

If you find a partner that can supply or manufacturer quality products at a reasonable cost with consistency, you'll be in a great position to grow your business. However, if you want to take things to the next level, you should also look for a partner that can provide additional strategic value.

What is your manufacturer or supplier partner doing to deliver ongoing support for their current customers? Do they share consumer insights, research or new product options? How often do they call or visit? A real partnership is about more than exchanging money, but truly investing in each other's success.

Getting Started

With these tips in mind, it's time to start exploring potential partners. Here are some established companies that you might consider.

  • ThomasNet.com is a free website that lets you search more than 500,000 suppliers.
  • MFG.com is another free website that connects you with manufacturers, with a particular emphasis on industrial applications and machining.
  • Makers Row can connect you with more than 10,000 American manufacturers representing a wide range of goods, including apparel.
  • Bambify is another option focused on apparel that also includes handbags, accessories, jewelry and more.
  • Oberlo is a great option if you're interested in dropshipping to support your eCommerce business and even has a free starter plan.
  • IndiaMART will connect you with a wide range of suppliers from India for just about any product you can imagine (even human hair).
  • Alibaba is the world's largest retailer with an astounding worth of more than $420 billion, so it's a natural place to start looking for wholesale distribution partners.
  • Aliexpress (which is owned by Alibaba) is another good option if you're a smaller buyer looking to buy a smaller quantity of product.

Whichever company you choose to partner with to support your eCommerce business, remember that nothing is ever truly set in stone. Take the time to make the right decision, but don't feel like you're locked in. Monitor your performance and constantly look for opportunities to improve. At the end of the day, you're the boss.