If you’re here, then you’ve probably read about drop surfing – and perhaps even just learned about dropshipping – and want to know what’s the difference.
They’re actually quite similar, so I understand if you didn’t understand when explained on other websites, so let me try and make their definition as simple as possible. That way, you should know what they are and how each one works.
Basically, dropshipping is the business model, and drop surfing is a strategy you can use when sourcing products as a dropshipper. Dropshipping focuses on selling products directly from a supplier, who handles order fulfillment, and drop surfing is doing just that but constantly selling from cheap suppliers.
Drop surfers don’t worry about forming relationships for the long-term with your suppliers, and they’re always looking for cheaper prices.
Now, let’s see how the 2 terms related to each other, how a drop surfers differs from your average dropshipper, and how you can take advantage of the two approaches.
Drop surfing: what is it?
Drop surfing is an approach to dropshipping, and it’s a product sourcing method that dropshippers use. As such, you can’t really understand drop surfing without knowing what’s dropshipping.
Dropshipping refers to a business model in which you sell products you don’t really own. You look for products around different marketplaces, contact the supplier, and advertise them to your customers. Once someone buy, you forward these orders to your product supplier.
Simplified, you order on your customer’s behalf, using their address and details instead of your own.
That means you don’t really have to invest in stocking your business; you just buy the products when orders arrive and customers pay.
Drop surfing builds on that foundation and offers a fairly distinct approach.
Every time someone orders from you, you don’t always source the product from the same supplier. You take a look around the market to spot the cheapest prices – usually for both the product and shipping.
That means that you’re always hunting new providers instead of partnering with one or a handful, and drop surfers change their suppliers when prices increase or their stock runs out.
Besides that detail, drop surfers do the same steps as dropshippers: advertise products from the source and forward customer orders so that their supplier handles processing. The only difference is how they fulfill their orders.
Is it better to drop surf or stick to traditional dropshipping?
Drop surfing is a legitimate alternative to the traditional dropshipping way of sourcing products. You only need quick thinking and understanding of the process and systems.
Luckily, the model’s flexibility makes it so that you don’t really need to go with just one. You can even switch between approaches as you deem necessary. This is especially true if you’re running a successful general store instead of a niche one.
Sometimes, you might want to find new suppliers if a product runs out or prices increase more than you can afford.
On the other hand, there are also many benefits from sticking to a supplier for a longer term. For starters, you’d already know their service quality if you’ve worked with them before. You probably (should have) ordered samples from them and know their product as well. You even might’ve agreed lower rates from them after a long time working together.
Drop surfing also takes more time and work, and automating these tasks will cost you extra: either hiring someone to do the research for you or paying special software. The higher profitability offered by drop surfing might not be as attractive once you realize how much you need to spend on it.
Nevertheless, there aren’t fixed conditions to whether you should try or avoid drop surfing. It depends on your market and resources, so you don’t have to forget about it right away. Even better, try to find how you can mix the 2.
How are products sourced?
Sourcing products for drop surfing is pretty much the same as with regular dropshipping. The only difference is how often you’ll have to do everything, so let’s take a look at how you find products.
AliExpress is the favorite marketplace for dropshippers and eCommerce in general. It’s even considered among the most profitable options on the internet for most entrepreneurs. It’s all thanks to how prices there are much lower than most suppliers available, and the same goes for shipping prices
It’s also a very intuitive platform, and it’s been designed specifically to help you spot your products and learn about who’s the supplier. It has a dedicated review and reward system for the best sellers, so you don’t have to take too many chances.
These features are the main reasons why dropshippers love AliExpress so much. Besides, it’s not a Chinese-supplier-focused platform either; its growth has made US suppliers start joining as well.
You just need to take a couple of minutes to look through the platform to see its size and influence. Dozens or categories and countless products are just the start. The platform is so competitive that suppliers always have to improve if they want to stay relevant and make sales, so it’s not difficult to find quality products.
All of these factors translate into better prices, quality, and variety for dropshippers.
AliExpress is also completely free; it’s just like surfing through Amazon in many ways. Signing up takes minutes, and you don’t have to worry about secret fees tied to your account. Anyone can join, even if they don’t have business licenses or registered firms,
There’s no limit to the amount of products you can purchase; you can buy single items or buy in bulks if you’re not a dropshipper. Shipping covers almost 200 countries, so there’s little worry about missing audiences.
Shipping options are varied, and you have different timelines depending on how much your customers are willing to pay for delivery. Orders also include tracking, so your customers will know what’s going on at all times.
AliExpress is a safe platform as well. It offers buyer protection, refunds, and several payment options, including the industry standard: PayPal.
It’s easy to see why so many people consider AliExpress their main go-to when looking for products for their business. There’s no reason to be afraid of not finding what you want from a trustworthy supplier as long as you spend time to learn about your suppliers.
However, the most important feature in Shopify is the large profit margins readily available for dropshipping.
