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Not necessarily signs of a bad supplier

by Jacob Yount 

When sourcing new vendors, you may come across certain signs that raise flags concerning the vendor’s capabilities. 

Here is a brief list of signs, that although may look concerning, are not necessarily indications of a bad supplier.

Free email address:  

This would be the equivalent of using a Gmail or Yahoo address. This is a turn off to buyers who are accustomed to everything looking corporate. “Rough around the edges” is more common  if you are working directly with a factory.

The capability of a China vendor is not determined by their web branding. The fax machine is still fairly common there in comparison to the Western world.

I would venture to say that most online communication in China is done via the chat services (QQ WeChat), not email.

No English name for sales contact:

This should go without saying, but the English name of your sales contact is not their real name. It’s an English name that they chose because they liked the name and it allows for more “ease” when being called by their Western clients. Some old school folks, older vendors, older sales reps, or sales reps working directly inside of the factory may just keep their given name. Lack of having an English name does not signify production ability.

English capability not that great:

Keep in mind that with your supplier, you are working to manufacture product, not writing Shakespeare. If and when possible, keep your written communication simple and express specifications and requirements via mockups, images, graphs and drawings.

The closer you desire to work factory direct, the less English ability you may find.


My take is that this can actually be a good sign! The suppler who argues is thinking about your project and playing devil’s advocate. They are looking for obstacles and reasons that may impede the job. The argumentative supplier is the opposite of the vendor that says “yeah yeah yeah” to everything, you invest time, possibly resources, and then they come back to tell you they cannot!  Arrrgh!

In China sourcing, a negative feeling in the beginning, can lead to a positive outcome when it counts (we should be in the business of “outcomes” not “feelings”).

Charging for samples:

For some reason, charging for samples is a turnoff to a segment of buyers. This would be a whole other post, but as you can fathom, samples cost money, take energy for the factory to collect, if the factory has to make samples, you have material, labor, express fees on and on. A supplier who does not charge for the samples, is not taking their OWN business endeavors seriously. This could lean towards the supplier not handling other processes in a serious manner.

They will send the 1st set of samples free, the samples will be wrong, you let them know, they will not care because they think “hey, you got these for free…whaddya want!?!”.

For the supplier that charges for samples, you have more assurance they are working to get the samples correct. If the samples are not correct, you will have more sway to work on the 2nd set at no cost to get the pieces right.

Professionalism overcomes the perception of poor service. The factory's main goal is quality production, timely, cost competitive.

Professionalism from buyers’ side overcomes the perception of poor service from supply side. The factory’s main goal is timely, cost competitive, quality production.

Slow to respond to initial inquiries:

The supplier is a business, typically a manufacturing facility, not a customer service call center. If they do not answer immediately, maybe it’s because they have this condition called “busy” and your email has to be prioritized accordingly. Maybe they do not know you from Adam and are going to wait until they have time. Maybe your inquiry did not pack a punch….

A supplier’s response time is not an indication of their capabilities.

The initial perception that a supplier is “easy to work with” can be misleading.

Many importers stress the desire of working factory direct but when you have these service requirements, it further shows the importance of intermediary companies.

Sometimes it comes down to paying for clearly structured grammar or importing in a more direct fashion and learning how to overcome communication difficulties.

 Jacob Yount lived in China from 2001 to 2012, during which time he started JLmade. He is now based out of North Carolina in the US and his home office is still in Suzhou, China; manufacturing and exporting branded merchandise, promotional products and retail gifts for distributors worldwide. Contact Jacob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find him on his blog.

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