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Sourcing agents in China: the good and the ugly

by Renaud Anjoran in 'Quality Inspection Blog'

A reader recently asked me how to find a good sourcing agent in China. Many dark stories involving rogue sourcing agents have shaped my opinion on this topic. My response will probably sound radical to first-time importers.

The way I see it, you have two options if you need someone on the ground to source and follow new suppliers:

  1. You hire a Chinese girl with sourcing experience, who works in your office and that you trust 110%. But that only works if you have a local office with a reliable manager. Note: you should regularly check what she is doing, except maybe if she’s your wife.
  2. You hire an expensive foreign sourcing agent (who may or may not be based locally), with an established procedure and reference clients that you can call. That agent might or might not take possession of the goods and be your supplier. The most important is that they work transparently.

My point is that there is nothing in between.

Of course there are a few trustworthy Chinese of Hong Kong agents who can help you a lot for a low cost. But your odds of finding them is about one in a hundred.

The other 99% are attracted by the massive sums involved in foreign trade, and are looking for a fast buck. They have lots of bad habits:

  1. They will be too disorganized—and sometimes too lazy—to follow an objective process where potential suppliers are identified, then short-listed, and then visited in person and carefully checked.
  2. If they have personal contacts who may know someone who knows a manufacturer of the product you are looking for, that’s the route they will take in priority. If their uncle can supply it, he will automatically be the lucky one. Forget about competency-based selection.
  3. They will look very hard-working and honest, but in most cases they will get 5% or 10% from the factory, without disclosing it to you. That hidden commission is on top of what you will give them. Now, which option is really the cheapest?
  4. As a consequence of the above point, they will be inclined to defend the manufacturer more than your company when things go wrong—and things WILL go wrong at one point or another.
  5. They will seldom take the pain to draw samples at random and check product quality. And, even if they do it and they find some issues, they will probably not tell you. Remember, a Chinese agent that you are not supervising closely will have more than one boss.

Related reading: the dirty little secrets of Chinese trading companies.

Am I being too harsh? Is there a third way?

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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