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How much should importers pay for pre-production samples?

by Renaud Anjoran in 'Quality Inspection Blog'

A few readers have asked me whether it is normal to pay for pre-production samples when they buy from a Chinese factory. So I thought I should cover this topic.

Short answer:

Basically there are no rules. It is all left to negotiation between buyer and seller. If you are not a small buyer, you can probably negotiate for receiving pre-production samples for free, on the supplier’s account.

Longer answer:

Importers often ask for many samples:

  • The development samples, until the “golden” (perfect) sample is approved and used as a standard. For garments it often means tens of pieces until the look but also the fitting of every size is approved.
  • The pre-collection (“salesmen samples”), which is used to pre-sell the goods. I have seen buyers requesting 50 salesmen samples for each new style!
  • The shipment samples, which are supposed to come from bulk production, and are used by buyers to evaluate the average quality. Needless to say, manufacturers don’t pick these samples randomly, and often prepare them in a separate room.

So, should it be free to make all these samples?

And should it be free to receive them by express courier?

For big buyers, the response is yes. They would not start a business relationship with a supplier who is not even willing to make the investment of sampling.

For smaller buyers, this is a different story. There is simply no standard . Samples are often sold at their FOB price, or double their FOB price (which seems fair to me, since they are made in smaller quantities and are still below cost).

The most important, I think, is to negotiate to have follow-up samples for free when the previous samples were rejected due to a lack of respect of the buyer’s specs/drawings. If you forget this term, you are in for angry discussions.

Why is it difficult to negotiate for free samples? The challenge for suppliers is to distinguish between time wasters (who keep asking for many samples but never place orders) and real buyers.

Before you blame Chinese greediness, you should understand that tens of people (if the supplier has some visibility on the internet) contact them every day asking for samples. And maybe 1% of these people have the potential to give significant, profitable, and recurring orders. The vast majority are hunting for free goodies or are operating a small shop (and haven’t understood that China isn’t for them yet).

If you are in the “serious buyer” category, this is something you should sell to your suppliers. If you can’t convince them, it is your turn not to be greedy. Pay for samples the first time, negotiate to pay nothing the following time, and let the volumes you buy speak for themselves…


Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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