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10 safe assumptions in China sourcing

by Jacob Yount

Here are 10 safe assumptions to make during your China manufacturing and sourcing projects. These assumptions help you stay on top of surprises, avoid pitfalls and keep a piece of your sanity.Twists and turns lie in the path of your China sourcing and order control. With my seal of approval, here are 10 safe assumptions, that help keep balance during your China sourcing and order management.

1- Assume agreement from the supplier doesn’t equal understanding. Assume understanding doesn’t equal agreement. Assume neither agreement  or understanding equal ability. Many buyers work to push a project on a supplier, that all evidences show, the supplier is not able to properly execute.

2- Assume English ability doesn’t equal manufacturing ability. Conversely don’t assume that poor English and sloppy presentation are indication of ability in production. Many factories that have what appears to be a more competent sales force and a crisper presentation end up being harder to work with.

3- Assume the quotation you receive is incomplete. Ask your supplier questions. Did they consider the needed quality level? Did they factor cost for testing? Did they include safe export packing?

 I know this sounds elementary, but if you don’t have time to go back over important details with the supplier, then you want to forecast what the supplier possibly missed and make provision for it. Many buyers just assume the supplier gave a complete quote and end up misquoting their clients.

 4- Assume the price quotation is subject to change. Any quote from a Chinese supplier is subject to change until an invoice is issued and money changes hands (even then there are horror stories of factories or 3rd party vendors changing conditions during an order).

5- Assume if the supplier has questions and “unknowns” floating around in their heads, they are not going to ask you. Many times the supplier or factory does not know the proper questions to ask. If there are unknowns, they will choose a path and proceed, whether right or wrong.

6- Assume the sales person you contact has not properly confirmed everything with the production line. Also assume that everything the sales person tells you isn’t reality but it’s based on limited knowledge and lack of substantial internal checking. It’s common in China sourcing for a factory sales person to answer first, check with the production line second.

6- Assume the supplier didn’t calculate the delivery time in the way you think they did. Does the supplier’s interpretation of delivery time mean when the goods are finished and sitting on the dock ready to load in the truck? Does it mean when the goods arrive to the port warehouse? Has the supplier considered the closing date? Goods can arrive to port on a Wednesday but because the closing date is the Tues before and sailing date is a Thurs, your goods may not sail until the next Thursday (8 days later!).

7- Assume the first sample is going to be wrong or need more work. Developing a customized item takes back and forth. The factory rushes an incomplete piece to you for various reasons, one being, to have you comment and tell you if they are in the right direction. Factories naturally rush things out or shoot first and ask questions later. Contrary to other delays and late shipments, their preference is speed first, quality second. Don’t assume the factory cannot do good quality. Assume they need guidance and training. Seldom are projects tackled with “best job, complete job” mindset at the first attempt.

8- Assume the supplier didn’t read your purchase order carefully. For that matter assume they don’t read any of your written communication. Suppliers breeze through written detail in more of a scanning format drawing conclusions based on what they think they understood.

9- Assume the supplier will not ship until the final payment is in their hands. Don’t assume the supplier will willing ship first and wait for payment second. This needs to be confirmed in advance.

10- Assume the supplier will not keep you properly updated on timing. Without staying in close communication with the supplier, the goods are liable to actually get on the production line and finish before you had a chance to ask questions or arrange a proper quality control. Ask the supplier to tell you the time-tables of each phase of production.

What safe assumptions can you add to this list? Or any disagreements?


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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