Ordering Race Supplies Online

Buying finisher t-shirts, race medals and other important supplies for your race are large parts of your expenditure, so you want to make sure you get it right and find the best value/quality items. But if you’re trying to get the best price, and minimise time and resources spent searching, you can’t usually ‘try before you buy’. This leaves you with the option of scouring the internet for the best deals. As a race director, there are several variables that will impact how you go around choosing and buying your supplies, including how many sign-ups you are predicting, what lead times suppliers have, your available budget and preference in materials. We have some advice about how to go around putting these orders in and what to consider. 

Foreign Suppliers

It’s common for a lot of local suppliers to obtain their stock from China. Whether its medals, inflatable arches, t-shirts, etc., you can buy it directly from the manufacturer, or it can be resold to you at a mark-up by an intemediary to account for you taking less risk when you’re purchasing from them. So how should you decide on ordering your race supplies directly from manufacturers in China or not? Here are some pointers to give you the bigger picture:

  1. It’s cheaper. The obvious and most immediate result of dropping your local supplier from the supply chain is not having to pay them their markup for intermediating with China. This can have a very significant impact on your final cost, as much as 50% or more of what you’re currently paying for your supplies through your local supplier.
  2. Riskier. You will lose some of the protection and experience that your local supplier can give you. 
  3. Direct contact with the producer. This makes the ordering process faster, as you can get answers to questions and product queries directly without going through an intermediary. They’re usually happy to help and very speedy. 
  4. Language barrier however, can sometimes present itself, and communication can be a bit broken. Patience is the only option here to make sure you understand exactly what you are both trying to get across.
  5. More product and customisation options. It is very likely that your local supplier only does business with a single supplier and even there carries only a part of their product catalog. Managing your supply requirements directly through a platform like Alibaba will open up a much broader range of products and allow you more flexibility on customising the end product (more on this shortly).
  6. Carbon Footprint. It goes without saying, this is not the most ecofriendly option available. You’ll usually have the option to ship your product for a cheaper price and wait for several weeks, possibly up to 12, or you can choose to fly it for considerably more but with as little as 4 days lead time. Either option is not saving the world, so bear this in mind how this represents your business model.
  7. Relationship manager with local contacts. Once you find a company you are comfortable doing business with, you can hope to rely on them for a variety of products or to provide recommendations for other quality suppliers for products they don’t themselves offer. This is very typical of how Chinese companies work and getting a reliable relationship manager with one manufacturer, essentially gives you a valuable concierge in the Chinese manufacturing market for all your supply needs.
  8. Be vigilant of tax and duties that may be due on your imports before placing your order. These can vary by item, but as an example consider the duty/taxes you’d have to pay on race T-shirts, which carry a duty of 12% in the EU and 16.5% tax rate in the US.

These days, Alibaba, and its sister site, AliExpress, are the main go-to marketplaces for finding Chinese wholesalers and manufacturers for your race supplies. Alibaba is like a wholesalers’ Amazon for large quantity goods. You can contact manufacturers directly on the site. 

An easy way to think of Alibaba is as a wholesalers’ Amazon. Businesses who want to source goods in large quantities can use Alibaba to contact manufacturers directly. AliExpress is more like actual Amazon, so normal retail terms where there are no minimum orders. This means the prices are slightly higher than for bulk buys

Is your Supplier Legit?

Both sites, who are part of the Alibaba Group, offer a number of buyer protection features, from payment security and shipping insurance to different levels of vendor vetting. As part of Alibaba’s efforts to provide buyer peace of mind and ensure supplier claims are genuine and accurate, the platform has been providing a number of verification services to buyers, performed by either Alibaba themselves or independent verification companies. You can access details of a supplier’s verification status through the supplier’s Home tab or by clicking any of the relevant verification icons on the supplier’s pages. 

Verification checks include:

  1. A&V Check: This is a basic Authentication & Verification check all Gold Suppliers should undertake (this includes all suppliers in mainland China) and it involves checking the contact people, contact info and business licenses of the supplier.
  2. Onsite Check: Also mandatory for Gold Suppliers in China, this includes a check of the supplier’s premises and of the supplier’s legal status by Alibaba or a third party partner. The check means the supplier is legally registered and the company premises are for real.
  3. Assessed Supplier: Assessed Supplier status is an optional service for Chinese suppliers, but many still choose to take it. It involves further checks on a supplier’s facilities, certifications, products and staff, and it is undertaken by prestigious independent verification companies, such as Bureau Veritas.

Vendors without any of the verifications above likely operate on Alibaba under a free membership, have registered as a supplier from outside mainland China or are new sellers on the platform.

If you have a choice – and you almost definitely will for most products – always go with verified suppliers who have been at least onsite-checked and have been trading on Alibaba for a number of years.

Most quality suppliers on Alibaba are also signed up for the platform’s Trade Assurance (TA) program. So, if a supplier you are considering contacting doesn’t and you have other options, move on.

Alibaba’s Trade Assurance provides protection to buyers, if any of two things happen:

  1. The order is not shipped by the agreed shipping date
  2. The received goods don’t meet agreed product specifications
  3. Buyers whose orders are covered by the TA policy will be able to claim a refund from the supplier up to supplier’s TA limit, which can be viewed by clicking the TA icon on the supplier profile page.

Another good way to check the legitimacy of a manufacturer is to check their reviews, which are also available on Alibaba from others who have purchased from them and their star rating. This can help you get an idea of the quality and satisfaction that their products provide. 

eBay and Amazon

Similarly to Alibaba, you can find several foreign suppliers on here. You are however protected for your purchases by their inbuilt payment types paypal or amazon pay, should you need a refund for legitimate reasons. 

Amazon has that wonderful feature we call Prime. This is absolutely great if its creeping towards the beginning of race week and you’re still missing a couple of things which could make a difference. Forgot to get some balloons for the water stations? Under ordered on cups and need to make an emergency order? Looking for some generic signage? Prime next day delivery to the rescue. These things might be cheaper on AliBaba, or if you email enough companies that come up on your search to get quotes. BUT amazon and Ebay can be great to provide a few key things:

  1. Speed of search
  2. Ease of filtering through results
  3. Carbon footprint is likely lower if already stored at a local amazon warehouse 
  4. Reliable delivery dates 

In conclusion…

If you’re low on time as a resource,  sifting through Alibaba and sending emails to the sellers is probably not for you. They do tend to be quite speedy at replying,  however it’s not going to beat ‘Buy now with 1 click’ arriving in ‘Prime’ time with Amazon. Ebay is very dependent on the individual sellers policies, however its very easy to see the details of delivery on their page and understand whether or not it’s for you. On most bulk buy occasions however, Alibaba tents to trump the other 2 e-commerce platforms. So make your choices wisely, but if you have time to compare logistics, price and reviews on the product across the platforms and a few other suppliers, we’re certain you’ll be able to make an informed decision. 

On Hand To Help

The team at Eventrac are on hand to assist with all components of your event. From advice on promoting your event through low cost channels such as social media, to a guided tutorial on a specific feature of Eventrac. We are here to help.

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