Wholesale ecommerce

When you want to start an online store, you need of course some products that you can sell. You can buy these products at a wholesale distributor. But where do you find wholesale ecommerce suppliers? And how do you get them to sell their products to you?

WholesaleThere are different ways to get the products you want to sell online. Maybe you make them yourself or maybe you have found a local craftsman and made a deal to sell their products in your online store. But most online retailers sell products that aren’t made by them or anyone they know. Most of the products you can buy online come from manufacturers. How can you find and buy these items so you can sell them yourself in your online shop? The answer is: wholesale.

You want dropshipping, but still looking for good ecommerce software? Shopify and its Oberlo plugin are optimized for running a dropshipping online store.


What is wholesale ecommerce?

What is wholesale? Here's the definitionWholesale ecommerce is the online sale of goods to anyone other than a consumer. And these goods are bought for resale. In other words: if you are buying products in bulk from a middleman, who gets the items from the manufacturer, you’re operating in wholesale ecommerce.

The middleman in this supply process is called the wholesaler or wholesale distributor. They are the ones buying products in bulk from a manufacturer. They store their products in a warehouse and then ship them to retailers (or to end-customers if they offer dropshipping) through a distribution center.

Some popular wholesale distributors

Finding wholesalers can be hard because they don’t always promote themselves. But here are some wholesale distributors you might want to look into:

General wholesalers

General wholesalers often operate in local countries but there are some larger cross-border wholesalers as well.

Orderchamp is a European wholesale platform that brings independent retailers and brands together. It finds unique brands and uses machine learning to connect them with the right retailers.

Ankorstore is a French b2b marketplace that connects brands and creators with online retailers all over Europe. Brands pay on delivery and there is a 60 day payment term for shops. In March 2020, Ankorstore launched in Germany. It’s also active in Belgium and Spain.

Salehoo is a directory of wholesale companies and dropship suppliers. It offers over 8,000 verified wholesale distributors and is especially designed for eBay and Amazon sellers. Since 2015, it helped over 137,000 retailers find products from certified suppliers.

You want dropshipping, but still looking for good ecommerce software? Shopify and its Oberlo plugin are optimized for running a dropshipping online store.

Dropshipping companies

With dropshipping, the wholesaler send a parcel directly to your customer. You don’t need a warehouse or any supplies yourself. Margins are often a bit lower and delivery times might be longer, but still ideal if your starting budgets are low or to test which new products you should add to your product range. Here are some dropshipping suppliers:

Oberlo is an online platform that allows online retailers to find trending products and easily import these products from suppliers directly into their Shopify store. Retailers can then ship them to their customers. Shopify acquired Oberlo in 2017.

Printful is an on-demand print & embroidery service. The company takes care of all fulfillment and warehousing. Online retailers can use Printful to sell their own custom design products online.

Spocket collects dropshipping wholesalers from Europe and the United States. With more than 50,000 connected retailers Spocket has products in almost every sector.

Print-on-demand companies

Print-on-demand companies work in a similar way as dropshipping companies. But instead of premade products you can print your own designs on products and design your own product range. A few years ago you could only print a limited range of products but printing on demand is expanding to new areas fast.

Printful is an on-demand print & embroidery service. The company takes care of all fulfillment and warehousing. Online retailers can use Printful to sell their own custom design products online.

Printify is similar to Printful. It is a fast-growing transparent print-on-demand network, instantly connecting merchants to major Print Providers worldwide. Allowing them to sell custom printed products that are printed and shipped directly to the customer.

Spreadshirt is similar to the other print on demand suppliers, but it’s also aimed at private customers. The company, founded in Germany, offers businesses mass-customization tools, on-demand production, and fulfillment as a service.

Asian wholesalers

Asian, and especially Chinese wholesalers, have the benefit that their prices are usually good and their product range is unlimited. However, not all products are in high demand in Europe, and delivery might take some time. In case you want to do business with Asian wholesalers make sure you take your time for your selection of products and wholesalers you want to do business with.

Alibaba is the most well-known b2b marketplace from China. Here you can find all kinds of products, from clothing to toys and from car parts to gadgets. Finding suppliers on Alibaba can be tricky, so be prepared. Alibaba also owns the popular b2c marketplace AliExpress.

Banggood is another popular b2b marketplace from China. Its partnership program include wholesale, affiliate, and dropshipping. With the Banggood Wholesale program, buyers can enjoy a higher discount on their wholesale orders. was founded in 2004 and was one of China’s first B2B cross-border ecommerce platforms. It links primarily Chinese SMEs to businesses and individuals worldwide.

How do you find a wholesaler?

It can be quite hard to find wholesale distributors and suppliers online. That’s because most of them aren’t really selling themselves online. More often than not they don’t have a website and even if they do, the website is often very basic or outdated. But they are key if you want to find products to sell online.

