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Running an eCommerce Business

eCommerce Essentials: A Guide to Sourcing Products from China

eCommerce Essentials: A Guide to Sourcing Products from China

by John Larkin

John runs the blog here at eCommerceLift and is a verified Shopify Expert. Interested in an initial growth consultation? Click here

2 months ago


eCommerce Essentials: A Guide to Sourcing Products from China

Increasingly eCommerce merchants are looking to China to manufacture their products and with the cost often being significantly cheaper, it’s obvious to see why. However, so often merchants deal blindly. They lack the wherewithal and knowledge to effectively negotiate with Chinese manufacturers and end up burned in the process or too daunted to commit. Here at PropelAd, we have rigorously researched to find as much information as possible about dealing with Chinese manufacturers so you can confidently get a supplier for your eCommerce store. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In our previous post eCommerce Essentials: How and Where to Find New Product Ideas we discussed researching products on online. Websites such as Alibaba, DHgate and Global Sources all offer a bountiful supply of products to look at, research and get quotes. However, researching online only takes you so far with Chinese manufacturers and it’s at this point the debate begins: Should you go to China or not? This seems to be a contentious issue within eCommerce. Many merchants sprout stories of their flourishing success without setting foot on a plane, while others swear visiting China is the only sure-fire way. 

Although, not visiting has some merits in regards to saving time and money, we would suggest making the journey over for a number of reasons. These include:

Language Barriers: Through email you could write a beautifully detailed description of what you want and provide a step by step guide of what you wish your manufacturer to do but does that mean it’s going to happen? No. Language barriers can be a large hindrance over email or phone but in person you can avoid these more easily, therefore avoiding losing thousands of dollars on the wrong product.

Quality Control: Just because you’ve seen a picture of your product doesn’t mean that is how it’s going to look. Like any other country, China’s manufacturers can have very different levels of quality so visiting will help you weed out the bad ones from the good. You can also inspect factory conditions to see if all aspects of the manufacturing process are up to a standard that you feel comfortable with.

Building Relationships: Having a relationship with your manufacturer is an important aspect of business and can be a large comfort when there are issues and questions. Knowing your manufacturer can help you gain an upper hand in negotiating and perhaps get you a better price.


What you Should Look for? 

Whether you have decided to go to China or to stay at home there are some things that you should do to ensure that you have gotten the best manufacturer for you and that your journey will go smoothly. We suggest making a list of everything you want to know and must ask when you are negotiating and dealing with manufacturers. However, there are some things that you might not consider so we suggest doing the following:

Get a Chinese sourcing specialist: Sourcing specialist can be one of the best investments you can make. They are well versed in helping eCommerce merchants find what they need and can help you avoid so many of the pitfalls that people often flatter at. They can bring knowledge and experience that will save you time and money in the long run.

Look for ISO9001 Certification: When talking to potential manufacturers ask if they have an ISO9001 certification. This is one of the most widely used and reliable tools today that ensures that a company has met an official level of quality assurance. Having a company that adheres to these standards and can provided you with a high level of assurance so that you will feel more secure in your partnership with manufacturers. Although not always necessary, if you find a supplier holding it, it acts as a safety blanket to make you feel extra protected.

Get friendly with your supplier:
As we mentioned above, having a relationship with your supplier is paramount. Continuously meeting and discussing your arrangements is the only way to ensure that you will receive everything you ask for. Getting friendly with your supplier means to can chat all things business such as logistics, product specifications and get to know what this manufacturer is actually capable of providing for you. Having a relationship with your supplier can also lead to getting better deals on prices and generally contribute to a smoother process altogether.

Sample, Sample, Sample: When dealing with samples don’t just get one and take it at face value. Samples are to be tested and scrutinized therefore getting a single sample just won’t cut it. Don’t skimp or be parsimonious when it comes to samples instead buy multitudes and different items and be particular so you know what you are getting is good quality and what customers will happily pay for.

Spell out everything little thing: When potentially buying hundreds, if not thousands of products, don’t leave anything to chance. Discuss every minuscule aspect of your product so that no mistakes or miscommunications are made. If something goes wrong and you end up with 50,000 red shoes instead of black it’s unlikely that you will be refunded so make sure it’s all written down and clearly defined so each party knows what is being made.

Negotiate: Remember when dealing with suppliers everything is negotiable. Don’t be shy and accept whatever price you are initially given instead ask other eCommerce merchants and suppliers about the going rate so you get the best deal for your store.
Finally, Don’t Dismiss Cultural Barriers       

We’ve already discussed language barriers but all aspects of culture can play a large part in your relationship with Chinese manufacturers. It is important to be considerate and understanding of other cultures while also trying to gain an understanding of how things work. 

We suggest if you are finding it hard to communicate then don’t just keep repeating yourself, find another way to communicate so that each side is receiving the message clearly. Also don’t assume that Chinese manufactures will pander to your schedule and holidays. Instead expect February to be a month of little productivity from China as it is Chinese New Year so plan accordingly. 

Do you have any experiences dealing with manufacturing in China? We'd love to hear different stores and perspectives so please comment below. 

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