Importing Small Volumes from China: The Ultimate Guide

Posted on 49 Comments

small volumes

It’s perfectly doable to launch a custom designed and branded product on a low budget, it’s just that you’ll need to get ready to compromise on materials, colors and sometimes even quality.

In this article, I explain what can and can’t be done when importing products from China as a small volume buyer.

1. Small volume buyers can’t always get what they want

Manufacturers in China set their MOQ requirements based on the MOQs set by their material and component suppliers. If you, for example, want to buy a 100% cotton fabric in a certain Pantone color, you must buy a volume corresponding the suppliers MOQ requirement – or they cannot sell you the product.

The alternative is to buy ‘standard materials’ that the supplier or its subcontractors use on a regular basis for multiple consumers. However, this means that you’ll have to settle for what’s available for the time being.

You cannot select colors or make other changes to material quality. Rather than getting that red cotton fabric in your preferred Pantone color, you’ll get a red cotton fabric available as a standard material – which enables the supplier to sell it at a lower volume due to the simple fact that many buyers use the same material.

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2. Buying small volumes can result in quality inconsistency

A while ago we worked with a US apparel brand that had severe quality issues due to changing materials. They were buying a wide range of clothing styles from their supplier in China, but only about 100 or 200 pcs per style.

As a result, the supplier could only use standard fabric and other components.

I called their contact person in Dongguan to better understand the situation. He quickly clarified that they did indeed change materials every or every second order.

Not because they want to, but because of the low volume per SKU forced them to use standard fabrics – which they run out of from time to time.

When they eventually do run out of certain fabric, they have to go to local wholesalers and find a similar fabric. Yet, it’s never exactly the same.

This dynamic makes it difficult, if not impossible, to offer consistent quality as a small volume buyer. You have to settle for what’s on offer, but that itself changes too.

The solution? To reach the fabric suppliers MOQ. This ultimately enabled the apparel brand to get the same fabric for each order.


3. Buy materials for more than one order

This also leads me to the next point. The apparel brand in question still wanted to stick to their concept of buying a large number of clothing styles, but only 100 or 200 pcs per SKU.

However, the fabric MOQ (e.g. 3000 meters) is more than they could use for one batch. Instead, they opted for buying fabric made specifically for them but kept the surplus material in the suppliers’ warehouse for following orders.

As such, they successfully managed to keep the order volume per SKU small, while ensuring that they get the same fabric quality each time they place an order.

The key takeaway here is that small volume buyers cannot expect negotiations to do the trick. You need to understand how the MOQs are structured, and how you can work with your supplier to set up a supply chain that works for them too.

4. Why small volume importers still should buy from manufacturers

Trading companies generally don’t offer lower volumes. This can be explained by the fact that trading companies tend to act as representatives for local manufacturers, rather than keeping products in stock themselves.

Trading companies can even make it more difficult to buy smaller volumes, as you cannot communicate directly with the factory to work out how they set their MOQs and whether you can reach some sort of compromise.

5. Products to avoid when buying small volumes

It’s not just the minimum order quantity requirements to take into consideration. Some products require lab testing and certification, which can be quite costly.

Product certification and laboratory testing are mandatory when importing electronics, children’s products, food contact materials, cosmetics, and many other goods. These certification and testing costs are often counted in the thousands of dollars – on a per product basis.

If you do manage to buy small volumes of power banks, for instance, you still can’t get around the high fixed testing and certification costs for your products.

6. Branding your product as a small volume buyer

The goods news is that small volumes generally doesn’t make it more expensive or difficult to get your product branded with your logo. Logo prints and engravings generally add less than 70 cents to the unit price and don’t have an impact on the MOQ requirement.

As such, a small volume buyer has no reason to not get their products branded.

There are no downsides, but a big upside to investing in a brand rather than only selling products.

product branding

7. Invest in product quality and don’t attempt to compete on pricing

This one should be fairly obvious, but small volume importers still tend to make this mistake over and over again. Forget about competing on price with giant corporations such as Wal Mart. No matter which product you plan to import from China, you won’t get the same price as they do.

