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5 promotional item sourcing tips

by Li Zhang 

5 tips for promotional item sourcing.

Buyers that tackle promotional item sourcing generally make the same mistakes. Sure, there are a ton of possible errors. But the core problems remain the same. I hope these tips shine some light on your offshore buying adventures and help you to avoid pitfalls.

Be thorough in your specifications

A vague inquiry. Loose specifications. A humdrum brief. All this leads to a supplier providing the same thing in return.

In other words, a casual inquiry leads to a casual quote…and problems stem from there.

Include the right amount of information when you send the supplier the RFQ.

Think about the excellent, top-notch quotation you hope to receive. What information would a vendor require in turn to meet that need?

Be aware of your vendor

The truth is, is that in the promotional merchandise realm, the manufacturing is generally done from low-cost factories. We’re not talking Boeing here but lower-end items in the grand scheme of things.

Therefore, consider the ultimate production factory is going to be less international. This is why the large majority of promotional product orders done from China are done via trading companies.

These trading companies don’t understand the nuances of the industry from the buyer’s perspective.

Be mindful of who you are working with. Your Chinese supplier may have great cultural differences and not understand your industry, but they are eager and willing to do business.

Follow-up with your vendor

This isn’t rocket science. After you benefit from a vendor’s a quotation and product information, then FOLLOW UP.

Let the vendor know if something is still pending.

Let the vendor know why the order didn’t come to fruition.

Let the vendor know when an order is on the horizon.

Frequent quoting and running can cause vendors to not quote you in the future or not quote you seriously. Either way, a bridge is burning.

Overseas promotional item sourcing vs. domestic

Promotional product distributors are accustomed to domestic purchases. In offshore manufacturing they tend to conduct themselves in the same manner as when buying domestically.

This leads to problems such as assumptions on the supplier’s understanding, preconceived notions of service and lack of product guidance from the buyer’s part.

Remember, once you start importing, you aren’t just “ordering” but are now taking part in product development. You are no longer simply a passive buyer but are taking part in a very active process.

Be prepared for an incomplete quotation

When you receive your quotation, realize that something is probably missing.

Carefully go through the supplier’s quotation with a fine-toothed comb.

Ask yourself questions, look for key points and prepare a list of follow-up questions to ask the vendor.

Li Zhang has worked in international manufacturing and exporting since 2003. She has served global brands such as Bayer, Coca Cola and Warner Bros. Her background is in design and engineering. Li is a native of Jiangsu Province and currently finds herself back and forth between Suzhou, China and the USA. Contact Li at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find her penning manufacturing thoughts at her blog.

Want to know how to work with factories to produce your unique products?  Join the Smart China Sourcing Summit to learn sourcing best practices, April 17-19, 2016.  Co-located with Global Sources 3,000-booth trade show in Hong Kong.  Learn more at

Keep updated on sourcing best practices and the Summit.  Join the Smart China Sourcing Facebook group at

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