You have done your research, you know what you want to sell, and now you have found a supplier for your products. The next step is to establish a relationship. It is in both parties' interest to approach this new relationship professionally.

Approach the relationship professionally

As you probably already know, there are plenty of ecommerce dabblers out there who think they want to sell online, waste a lot of suppliers' time asking uninformed questions or making unreasonable demands, and then decide they can't really pull it off and drop off the face of the earth. No supplier wants to use their time unproductively but it can be difficult to know who is a legitimate eCommerce retailer and who is a tire kicker that's going to consume more time than ever gets paid back in merchandise purchased. As a result, suppliers can be a bit wary at first. Here's how to prove to a prospective retailer that you are a serious buyer who will respect the supplier's time and who expects similar treatment in return.

  1. Before contacting the supplier directly, learn as much as you can from the website. Most supplier websites have been designed to be as helpful as possible to buyers as well as to reduce the amount of staff time involved in responding to redundant questions. If after accessing all the information you can find, you still have a question, you should most certainly contact the supplier. When you do contact a supplier, be as efficient as possible in information seeking. That means get to the point quickly and make any needs known clearly. Be sure that your emails use proper grammar and are spellchecked. Nothing looks more amateurish than an email that's poorly written with bad grammar or spelling.
  2. Give the supplier a reasonable amount of time to respond. This may be your first foray into selling and everything feels urgent to you but to the supplier, you are one of many clients and he may feel the need to respond to currently contracted clients first.

Signing up as a merchant

If you decide that you want to do business with a supplier, you will need to open an account. Most suppliers have an on-line form to fill out to establish an online account. Every wholesale supplier will need to have proof that you are a legitimate retailer in order to give you access to wholesale pricing. You will need to provide your registered business name, business license if applicable and business ID number, usually the number associated with filing business taxes. If you are a sole trader, make sure you have already set yourself up to start selling before you present yourself to the supplier: make it clear that you understand their time is important to you, demonstrate that you are ready to trade, clarify where you will be selling, and be concise.

You will also need to establish a payment mechanism. Generally on-line supplier systems accept credit cards although credit cards are less common in international transactions. Be sure you understand how you will pay for the merchandise and under what terms you will pay, i.e., what are the incoterms involved in the transaction. (Learn more about incoterms by reading our article, 'Know Your Incoterms To Avoid Costly Misunderstandings')

Know how the relationship works

Be sure you are aware of return policies, shipping times, delivery fees and so on. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. It's prudent to find several suppliers who can meet your needs so that if the circumstances of one supplier change, you have immediate backup suppliers to pick up the slack. Finally, don't worry about being solely an on-line retailer. Suppliers are looking for ways to sell product so they will be happy to work with any retailer who offers a professional, profitable relationship.