Most wholesale distributors have websites that are very basic or outdated. Or no website at all.

Visit trade shows, fairs, and events

An opportunity for finding wholesalers is to visit business-to-business trade shows, fairs, and events that are organized for players in your industry. For example, if you want to sell home decoration and interior design products, there are probably several events taking place in your country where you can get to know wholesalers and manufacturers. At the same time, visiting such events is a great opportunity to stay up-to-date with the latest trends!

Look for wholesale distributors in China

Another interesting option, one that has gained in popularity in recent years, is looking for wholesale distributors in China. Through popular online platforms such as Alibaba you can find many companies that are willing to do business with European ecommerce companies.

Do a reverse image search

Reverse image search for wholesale ecommerce items
(Click on the image to see it full size.)

Have you found something interesting at a competing website? Try to do a ‘reverse image search’ on the product photo. You can do this in Google, but also through websites like Tineye or Yandex (in our opinion, the last one is very underrated and unknown when it comes to reverse image searches!). In the results, you might end up with a seller page on Alibaba, which you can contact immediately to check if they want to sell to you!

Try a reverse image search for products you like.

Finding a wholesale distributor on Alibaba

As we said earlier, one of the most important and popular platforms for finding a wholesale distributor is Alibaba. This Chinese marketplace is filled with suppliers who can help you start your business. The only thing you need to do is search for the products you want to sell and get in contact with a supplier. But how do you find the right one? The one who has years of experience, who knows the local rules and restrictions and who is assessed, certified and/or inspected? Read our page on finding suppliers on Alibaba to learn how to find the best wholesale distributor on Alibaba.

Alibaba is so popular, it’s filled with hundreds of thousands of wholesalers. Read our guide for finding suppliers on Alibaba to learn how you can find your distributor!

Contacting a wholesaler

Most wholesalers prefer to sell in bulk, so chances are they might not be interested in you if you’re still a small retailer with a small order request. But on for example you can filter on a minimum order quantity, so this way you will only find distributors that are willing to meet your order request.

If you contact a wholesaler, explain to them who you are, what kind of business you run and what it is you want from them. Ask them if they might be interested in selling to you. The more you can tell them about you and your company, the more chance you have they want to do business. If a wholesaler is interested, it’s time to follow them up with some more questions. For example, you can ask them what the price per product will be if you order more of them at once. Ask about the delivery time, the available colors, payment terms and maybe even to which customers they are selling this product as well.

Finding a wholesaler doesn’t mean doing business yet

So, a wholesale distributor is the company you need to contact if you want to buy certain products. But finding one doesn’t necessarily mean you have found a source for the products in your store. That’s because wholesale suppliers just don’t do business with everyone. Especially when you have just started your online store.

Some wholesalers for example don’t want to sell to online retailers who don’t also have a physical store. That’s because they sell products they want to be visible in the shopping malls or high streets. If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, these wholesalers are just going to deny your request.

Some wholesalers only sell to retailers who also have a physical outlet.

Other wholesalers only partner with online retailers that buy lots with, for example, a minimum of 10,000 units. So don’t get ahead or yourself when you think you find the perfect ecommerce wholesale distributor for your online shop. Do your research and try to find out what type of retailers they normally do business with. Do they accept small online stores? Do they partner with pure players? What is the minimum you need to order?

Don’t be surprised if you pay more than your competitor

Also, don’t be surprised if you need to pay a higher price than your competitors. Or if you can only do business with wholesalers under rules that are stricter than the ones they apply for your competitors. If that’s the case, it could be because they are more familiar with your competitor. They know that company for quite some time, the competitor is a reliable and loyal customer, so the risk they take is relatively low.

But these things can change over time, of course. Don’t forget that your competitors once started as a small retailer as well! Finding the first wholesale distributor can be hard, but once you’re in, it might get easier to attract more suppliers or to expand your business with that first distributor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about wholesale ecommerce:

What is wholesale?

Wholesale refers to the sale of products to a reselling party. So, if you are an online retailer, you can buy products from manufacturers and distributors and then sell these products to your customers. You are then conducting wholesale ecommerce.

How is wholesale different from dropshipping?

Dropshipping is similar to wholesale, but there is an important difference. With wholesale, you normally buy the items you want to sell. With dropshipping, another company (the dropshipper) is taking care of the storage of products and the fulfilment (getting the items to your customers). With dropshipping, you only pay for the items customers have ordered.

Why is Alibaba so popular?

Alibaba is the most popular wholesale ecommerce platform in the world. It’s part of Alibaba Group, which can be seen as the ‘Amazon of China’. Alibaba was founded in 1999 and managed to grow significantly due to its local success and the launch of additional services and online branches. Nowadays, Alibaba is known for its wide assortment and low prices. We have made a guide for finding Alibaba suppliers.