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Tips for e-mailing Chinese suppliers

by Jacob Yount

Email is the main way importers get to know their Chinese suppliers.

Unless the importer makes frequent trips to the factory or spends a lot of time on the chat apps or in skype conversations, perceptions are made, the relationship is established, specs are passed, the order is controlled all primarily via email.

As an importer, you want to assure your emails are effective. Written communication can make or break the order.

This should go without saying…

But in my line of work I’ve seen emails come from the buyer side to supplier side that leave me shaking my head in disbelief.

“Does this buyer want their order to have problems?”

“Do they care so little about the quality of their order that this is the kind of communication investment they put into their projects?”

Really your communication in your China manufacturing projects is an investment. Either a low investment or a high investment and what’s put in is more than likely what you’ll get out of the project.

But surely no buyer wants to have a disastrous order. Many buyers are just naive on suppliers’ lack of understanding  when reading emails and also the low effort exerted by suppliers to understand what’s being said. A lack of precision not only in the actual manufacturing but the management of the case.

But you may humbly ask,

“Shouldn’t suppliers do whatever it takes to understand my email, because I’m the buyer? Also if they have a question…why don’t they just call me?”

That may be the case in a perfect world.

Always keep in mind your true level of importance to the factory and add that to the fact that they’ve got many clients, that they’ve existed a long time before you came along and that frankly speaking, they really don’t care if they fully got your meaning or not, as long as they get the order.

By the way, that old “if you had a question why didn’t they just call me?”  question seems too often (not always) to be a cop out from putting serious effort into your initial communication. When you’re dealing cross culturally with a 2nd language and across time zones, the motivation is not great for the Chinese supplier to track you down by phone and ask what the blue moon are you talking about.

After a longer-than-necessary introduction, here is a brief list of tips for emailing your Chinese suppliers (the same tips would prove useful in any importing and when dealing 2nd-language use vendors).

Clarity

Make your email as crystal clear as possible. This may mean you need to spend a bit of time on the email. Not necessarily making a long email. In fact, it’s not “the longer, the better”.

Shortening the email and taking out the filler is more often than not a good choice.

Spend time making sure the email is understood. Ask yourself, “if I was my supplier, would I understand what I’m saying or am I writing this as if I’m sitting inside my own mind and already know everything I’m referring to”.

Don’t want to leave your supplier with guess work. You want them working on the main thing…not trying to figure out what is the main thing.

Remember, if you leave your supplier with a choice, they’ll usually choose the thing you didn’t want.

What’s next?

Make your emails have a “call to action”. Is your Chinese supplier going to read the email and know exactly that the ball is in their court and you are now expecting something specific from them?

Let the supplier clearly know your intent.

Don’t make your emails sort of a stream of buyer consciousness.

Avoid slang

This goes without saying. I know you’re not emailing the White House but be just a bit more formal and professional than normally.

Be polite and avoid the negative emotions

Avoid virtual finger pointing and blame. It just makes the supplier either freeze up or stop any vigilance in controlling your order.

You want people who work for you to stay motivated.


It’s a busy place and the supplier may have more pressing concerns than deciphering emails…Bullet pointed emails

Avoid the blobby ugly paragraphs that take a pair of tongs and a scalpel blade to dissect. Because more likely than not…your supplier will breeze through it and leave out key points.

The email should scream clarity and simplicity.

Use your vendor’s name

Everyone has a name, use it. This should be email tip 101 for emailing anyone, but the smartphone society has put a stop to this etiquette. Use your supplier’s first name when emailing them.

Also be sure you get the right name. Suppliers know when they are being shopped when you call them the wrong name.


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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