Products here are usually priced less than half of the costs you’ll find in other stores, and it obviously translates into what you can offer to your customers. You can even find $3 products that you can sell for $15 or more.
Phone cases are the most common example here. You can find them for just a couple of dollars and customers in more wealthy countries would buy them for as much as $20.
How does drop surfing work?
Now that you know how you can find and source your products, let’s see how you can actually start applying drop surfing into your business.
You always want to start by finding a niche that you can use as the foundation for your business. I won’t really tell you what you should choose since the options are varied, and basic (but dedicated) research should yield results you feel comfortable with.
The first step is to build a store around the niche that interests you. You have many options like WordPress with WooCommerce, Shopify and CommerceHQ. Each offers different benefits and disadvantages, so study them and find what suits you best.
You want to create the most important pages first: home page, policies and contact. Then, move on to create your product pages and categories.
For this next step, you want to go to your supplier source. We already mentioned AliExpress, so let’s stick to that example. Go there and look around for products and research the suppliers available.
You should create a list of suppliers; think of an inventory but with details about each supplier. An Excel or Google sheet fits this purpose perfectly. Focus this list around the product you want to offer and write down relevant information: URLs to the products, their prices, and your supplier’s contact details.
A quick look at your AliExpress results will show you that there are often several sellers offering the same product. These are what you want to annotate on your inventory (after curating the best ones) so that you can find them quickly when you start getting sales.
The next step is to go back to your store and work on the pages for your products. Make sure to add all the information necessary: enough images, clear and enticing copywriting for your descriptions, variation, shipping options and details, etc. Make sure to make the offer as attractive as possible before moving to your pricing.
For your pricing, ensure your profits can cover for your product and other business expenses.
After everything is ready on your store, the next (and most crucial) step is to start marketing these products.
You have lots of channels and methods to do this, especially with full access to social media as the most powerful marketing platforms today.
You can use both free and paid marketing strategies as well, but the best approach is to mix them up.
Paid ads on social media like Facebook is a cost-efficient approach that gives you many options. They’re favored by dropshippers thanks to the precision of their targeting capability and huge traffic.
Take Facebook as an example: you can target specific interests and even ages and locations. If we go back to the phone case example, you can even target customers using mobile devices that fit your case.
If you market effectively, you’ll start receiving orders on your website. This moment marks the start of your drop surfing strategy.
When you see an order, access the supplier directory you created before; don’t worry if you didn’t do it since you can go to AliExpress directly, but you’ll have to be more cautious. Check out the different suppliers you have and spot the best offer at the moment.
Once you find the best option, forward the order details from your customers to that supplier and wait for them to package and ship the product.
You can stick to this supplier for the next orders you receive during a specific period to be more efficient. After a while, you can go back to your list and find the next best offer for your next orders. A good strategy is to set specific schedules for this task: you can review new offers daily or weekly.
You also have the option to look for software that take care of researching and comparing prices for you. This choice would automate the entire process and speed up your business, but you need the money to invest in them. Therefore, they aren’t optimal for beginners, but it’s a worthwhile consideration as your business starts to grow.
You can use drop surfing for your entire business or leave it for specific products – like season or trend-dependent offers. You can even drop surf in one store and keep it traditional for another one.
Are customers willing to go to AliExpress?
This is a common worry among newer dropshippers, and even I was paranoid about it when I first started. Since you’re essentially a middleman, people going to AliExpress would eliminate your business.
Thankfully, this isn’t a common occurrence. If it were, dropshipping would barely exist. As for why people don’t do it, I can think of 2 main causes.
First, they don’t really know AliExpress even exists or that the products are cheaper there. Most people won’t even realize dropshippers are sourcing products instead of keeping their own inventory.
Second, even if they’re aware of the platform, they don’t really trust the products there or its efficiency. Since they’re used to traditional directories like Amazon – which have existed for nearly as long as the internet – they could be hesitant to use “lesser-known” alternatives.
The latter is the most likely, in my opinion. AliExpress is often referred to as the “Chinese Amazon”, and that tends to create a misrepresentation for your average Joe.
Regardless of why it occurs, it means you have a great opportunity to source products for huge profit margins.
Does it sound dishonest? Just think about how many times you’ve seen the “made in China” label on products you’ve bought.
How you start a successful business with any of the models
Starting a dropshipping business is fundamentally easy. You can build a store and learn how different marketing channels work in a couple of days.
However, succeeding is a different story. Knowing how to do something isn’t the same as knowing how to do it well. That’s why knowledge is the first asset you need for this (and any) business.
The most efficient path is to get a good eCommerce course that presents all that knowledge in a comprehensive and complete package at a good price. My personal recommendation is eCom Elites by Franklin Hatchett, so make sure to take a look at it if you’re interested in becoming a dropshipper.
Dropshipping and drop surfing aren’t really different. The latter is just a way to tackle the former. However, there are different approaches to this business, and they depend on your time, resources, and market.
Make sure to learn how to run a dropshipping store properly before deciding which method you want to use.