Alibaba vs Sourcing Agencies: What is a Sourcing Agency?

Jan 12, 2024 Chapter 1. Sourcing

Are you looking to sell your own branded private label products online and are you having problems finding a reliable factory or supplier to make what you want to sell?


Is a Sourcing Agent Worth The Money?

Well, if so, then using a sourcing agent can save you both time and money. I’ve used a sourcing agent for my e-commerce store over at Bumblebee Linens and I’ve found success finding factories that will produce practically anything that I want. In this video, I break down all the trade-offs and costs associated with using a China sourcing agent.


What is a Sourcing Agency?

A sourcing agency is a specialist that connects you with factories to produce your products. They can also help you with packaging your products, shipping your products, quality control, and price negotiation.

A good sourcing agent typically lives in local and acts as your trusted advisor on the ground. They’ll help you locate manufacturers that you cannot find on directories like Alibaba or Global Sources.

They also have a strong network of trusted factories, freight forwarders, and inspection companies for your review.


In this post, I’ll go over the pros and cons of using a sourcing agent and whether they are worth the money.




Alibaba vs Sourcing Agencies:


Choosing between Alibaba and sourcing agencies depends on various factors such as the scale of your business, specific needs, budget, and the level of control you want over the sourcing process. Here’s a comparative analysis of Alibaba and sourcing agencies to help you make an informed decision:



  • Direct Access to Suppliers: Alibaba allows you to directly connect with manufacturers and suppliers, providing a vast network of potential partners.
  • Cost-Effective: Generally, it is cheaper as there are no middlemen. You can negotiate prices directly with suppliers.
  • Variety and Options: With millions of products listed, you have a wide range of options to choose from, catering to different needs and industries.
  • Transparency: You can see reviews and ratings of suppliers, which helps in making informed decisions.
  • Ease of Use: The platform is user-friendly and provides tools for communication, payment, and order tracking.


  • Quality Control: Ensuring product quality can be challenging without an intermediary to perform quality checks.
  • Language Barrier: Communication issues might arise, especially with non-English-speaking suppliers.
  • Scams and Frauds: There is a risk of dealing with fraudulent suppliers despite Alibaba’s efforts to vet them.
  • Limited Support: Customer support might be limited compared to personalized service from a sourcing agency.

Sourcing Agencies


  • Expertise and Local Knowledge: Sourcing agencies have deep knowledge of local markets, suppliers, and industry standards, providing a higher level of expertise.
  • Quality Assurance: They can perform factory audits, quality checks, and manage the entire production process to ensure high standards.
  • Time-Saving: Agencies handle negotiations, logistics, and other complexities, saving you significant time and effort.
  • Risk Mitigation: By vetting suppliers and handling contracts, agencies reduce the risk of fraud and poor-quality products.
  • Personalized Service: Agencies offer tailored solutions and ongoing support, adapting to your specific needs and changes in requirements.


  • Higher Costs: Using a sourcing agency is generally more expensive due to service fees.
  • Less Control: You have less direct control over the supplier selection and negotiation processes.
  • Dependence: Your business might become reliant on the agency, which can be a drawback if issues arise with the agency itself.


When to Choose sourcing directly from Alibaba:

  • Startups and Small Businesses: When you are starting out and need to control costs, Alibaba’s direct approach can be beneficial.
  • Wide Product Range: If you need access to a broad variety of products and want to sample from many suppliers.
  • Hands-On Management: If you prefer to manage supplier relationships and negotiations yourself.



When to Choose Sourcing Agencies:

  • Quality Control Needs: When product quality is paramount, and you need assurance through professional quality checks.
  • Larger Orders and Complex Products: For large-scale orders or products that require significant customization and adherence to standards.
  • Time Constraints: If you lack the time or resources to manage the sourcing process in-house and need a hassle-free experience.
  • Risk Aversion: If you want to minimize risks associated with international trade, such as fraud, miscommunication, and logistical issues.


In summary, Alibaba is great for those who want to directly interact with suppliers, have the time to manage sourcing, and need cost-effective solutions. Sourcing agencies are ideal for those who prioritize quality, need expert assistance, and are willing to pay a premium for a comprehensive service that minimizes risks and saves time.




11 Best Sourcing Agencies:

Below are some sourcing platforms to source the best products for you:

Company Name Location Focus
Supplyia Yiwu, China Supply Chain Service
Quacn Yiwu, Zhejiang Product inspection company
Alibaba Hangzhou, China E-commerce, Retail, Manufacturing
Global Sources Hong Kong E-commerce, Retail, Manufacturing
Thomasnet New York, USA Industrial Products, Manufacturing Erie, USA Industrial Products, Manufacturing
IndustryNet New York, USA Industrial Products, Manufacturing
Kompass Paris, France Industrial Products, Manufacturing
D&B Hoovers Austin, USA Business Information, Marketing
SupplierGATE Taipei, Taiwan Industrial Products, Manufacturing
EC21 Seoul, South Korea E-commerce, Retail, Manufacturing
Tradeindia New Delhi, India E-commerce, Retail, Manufacturing



Who Stands to Benefit from a Sourcing Agent?

While most eCommerce companies can derive value from engaging a sourcing agent, certain operations benefit the most:

  • eCommerce Companies with Limited Importing Experience:

Importing goods from overseas can be a complex and overwhelming process, involving various legal and logistical intricacies. Sourcing agents can adeptly kickstart the overseas importing operations of such retailers.

  • Retailers Offering Diverse Product Ranges:

The more products a retailer seeks to offer, the more intricate the procurement process becomes. Coordinating with multiple suppliers to secure the best prices for a wide array of items can be daunting. A product sourcing agent simplifies this process by establishing the initial groundwork.

  • Large-Scale Retailers:

Sourcing agents are valuable assets for all types of companies, irrespective of their size. Even multinational corporations that manage a wide range of products, numbering in the hundreds, utilize sourcing agents to streamline their operations. This includes retail giants such as Target and Walmart.

  • Retailers Specializing in Niche Products:

In addition to handling large volumes of items, sourcing agents can also procure rare and hard-to-find products. Many of these professionals specialize in specific product niches, making them an invaluable resource for retailers dealing in specialty products.




Is Using a Sourcing Agency Worth It?

Well, if you’re new to e-commerce and you’re having problems finding a reliable supplier to produce your goods, then hiring an agent is an excellent option.

The amount of time that a quality sourcing agent can save you is well worth the money, and in addition, they live in China and can visit your factories in person should problems arise.

However, you should hire a China sourcing agent only after you’ve made an attempt to find your own factories. Services like Alibaba and Global Sources have made it extremely easy to find reliable suppliers online.

If you have the means, attending trade shows like the Canton Fair or Global Sources is invaluable for meeting suppliers face-to-face.

For our e-commerce business, we tend to use sourcing agents when we’re in a pinch. For example, this past holiday season, our suppliers experienced production delays, which meant that our products would not arrive in time for the holiday season.

So, as a result, we used a sourcing agent to quickly find a new factory to produce our products. The main question you must ask yourself is whether you can afford to sacrifice your time for money. Finding your own suppliers generally takes more time and effort that you could be spending on other parts of your business.

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