Try Before You Buy: A Guide to Purchasing Product Samples

Try Before You Buy: A Guide to Purchasing Product Samples

Sourcing product samples | Shopify Retail blogWhen you hear “product samples,” you may automatically think of display items that allow customers to see, feel, and test out an item before purchasing. But here, we’re talking about product samples for you, the retailer.

Similar to those display items, many suppliers allow you to order samples so you can inspect the product before committing to a larger, more expensive order.

Investing in product samples is one of the smartest moves fledging retailers can make. Product samples help you ensure each order for your store is a worthwhile investment for you and your customers. You can determine if an item fits your brand, meets your quality standards and will live up to your customers’ expectations.

Here’s everything you need to know about investing in product samples for your retail business.

Why Do I Need Product Samples?

If you’re a new retail entrepreneur, determining if you should invest in product samples is a no-brainer. The short answer? Always.

Ultimately, the cost of samples will always be a more worthwhile investment over taking the chance on a full order you haven’t had the opportunity to inspect. If you do the latter, you may be stuck with a large number of products that lack the right level of quality.

Here’s an example:

Three samples cost $200, with a $50 shipping fee, equaling $250. The minimum quantity for an order of that product is 500. At even $2 per unit, that’s $1,000 without shipping included. If the product is defective or doesn’t live up to your standards, it’s better to spend the $250 rather than being out an entire $1,000.

So, in the grand scheme of things, investing in product samples allows you to check the quality of the product to really ensure that it’s a good fit for your retail space. Plus, you’ll be able to get a good idea of what your long-term experience will be like with a supplier.

The benefits of product samples don’t stop there. You can also put your samples to good use by using them in your product photos for your online store and/or on display in your brick-and-mortar retail space.

PRO TIP: If you’re still not in a place where you can invest in product samples, some suppliers will list links to coupons and free samples on their product pages.

How Do I Order Product Samples?

When you start looking into ordering product samples online, AliExpress and Alibaba will probably become your top resources. These companies are two of the largest ecommerce companies in the world, equipped with a broad range of products that connect you to suppliers from, well, everywhere.

And since they provide such a broad range of information and products, navigating these sites aren’t the easiest. Here are the best ways to order samples on AliExpress and Alibaba:

How to Order Product Samples on Alibaba

Option 1: Type the product you’re looking for in the search bar, and in the drop-down menu, click “suppliers.” This will provide you with a list of suppliers that specialize in manufacturing the product.

How to order samples on Alibaba | Shopify Retail blog

PRO TIP: Filter by “gold supplier” or “assessed supplier” to find the suppliers that have been verified as a legally registered business.

Then, message the supplier directly with specific details about what you need. Starting a direct conversation with the supplier will help you determine if the product is within your budget and meets all of your requirements. And if so, you’ll then be able to finalize and place your order.

Option 2: In your profile, you’ll see a Request for Quotation (RFQ) tool that allows you to pinpoint suppliers that can provide you with the product you’re looking for.

How to submit an RFQ on Alibaba | Shopify Retail blog

To submit an RFQ, you’ll be prompted with a form where you’ll include the keywords of the product you’re looking for, the category, the quantity, other specifications, and you can even upload images to further help the supplier understand the product you’re seeking. You can also provide the preferred unit price, payment method and more.

Once your RFQ is submitted, it will be sent to the applicable suppliers who then choose to respond with a quote tailored to your needs.

How to Order Samples on AliExpress

Although Alibaba is the parent company, AliExpress does not provide the same options as listed above. With AliExpress, you’ll need to do a product search for what you’re looking for, and contact the seller directly to discuss ordering product samples.

Use the feedback tab to see ratings for each supplier, too. Many buyers provide detailed reviews, equipped with photos of what their product looked like upon receiving. This will help you narrow down the suppliers you’d like to further discuss an order with.

