Buying computer hardware from a stranger on eBay requires a little bit of faith. Buying inventory from a stranger in China requires a lot. That's why Alibaba.com, the Chinese website that connects buyers and sellers of bulk goods, has just launched an escrow service. If you use Alibaba to buy from a Chinese supplier, Alibaba will hold your payment until you confirm the shipment has arrived. The escrow service will be phased in over the summer. Currently, the service is in beta, and only available to select Chinese suppliers.
Correction: The original version of this story, which appeared in the July/August 2009 issue, did not mention that Alibaba's service is currently in beta.