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How exactly does Alibaba work?

I'm looking on Alibaba for some products that I'm considering stocking. At the moment none of my stock comes from them. I don't understand why so many different factories have the exact same products. It seems unlikely to me that all these individual factories make all the same products; that would be rather inefficient. So are these factories a front for another business? Are they buying them in from some central location? Or do they actually all make the same stuff as each other? There is such an obvious limit to the originality of what they sell, in that they sell the exact same designs rather than very similar products each with a design variations. I'm baffled about how this all works; something doesn't add up here. Can anyone help me out in understanding this?

submitted by /u/flagondry
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