Product sourcing: what, how, benefits

For eCommerce businesses, products are their bread and butter. While good products aren’t all you need to succeed (enter customer experience, a good distribution strategy, and a strong brand), it’s your products that will draw your customers in.

How and where we source our products, then, is vital to your business’ success. It’s not just about high quality products; it’s also important to consider the margin you’ll make on each sale, as well as the reliability of your suppliers.

Product sourcing can be time-consuming, but it’s one of the most important things to get right. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into product sourcing by offering guidance on how you can reliably source good products, and explain some of the benefits of having a solid product sourcing strategy in place.

What is product sourcing?

Product sourcing is pretty straightforward; it’s the process of researching, approaching, and negotiating with suppliers to obtain products to sell from your store. Whether you’re selling online or from a physical premises, product sourcing is a continuous process whether you’re launching a start-up or working on behalf of a large retailer to expand their offerings.

What do product sourcers do?

You might source products yourself, or you might employ somebody to do it for you. Regardless of who’s sourcing your products, a product sourcer will research and enquire to multiple suppliers to inform their purchasing decisions, and then build relationships and negotiate prices to get the best price for their goods.

Depending on your business model, a product sourcer will prioritise one or several channels to obtain their goods. This includes buying raw materials to develop products in-house, approaching manufacturers directly to order items, buying third-party goods to sell on at a better price, or even working with dropshippers.

 

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Where do product sourcers find suppliers?

Unless you’re selling something incredibly niche, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a large variety of suppliers who are willing to do business with you. It’s unlikely that one supplier will be able to meet all of your business needs, so you’ll likely need a range of good suppliers at your disposal.

Filtering out the good from the bad, however, can be challenging. Now we’re living in an increasingly digital, online world, it’s not difficult for suppliers to appear reliable and trustworthy when the reality couldn’t be more different.

That being said, common sense goes a long way when it comes to product sourcing. As long as you keep your wits about you, and only approach suppliers from reputable sources, the worst you’ll have to overcome is the odd time-waster.

These days, you can easily work with suppliers anywhere in the world. Here are some of the best avenues for sourcing products.

Online

Sourcing products online is how the vast majority of eCommerce brands do business these days. To ensure you don’t end up scrolling through Google listings for the rest of your days, you’re best to approach suppliers directly, either through their own website or via a listing on a reputable wholesale directory.

Any supplier worth their salt will have a solid online presence, with a professional website, ample reviews, and in most cases, a strong SEO presence. While some hidden gems can be found off the beaten track, it’s better to walk the well-trodden path, at least until you already have a reliable network of suppliers.

Exhibitions

Another way product sourcers often obtain new suppliers is at exhibitions or trade shows. They’re often a nice change of pace from doing everything online, and suppliers often travel far and wide to advertise their products.

Exhibitions are a great way of building relationships from the outset, as well as giving you the option to see, touch, and feel the products you’re interested in. This often has advantages over conducting business solely online, and prevents instances where stock turns up differently to how you expected.

Finally, exhibitions are a chance to broaden your horizons and discover opportunities you weren’t necessarily looking for.

Why it’s important to have multiple suppliers

Avoid stockouts

Stockouts happen when you don’t have enough inventory to meet demand. It can be a result of poor inventory management, or an unexpected surge in demand.

Having multiple suppliers at your disposal means that you’ll have plenty to fall back on in case of an emergency, while also giving you tools to fall back on if a supplier is having trouble meeting your requirements.

Secure the best prices

Having more than one supplier means you’re in a better position to negotiate a better deal all around. When a supplier knows you have alternatives available, they’re more likely to bring better offers to the negotiating table.

It’s also easier to compare prices and move away from suppliers that aren’t able to keep providing value.

Compare quality

When you’re constantly buying products from different suppliers, it’s easy to notice when the quality of the goods you’re getting from particular suppliers decreases. This allows you to investigate the cause of the issue, and move away from the suppliers in question if necessary.

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Quick guide to product sourcing

Research – You’ll need to begin by researching the types of products you want to sell. Perhaps you have a particular interest, or maybe you’re simply looking for products that are popular and have the best margin. The better you understand what you’re looking for, the better results you’ll have with your suppliers.

After you’ve got your mind set on products, it’s time to look for suppliers. Search online and attend trade shows, while keeping your business acumen at front and centre at all times.

Contact – If you find a supplier you’re interested in, make contact. We’d always recommend speaking to somebody on the phone if possible, as it’s easier to make a judgement call when communicating with new suppliers verbally. That being said, it’s always good to write a follow-up email in case anything gets lost in translation.

Negotiate – Explain what you’d like, and ask for a quote. Don’t be afraid to barter and negotiate the best deal, it’s all part of doing business. Repeat this with multiple suppliers.

Test – Before you commit to spending a lot of money with a new supplier, it’s important to ask for samples. It’s an incredibly important step, especially if you’re buying online. It gives you an opportunity to ensure the products meet your standards, are as advertised, and gives you a chance to get a second opinion.

If you’re happy with the products, don’t commit to any long-term commitments straight away. Remember that a supplier should be judged on more than just their products; you need to ensure that they get products out to you in the time agreed, that they’ve got a good supply chain network, and it gives you a chance to get customer feedback, too.

Monitor – It’s important to check-in with your suppliers regularly to maintain a healthy working relationship. As you grow, you may end up making larger orders from your supplier, and so negotiate better rates. Now’s also the time to account for the supplier in your logistics plan. 

Always be on the lookout for other suppliers, too. It never hurts to have several suppliers on hand should one go order, become unreliable, or too costly.

Spend more time product sourcing by outsourcing your fulfilment

Product sourcing – when done properly – takes time. Know what takes just as much time? Fulfilment.

By outsourcing your fulfilment to a 3PL like James and James, not only do you benefit from a fast and reliable fulfilment process your customers will love, you’ll also get tonnes of hours back every week to spend on other important business activities, like product sourcing.

Via our international network of fulfilment centres, we store, pick, pack, and ship your products to where they need to be, anywhere in the world. With 97% of orders shipped same-day at an industry-leading 99.9% accuracy, we have the skills and infrastructure to help scale your business globally.

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Talk to us about pricing

Our fulfilment solution is probably cheaper than you think. We have fulfilment options for every type of eCommerce business, from SMEs to large enterprises. Head over to our pricing page to learn more about our prices.

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Spend more time product sourcing with our award-winning inventory management platform, ControlPort

In addition to best-in-class fulfilment services, James and James clients also benefit from our award-winning eCommerce software, ControlPort. Built, maintained, and regularly updated by us, ControlPort allows you to seamlessly manage your inventory across all channels, brands, and locations.

Unique in the amount of data it holds, ControlPort saves you time and effort spent on calculations, forecasting, and optimising operations, as it does most of the heavy lifting for you!

To learn more about our fulfilment services and software, don’t hesitate to give us a call or enquire through our online form. We love to chat!