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Giving feedback to China suppliers

by Jacob Yount

In your importing and manufacturing sagas, there is a right way and wrong way in giving feedback to China suppliers.

Professionally commenting on samples received, signing off on emailed photos or giving feedback to the supplier on issues caught in the production line is a crucial point.

Not giving the proper feedback makes small problems turn disastrous or creates problems where none existed.

Think solution-oriented and from the factories' perspective:

Importing from China is not an arm-chair sport. You cannot be passive in your order control and expect a long-term level of success. Many buyers give off the aura of sitting in their office chair and making stately decrees with the wave of the arm.

“Change it says the Royal Buyer. This is wrong!”

Then the minions across the seas all scurry to make the proper change in hopes of getting the royal affirmation. The change was correct and all the buyer had to do was to throw out a phrase…. Yeah…This doesn’t happen.

Don’t think in terms of “acceptable / unacceptable.”

86 the simplicity of “this is good / this is bad.”

Axe vague phrases such as “this needs to change.”

The factory you contracted to manufacture your order or the vendor you are buying from needs detailed feedback. Remember, the people working in the Chinese factory are not experts in your market, they don’t know what’s trendy and hip and they are not working arm in arm with your end customer. You have to be their eyes and ears on the destination side.

Contrary to the impression of many importers, it’s not true that the factory is working to do the worst job possible and only cut cost. They want to get it right as much as you do but the downfall in many of these situations is the right feedback at the right time.

Factories think in terms of processes, material, and percentages. Therefore, give the supplier feedback in such a way that creates an attitude of consideration in the supplier. Give as specific as possible feedback that allows the supplier to think about the process and what needs fixing.

Examples:

“The material was rejected because….”

Let the factory know your expectations. Is the material for children, long-term wear or does it need to have a high-perceived value?

“The logo color needs to have more yellow”

I know you gave a PMS color but PMS colors have different results on different materials. The buyer needs to consider the background or base material. Factories are very uneducated on color and the country as a whole doesn’t pay attention to color schemes. Factories can be robotic and only works to match Pantones (or any other specific) not considering other contingencies.

“Out of the 10 samples we received, this many pieces had an issue”

Be specific in percentages instead of just barking out that “you found problems and everyone is unhappy”. This is so the factory can determine if it’s an individual control issue or a molding issue that’s affecting the entire mass production.

Balance in all things:

Another nasty result is that being too vague causes suppliers to OVER CORRECT things. Over focusing on the functionality of a product can cause a factory to over look the appearance and vice versa… for example. I’ve actually seen factories have the logic that because the buyer keeps discussing “issue x” then all other factors must not be that important.

Keep calm:

Always in dealing with China manufacturing, rule número uno is to keep calm. Be rational when giving feedback. Do so in a point by point format and at the same time, give pros and cons of what’s found. If you, as a buyer, just give an emotionally charged statement, it may lead the factory-side to also get emotional. They may over correct or over look legitimate issues. If your feedback is frantic and seems like your screaming about 4-alarm fires, the factory will go in to “do whatever you say mode” and no longer be helpful or willing to fix legitimate issues. They will only then follow the “letter of the law.”

“Do whatever you say mode” is when the person under orders shuts down any free-thinking they may have exerted on the project and as a result will only follow your specific requests to the T, no longer focusing on other critical issues.

This is the Chinese way of giving passively-negative pushback. Chinese are non-confrontational for the most part, but the pushback manifests itself in a variety of creative ways. These results will make you wish you would’ve been more rational from the beginning.


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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