How to order samples on AliExpress | Shopify Retail blog

Can’t find what you need on AliExpress and Alibaba? Check out Oberlo, IndiaMART, Bambify, and Maker’s Row.

What’s the Best Way to Contact a Supplier?

Always contact a supplier before making a purchase so you can discuss exactly what you need and verify that their product listing’s information is correct. When you start crafting your message to a supplier, keep in mind the volume of inquiries suppliers are receiving on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to be specific in your message.

Each correspondence also needs to be concise and clearly constructed, so you can come across as a serious buyer rather than someone with a general inquiry — otherwise, your message might be overlooked.

Here’s what to include in your message to a supplier, when discussing product samples:

  • The information of the product you’re referencing
  • The number of product samples you wish to receive
  • Your shipping address
  • Whether you need any customization to the product
  • A clear statement that you’re specifically asking for product samples

PRO TIP: Don’t send the same inquiry to too many suppliers, so your message is not flagged as spam.

What You Should Keep in Mind When Ordering Samples

First thing’s first: Always purchase a product sample from more than one supplier. When you start your search for the perfect product supplier, make a list of the top three to five that meet your needs and order samples from each of them.

Once you’ve received your samples, you’ll then be able to make a make a well-calculated decision for which supplier you should use for that specific product.

Also, consider ordering product samples in different variations — like different colors and styles — to help you find the perfect product (and supplier) for your retail business.

PRO TIP: Purchasing more than one sample of a specific product allows you to compare each for shipping and quality consistencies.

What You Should Look For When You Receive Your Product Samples

When you receive your product samples, first study how each item was shipped since it will reflect how you’ll receive a larger order. This is also why you should order more than one product sample from a supplier, in case there’s damage to the box during the shipping process.

If each box from one supplier has damage, you might be able to infer that a larger order will have the same characteristics. If only one box is damaged, you can probably chalk it up to a shipping mishap.

Upon opening the package, thoroughly inspect the quality of the product sample. If your box did have damage, see if the product was affected. Then look to see how the product compares to the listing when it comes to color, quality, and the listing’s product specifications. This will also help you determine how a product will look in your store and if it meets your (and your customers’) needs.

Lastly, test the sample to ensure it lives up to any claims or specifications — this will help keep negative reviews at bay and customers happy.

How To Know if a Supplier is Right For You

Once you’ve received your product sample, it’s time to decide on a supplier. And when you’re working with overseas supplier websites like Alibaba and AliExpress, that decision-making process can be a bit convoluted.

First, think about the experience you’ve already had with the supplier, from your first correspondence to receiving the product. This might be a direct reflection of what your relationship will be like when placing larger orders to sell in-person or in your store.

Here’s what else to consider when deciding on a supplier for your retail business:

  • Price: What’s included in the price? Verify the product cost per unit, delivery costs, and any additional fees.
  • Quantity: Does the minimum order quantity align to your needs? If not, try too gently negotiate with the supplier to lower the number to what works best for you.
  • Production: How long will it take to fulfill your order? Knowing this ahead of time will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
  • Payment terms: How do you pay for your order? It’s important to remember that you should never pay upfront, at least after your first order. Usually, most suppliers ask for 30% upfront and 70% upon receiving the order. Also ask about how they accept payments, as this will help you determine if the supplier is legitimate or a scam.

PRO TIP: If the supplier seems too good to be true, they might be. That’s why you should always stick to suppliers who’ve been verified through the marketplace’s site.

Moving Forward With Product Samples

Using online marketplaces to find product samples for items you’d like to sell in your store is a smart step to providing items that will make your customers happy — and keep coming back.

And if you’re equipped with the ins and outs of the purchasing process, you’ll be well on your way to success as a new retail entrepreneur.

Photo of Jen Hasty

About the Author

Jen Hasty is a writer and editor living in Atlanta, GA. When she isn’t writing or editing in her home office, she’s binge-watching TV shows and admiring her dog’s handsomeness.

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