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It sucks to be a first-time buyer in China

By Renaud Anjoran in 'Quality Inspection Blog'

If you have never imported directly from China before, you are probably afraid of missing something important. What costs should you plan in your budget? What precautions should you take? You probably have no idea.

Most purchasers I have met have either learned from their colleagues (if their organization was already importing), or have gone through the school of hard knocks (making mistakes, hopefully only once).

There are few (if any?) good and practical books on China sourcing. There are a few blogs and websites, but not many purchasers read them. And, generally speaking, importers keep their buying strategy and their suppliers under silence–it is often a secret.

I was reminded of this recently, when I had to write off a significant amount of money because of a software programming project gone awry. In hindsight, after reading a few books about software development, I understand that I did a lot of mistakes.

There are actually a number of similarities between the best practices of China sourcing and those of software development:

  • Define your expectations very clearly from the start. Don’t count on the supplier to do this–maybe he can help you articulate your vision, but you should be the one leading this effort. Yes it takes time, but it’s absolutely worth it.
  • Start small with a supplier, keep transactions limited in scope–one block/order at a time.
  • Retain the ability to hire an outsider who can inspect the supplier’s work (for software it’s easy with an SVN server, for sourcing it’s easy with a quality inspection company).
  • Do not pay everything upfront. It is a terrible mistake. Instead, define milestones and the corresponding payments.
  • Be careful with intellectual property. If you pay for something customized to your needs, you should own the IP (be it the molds, the original design files, etc.).

What I still can’t understand is why I didn’t think of all these issues. That’s what I keep telling my clients, but I can’t even think of it when it comes to another field.

Sometimes we just don’t follow our common sense… That’s the source of most mistakes, I guess.

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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