How to source and sell products globally

Are you looking for a product to import and sell? Or do you want to expand your current business by selling to an international market? If you are new to importing and exporting, you may have many questions about how to source and sell products globally. In this article, we will explain the top sourcing and selling methods you can use to make your new business venture a success.

1. Web trading portals

The first and easiest avenue to start searching for a product to sell or a place to sell your product is the global business-to-business (B2B) web portals. These web portals showcase products from suppliers situated all over the globe. The portals have systems in place to verify that suppliers are legitimate and to avoid fraud. Products can easily be listed on these websites and viewed by an international audience.

A number of the most popular and trusted web portals are listed below. These websites have easy search functions that allow you to search for products per category or country.

Web platforms: Product listings from multiple countries

The following websites can be used to source and sell products from and to multiple countries:

Some B2B web platforms are industry-specific. For example:

Web platforms: Product listings from Asia

The following web platforms can be used to source products from multiple Asian countries:

Web platforms for Hong Kongese and Chinese suppliers:

Web platforms for Korean suppliers:

  • EC21 (this is a global sourcing site, but is strong with regards to Korean suppliers)

Web platforms: Product listings from Africa

2. Trade shows

Trade shows are a very popular way of sourcing international products or exposing your existing products to new international buyers.

Generally, trade shows are industry specific and follow a particular theme.

Advantages of visiting trade shows include:

  • Variety and accessibility: Trade shows allow you to view numerous products specific to your industry at one destination.
  • Networking: At trade shows, buyers and sellers can meet face to face, thus establishing trust and building relationship. You also have the opportunity to network with global businesses in your industry, and to identify suitable potential agents and distributors for your product in foreign countries.
  • Quality control: When you see a product on demonstration at a trade show, you can assess the quality of the product before placing an order.
  • Comparison: Access to multiple products in the same location gives you the opportunity to compare products side by side to find the most suitable product.
  • Exposure to trends: Trade shows give visitors and traders exposure to the latest products and new trends in their industry.
  • Idea generation: Visiting different exhibitions can serve as inspiration and stimulate ideas that can be implemented in your local business.
  •  Market research: When you exhibit at a trade show, it gives you the opportunity to test public reaction to your products.

Trade show funding

South Africa currently offers funding for South African exporters that would like to attend trade shows. Typical expenses covered by this funding include:

  • Sample transport;
  • Exhibition space rental;
  • Stand construction;
  • Interpretation fees;
  • Internet connection;
  • Telephone installation;
  • Subsistence allowance per day;
  • Return economy-class airfare; and
  • Exhibition fees up to a maximum of R45 000

It is advisable to contact the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for more information about these incentives.

Where to find suitable trade shows

To find a trade show in your industry, you can make use of any of the websites listed below. Alternatively, you can simply conduct a Google search be entering the name of your industry, followed by the phrase “trade shows” into the search bar.

3. Keep it local

If you would prefer to keep your product sourcing as local (i.e. country-specific) as possible, there are a number of methods that you can use to tap into local markets.

Local internet directories

In addition to global online B2B web portals discussed above, there are also local portals that list products for a specific country only. These directories are easy to search and list products on. A popular local directory is Cylex. Here is a list of Cylex directories for different countries:

You can also easily use online search engines like Google to find business directories for specific countries.

Many countries have a local Yellow Pages business directory. You can find a local directory by using a search engine to search for the country’s name followed by the phrase “yellow pages”.

Local search engines

Numerous countries have country-specific search engines. Google owns some of these search engines (for example Google’s South African specific search engine – Country-specific search engines will search for information on websites based in that country. This method is most effective for countries whose languages you can understand. Google does have a function that translates some pages, but using translation software does leave room for misunderstandings.

Local Chamber of Commerce or trade office

You can contact a country’s local Chamber of Commerce or Department of Trade and Industry for assistance in sourcing a product. Some countries are eager to grow their exports and are willing to assist. Order quantities must usually be large to stimulate interest from the Chamber of Commerce.

Funding for visiting or hosting potential new buyers

South Africa currently offers funding for South African exporters that would like to visit potential new international buyers or invite international buyers to visit their business.

The funding typical covers the following expenses:

Hosting potential buyers

  • Flights
  • Subsistence allowance
  • Car rental

Visiting potential buyers

  • Flights
  • Subsistence allowance
  • Promotional material transport
  • Developing marketing materials
  • Product registration in a foreign market

Funding applications must preferably be made at least 2 months or more in advance.

It is advisable to contact the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for more information about these incentives.

For more information on types of available funding to assist exporters, arrange a consultation with us online,  or call our offices on 087 550 1038.

4. Other methods to source and sell products

Here are some other great ways to source and sell products if you want to try something different to the mainstream methods:

Small order quantity web portals

Sometimes, a company will only need to import one or a few of a particular item. Most global web portals have minimum order quantities that make this impossible. There are however, some web portals that cater for single and small quantity orders. AliExpress is one such portal.

Social media product sourcing

Social media networks specifically geared towards business, such as LinkedIn, can also be used to source products. LinkedIn’s user-friendly interface allows users to locate people that work in specific industries or companies and build up business relationships with them.


For SMMEs, selling on Amazon can be an extremely successful method of e-commerce in general, and more so to reach global markets. More than half of units sold on Amazon are from independent sellers, and a large percentage of these are from foreign markets. Although registering as a supplier for some of the global markets on Amazon can involve hoops to jump through, those South Africans that have successfully become registered Amazon Sellers have reaped substantial returns.

E-magazine listings

Certain industries publish trade magazines that keep readers up to date on the latest global industry news. These magazines are a useful source of new ideas and helps keep you up to date with progress in the industry. They are also useful for finding and advertising new products.

Finding the ideal product or market involves a bit of diligent searching, but do not grow despondent – there is a big pay-off for the effort. Using the resources and methods discussed in this article make for a productive start; use them as a springboard for deeper research to obtain the best possible prices and buyers.

About the author

Tracy Venter

Tracy studied at Stellenbosch University and gained her initial experience in imports and exports through working for industry. After starting her own import business, and helping some friends do the same, she realised there was a need for reliable customs registration services. As a result, in 2011, Import Export License was born. Since then thousands of importers and exporters have been helped to obtain their import export licences, permits, specialised customs registrations and connect with Import Export License consultants for advice on importing, exporting, and other customs related matters.