A guide to finding suppliers in China

The 2023 guide to finding suppliers in China

Once you’ve got a quality product, you need to find the right supplier, and China could be the place to serve your needs in 2023.

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After hours of product research, you've landed on the ideal product to sell online. However, the process isn't over yet – you still need to find a supplier for the product in your online store. China may just be the right country to serve your product supply needs.

As a global manufacturing hub, China boasts an established manufacturing infrastructure that allows mass production and economies of scale. Lower wages, which are typically the largest cost to a business, and easily accessible materials mean that you can buy your products at low prices and resell for profit.

How to find suppliers in China 

For online sellers, finding the right supplier in China can make or break the beginnings of an e-commerce store. A reliable supplier will ensure your product is of the highest quality, reducing customer complaints, refunds and damage to brand reputation.

Therefore, picking your supplier isn’t as easy as online shopping. Having a good strategy, solid knowledge of the processes and plenty of research to back up your decision will go a long way in helping you select the right supplier or factory.

Check Online directories

Alibaba.com

Alibaba.com is one of the best-known and most commonly used B2B marketplaces to find suppliers in the western world. A majority of listings on the platform are made by manufacturers, allowing buyers to speak directly to them regarding any requirements or expectations of their products. With real-time chat translation in 17 languages, communication is simplified between the buyer and supplier. Here are some tips on how to find a reliable supplier on Alibaba:

  • Keep communications clear: Be direct yet respectful when communicating your requests. While real-time translation can reduce some language barriers, nothing beats providing politely worded, concise instructions or queries.
  • Request business licences or certificates: As a buyer, it's your responsibility to ensure your supplier is trustworthy. Requesting proof of their business registration and relevant certificates will help you shortlist your preferred supplier.
  • Order a sample: Many wholesale suppliers will allow buyers to order samples before committing to a large order. You'll want to inspect a couple of samples to verify the quality.
  • Alibaba Trade Assurance: Alibaba Trade Assurance is a free programme that protects customers until the product arrives and meets expectations. If a product doesn’t arrive or is of a lower standard than agreed, Alibaba guarantees your money back and will handle any disputes on your behalf. Alibaba’s Trade Assurance has also started a credit-rating system, giving suppliers motivation to ensure on-time production and delivery.
  • Verified by Alibaba: Alibaba’s goal is to create a safe and easy buying environment for the customer. To facilitate this, they’ve created supplier profiles alongside products that are verified by Alibaba. These give you a better idea of whether a supplier is reliable.

Pay like a local

  • Pay suppliers, partners and staff in 40 currencies
  • Send up to 200 payments in a single transaction to save time and money 
  • Open up to 10 local currency accounts, with local sort codes, account numbers and IBANs
  • Lock in conversion rates to manage your currency risk
Open a World Account for free

Network with people who’ve done it before

Word of mouth referrals are the easiest and safest avenues when looking for reliable results. These referrals are advocates due to the service they received. It's always good to ask your professional and personal network for any supplier recommendations they may have. 

If you’ve reached out to your network with no luck, other great referral avenues include private groups on social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, online forums or local meet-ups. While other sellers  might not want to divulge their trade secrets or contact lists with you, most are willing to share tips on how to source from China, any setbacks you might encounter and how to manage the supplier relationship.

Visit trade shows and webinars

If you prefer face-to-face interactions with prospective manufacturers and suppliers, this is an excellent way to do so both in China and locally. Attending trade shows and fairs can give you a better understanding of the large scale and exhaustive products that help cement China's reputation as the world’s top manufacturing country.

As you can expect, there are plenty of trade fairs in China both small and large. While you'll likely find trade fairs for every niche, there are a few that are better-known globally for connecting buyers and sellers around the world.

Canton Fair (China Import and Export Fair)

The Canton Fair is held twice a year in Guangzhou, China, in April and October. Beginning in 1957 and with over 100 events since, the fair is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. It brings together nearly 26,000 exhibitors and over 200,000 buyers from 210 countries. The extensive range of categories will provide a greater understanding of the market as well as the latest trends you may want to add to your product line. As the Canton Fair is predominantly for international buyers, there is a key focus on ensuring multiple language assistance.

In 2020, the 127th Canton Fair pivoted to a virtual format from 15–24 June. This set forth a new path for international trade, with 26,000 exhibitors displaying their products and negotiating with buyers virtually.

Local trade shows

Those not wishing to embark on international travel can explore local options that gather Chinese suppliers under one roof.  Local trade show fairs are beneficial for local buyers as it allows them to begin building relationships with potential suppliers and inspect products, albeit on a much smaller scale. Post-Covid-19, there are fewer options to choose from, so it's a good idea to stay up-to-date with organisations such as the China-Britain Business Council.

You’ve shortlisted your suppliers – what’s next?

You’ve done your research and picked a shortlist of suppliers but there are a few more steps before you can start selling in your e-commerce store. Below are a few considerations to run through with your selected suppliers to see if they can meet your business requirements.

Request samples

Sampling is an extremely important part of the process once you’ve shortlisted your suppliers. Items may look good in images or at exhibition stands at trade shows, but sampling offers a broader idea of the supplier’s ability to deliver acceptable quality, design and functionality before putting in an order for mass production.

Enquire about production times

Production times are typically dependent on the supplier's capacity. This is an important factor to consider, as it gives you a better understanding of the supplier’s turnaround times for your products and allows you to plan your supply chain management and logistics.

Check minimum order quantities

Minimum order quantities (MOQ) refer to minimum order requirements from the supplier. Often mistaken as a firm figure provided by the supplier, it's actually a negotiable amount. Understandably, reducing your minimum order quantity will result in an increase in production costs per unit. Therefore, it's important to calculate the optimal amount of stock required at any given time, to avoid holding excess stock or selling out of popular products.

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Catherine Mah

11 years in content creation and content marketing across finance & sustainability
Disclaimer: These comments are the views and opinions of the author and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgement. Whilst information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author’s own judgement as of the date of the briefing and are subject to change without notice. Please consider FX derivatives are high risk, provide volatile returns and do not guarantee profits.
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