Why do suppliers ask for specific documents before I order?

7 min. read
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Has a supplier refused to even give you a quote unless you show them your tax ID?

Don't be surprised—it's totally normal.

One of the most common questions new sellers ask us is, “Why does the supplier want X document before I order?”

We understand. For many new sellers, it's hard to know whether these suppliers are for real or if you're just being sucked into a scam. But don't worry—if you are ordering from a supplier on SaleHoo, you can rest assured they have already been vetted.

It's actually very common for suppliers and wholesalers to ask for certain documents from their buyers (i.e., you) before they will sell to you. So that brings us to the first question:

What documents do suppliers ask for?

Depending on where you and your supplier are located, the documentation they need may vary. We've put together this list to give you a better idea of what to expect.

Even if you're new to the business, don't let paperwork overwhelm you. These documents are not hard to acquire, and we've linked to some resources below to help you get started.

1. Tax ID

If you are a US or Canadian resident buying from a US or Canadian wholesaler, you will usually have to provide a tax ID. This is a government-provided number (similar to a social security number) that allows you to charge sales tax on your purchases. For more information, be sure to check out our article on how to get a tax ID. If you are not a US/Canadian resident, or if you are purchasing from an overseas supplier, they may not need your tax ID.

2. Company certificate / business registration information

If you're not doing business in the USA or Canada, you may still need to provide business registration information to your wholesalers—locally and even overseas. In most countries, this is not a difficult process and usually involves registering yourself as a legal business with your state or federal business registry.

In many countries, when you register a business, you will also receive a company certificate or a certificate of incorporation. Suppliers may ask to see this certificate as well.

3. Reseller's permit/license

If you are a US resident, another document suppliers may request is your reseller permit/license. This is basically a license that exempts you from paying sales tax because you pass this tax on to your customers. Sound good? Here's how you can get your reseller's license.

4. VAT number

If you are doing business in the UK or in Europe, your suppliers may often ask for your VAT registration number. VAT is a tax levied on sale of goods in the UK and Europe. While VAT is applicable in most of the EU, the rules vary from country to country. Read more about what's required and how to register for VAT in your country here.

5. Credit card photocopy

A photocopy of your credit card often serves as proof of your identity and also proof of your ability to pay. Suppliers often ask to see a photocopy to verify you are a legitimate buyer. If you're unsure about providing your credit card numbers to a supplier, you can always get a reloadable card online. It's a more secure option.

So now you know which documents to prepare for your suppliers. But there's a still an important question that remains unanswered:

Why do suppliers need these documents?

Suppliers are trying to run a business the same way you are. The business of providing someone with goods can be a risky one, so they want to make sure they're working with the right people.

There may be a variety of reasons why your supplier wants to see paperwork before they even give you a quote. Here are some explanations:

1. As proof of identification

Suppliers want to make sure you are who you say you are. By providing them with your business information or a photocopy of your credit card, you show them they are dealing with a real person.

2. To make sure you're a serious business

Suppliers want to make sure they are dealing with someone who is serious about their business. They want to know you will really make a purchase and aren't just getting a quote with no real business plan in mind. Having the right paperwork or information, such as a tax ID or business registration information, proves you're ready to dive in, and aren't just testing the waters.

3. To process orders faster

Sometimes suppliers may need certain documents to make sure the process moves faster and the goods get to you sooner rather than later. So if an overseas supplier asks you for your business registration number, don't panic. They may need to add it to the invoice to avoid delays at customs.

4. Because they may need to charge sales tax

As a US resident, if you don't have a valid reseller's license, your supplier may need to charge you sales tax before they sell you the goods. They will ask to see a reseller's permit to check where they stand.

5. To verify they are not dealing with the public

Suppliers will sometimes use the paperwork as a way to verify they are not dealing with the general public, i.e., someone who is just trying to get their hands on the goods at a cheaper rate or tax-free.

6. For easy customs clearance

Overseas suppliers may sometimes surprise you by asking for documents as well. This usually happens when they need them to avoid issues at customs—which could slow your products down once they arrive in your country. Depending on your country's requirements, you may need to provide such information as your business registration number or your VAT number to be able to legally import the goods.

OK, so you get why suppliers are so insistent about these documents, but you probably have just one more question:

Can you still purchase products without all the paperwork?

Well, kind of.

Some suppliers and wholesalers may sell you their products without requiring any paperwork at all. If you are dealing with overseas suppliers, it may be possible to get away with never registering your business or acquiring a tax ID.

But here's the thing. None of these numbers or IDs are hard to get. If you check out the resources we've linked to above, you will see that it's just a matter of following a few steps.

If you're planning to take this selling business seriously, we highly recommend registering your business or acquiring a tax ID and reseller's license (whatever is relevant to your situation). Why?

  • Most suppliers WILL ask for some form of documentation. By dealing only with suppliers who don't want to see your business info, you're limiting yourself to a smaller pool.
  • If you're doing business with domestic suppliers, they often need your information for tax purposes. Whether it's a reseller's permit or a VAT number, you would unnecessarily complicate the process by not providing this information.
  • Some suppliers won't even let you get a quote if you don't provide them with the information they ask for.
  • Worse, some may decide to charge you more because your lack of information shows them you're not a serious enough buyer.

Set up your business the right way and you should have absolutely no trouble ordering from suppliers. If you're interested in setting up a US-based business from overseas, check out Stripe Atlas—a great option for incorporating a US company, setting up a US bank account and accepting payments from around the world.

Documentation and business go hand in hand, but don't become overwhelmed. Here's a quick guide on what you need and where to get it:

  What you need Where to get it
1 Tax ID State/local government (USA)
2 Business registration information State/federal business registry (USA)
3 Reseller's license State tax department (USA)
4 VAT identification number National VAT registry (UK/EU)
5 Secure credit card number US Unlocked

Don't let a few documents hold you back from selling online.

Getting yourself set up with the right paperwork is usually just a one-time process. Once everything is in order, you're going to have no trouble getting quotes and ordering products from suppliers, domestically and overseas. Just look at it as the new seller's rite of passage.

Got a question we haven't answered? Don't be afraid to ask—we're here to help!


About the author
Simon Slade
CEO of SaleHoo Group Limited

Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, a platform for eCommerce entrepreneurs that offers 8,000+ dropship and wholesale suppliers, 1.6 million high-quality, branded products at low prices, an industry-leading market research tool and 24-hour support.

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