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Importing from China: An average snapshot of your first order

By John O' Grady

Once you have had that great idea to start importing from China, it would be good to know what to expect from your first order.

Even if it is not your first time this might be a good time for a refresher. When we order a new product from an unknown or even known supplier, we need to go through the same process. The first order is always the most painstaking and time consuming. You might be surprised that the average first order can take from 14-26 weeks to complete. Read on if you have doubts.


1. Feasibility - Don’t jump in before you check a couple of things (1-2 weeks)

Before you even start to look for suppliers, you should be aware of any special requirements for importation in your own country. Spend at least 1-2 weeks asking and answering a few questions.

1. Compliance, what certification does the product require?

2. Are there any legal issues to be aware of when importing from China?


2. Get a Shipping Agent - You will need one! (1-2 weeks)

Contact some shipping companies in your local area. You will find them readily from searches and do take time to read their service offerings. You need a company that can offer competitive freight rates from all major ports in China to your destination. Services offered by Air & Ocean for full containers (FCL) and less than full container shipments (LCL) are basic requirements for businesses importing from China. After finding the product in Step 3, request a quotation from your agent on moving your goods from A-B, and find out what the total imported cost will work out to be.


3. Sourcing the Best Fit Suppliers (2-4 weeks)

This is a well-documented space by us and many others. First, know and understand what you are looking for. Once you are really confident on that, then start chatting to suppliers of your chosen products. At this point, figure out the supplier’s capabilities and pricing on suitable items. This step could include a trip to China, but I would normally get samples first and gather as much intelligence as possible.


4. Getting Samples Made & Shipped: OEM Process (2-4 weeks)

Expect this phase to take some time. True, it is product dependent but there are often a lot of back-and- forth on confirming details. Try to negate much of that by really understanding what you want before you begin, and know what you can and cannot accept. Some companies may have samples readily available, and some will need to produce especially for you. If you are planning of having your own brand included then that will take time too.

It is good preparation to have:

AI print files prepared in advance for all printing requirements.

An account with an express firm such as DHL, TNT or FEDEX so that samples can be sent efficiently.


5. Confirmation of Samples (1-2 weeks)

You will receive your samples and will need some time to test, inspect, talk about with a trusted friend, or introduce to a client. Again, it all takes time and there might be a couple of points you would change. If you want to change specification slightly then you need to consider if the changes are minimal enough to implement at mass production or is it safer to go through the sample process again. When manufacturing in China, less risk normally ticks the box.


6. Strike a Deal! Confirm Contract Terms and Make a Deposit Payment (1-2 weeks)

Make final confirmations and negotiations on everything from price terms, specification, packaging, if you require fumigation etc. Anything you miss here could be an unexpected cost later in the process. Once complete, you will have a deposit to pay before production begins. If utilizing a simple bank TT, I would recommend always choosing express payment channels as it is worth the small extra fee to have your payment arrive promptly to the supplier.


7. Book Shipping Space - Connect Your Agent with the Supplier Contact (0 weeks)

This is not a particularly strenuous job, it’s just about being organized and getting your agent to connect with supplier. Your agent will ask their office, for example, in Shanghai to contact with your supplier in Suzhou. You can request to be copied onto the emails so you stay in the loop, but it really shouldn’t take any extra time of yours.


8. Production Times & Quality Control. Don’t leave it to chance! (3-5 weeks)

Three to five weeks is a fair approximation from medium fast to slightly slow production. Quality is probably the Number 1 topic on importing from China that gets some serious ink space. If you tick all the boxes from the beginning such as understanding and confirming materials and specification then you stand a better chance of nailing the quality in the production phase. You still need a plan of what to check? When to check? And who is going to check? If you want to do it yourself start booking your tickets to China, I recommend you do this at least once and consider adding a 3rd party on the ground which can offer you a backup option.


9. Ship, Import & Deliver. (3-5 weeks) covers China - Australia & China - EU/USA.

This is mainly where your shipping agent will be valuable to you. Meet the booking from Step 7 and ship on time. Naturally sailing can be delayed but always give yourself a chance by booking early.


10. Document (Ongoing)

At each stage, document the process and how long it took and how it could be removed from the timeline on a repeat order. You will want to use your experiences to streamline the process for your next order.

I really hope this hasn't scared you... well I hope it has a little since it will take time to get first orders right, but if you are organized, you can really start to trim the fat of the timeline.


John O' Grady has been living and working in Shanghai, China since 2004. In all of that time John has worked in sourcing and supply chain management. Currently he is General Manager of Found China, a provider of China Sourcing Services. John enjoys travelling to factories throughout China to find new suppliers, make deals, oversee QC and stay in touch with good friends. Keep up to date with John and Found on their No. 1 China Procurement 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, October 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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