Small volumes and razor-thin profit margins are like oil and water. They don’t mix. Low-profit margins result in huge risks. A small mistake or a late delivery can erase months of profit in a whim. It’s a dead end.

This means that you need to find a way to increase your profit margins. However, your buyers are not idiots. They won’t pay a premium price for a below average product. Making a supplier and product selection primarily based on price is one of the most common mistakes made by small volume importers.

The cheapest product is certainly not the best product, and you won’t be able to motivate a high price. Instead, you need to make a supplier and product selection based on quality.

Buying a quality product doesn’t mean that you have to invest millions of dollars. In fact, the price difference between a “low-end product” and a “high-end product” is often rather slim.

Let me give you a sound example: Watch cases can be made in Zinc alloy and Stainless steel. When buying from a Chinese manufacturer, a Zinc alloy watch can be as cheap as US$5 while the stainless steel version costs three times as much. However, potential mark up on a Zinc alloy watch is slim.

You can’t sell one for more than US$40. This is certainly not the case for a Stainless steel watch that can fetch up to US$400 (well, ten times that if you happen to own a brand named Rolex).

Do you get the point? A small additional investment can make a drastic quality improvement that in turn results in even more drastic improvements in your profit margins.

8. Shipping small volumes from China

Freight costs always favor big buyers. There are still a few things you can do to avoid prohibitively expensive shipping fees.

LCL Shipping

LCL stands for Less than Container Load, which enables importers to share containers. Rather than booking a full container load yourself, you can book volumes as low as one cubic meter.

Economy Air Freight

Air freight can be cost-effective when shipping cargo weighing less than 150 kilograms. Air freight is also fast and easy to book online.

Hong Kong Fulfillment Centres

Rather than shipping the entire lot in one shipment, for local distribution in your target market, you can actually get your products delivered B2C from a fulfillment center in Hong Kong.

This eliminates the need to first book a bulk shipment, and then ship each unit to individual customers.

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  • 49 Responses to “Importing Small Volumes from China: The Ultimate Guide

    1. Dan at 9:37 am

      Many of our law firm clients are finding it easier to have small batches (of some things) in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Companies (especially small companies) need to consider countries in addition to China.

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 8:17 pm

        Hi Dan,

        Thank you for the input. We often hear the opposite, as small buyers (think USD 10-20 k per order) struggle to meet the MOQs in South East Asia.

        This is also why we have had a hard time to help our customer segment successfully shift to suppliers in Vietnam, where I also stayed for more than a year to build up a new supplier network… with limited success.

        We also get leads from partners (mostly sourcing companies) in Vietnam and another ASEAN country. They send them to us because they receive inquiries from small businesses that simply cannot reach the MOQs.

        FYI, this is specifically in the textiles industry.

    2. Justin at 11:59 am

      Hi Fredrik,

      I am Justin.
      We are an umbrella manufacturer in China( Recent years more and more buyers want to buy small quantity custom umbrellas from us. To meet their requirement, we bought digital printing machines for custom printing and prepared many hot-selling materials. So we can custom umbrellas with no minimum now. From 10pcs per style, we can do it well. And offer the door to door service.The buyer is pleased with our one-stop service.
      Hope this story can help more buyers and more manufacturers.

      Best regards

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 7:57 pm

        Hi Justin,

        Interesting. We also see how factories start to use DTG printing to offer lower volumes to their buyers.

    3. Erica at 4:28 pm

      Hi Fredrick,
      I am thinking about making customized bathing slippers/indoor slippers and would like to try a manufacturer. The manufacturer would have to be able of making quality slippers, sort of like birkenstock, but also slippers in plastic. Since it would be a start-up, it would also be good to have a manufacturer that can help out with making prototypes to start with.
      Also, from experience, how much do they normally claim, when people customize slippers or shoes? Difficult question I suppose, but would be good to hear an approximate number, since they want you to buy so many. Do you have any other tips on being able to make a fewer products if you don’t yet have any customers?

    4. china tin can factory at 2:31 pm

      Great article! :) When it comes to importing products from any country, “caution” must always be on every level; be it at the level of the product to be imported or the supplier. The last thing but more important than all and that you mentioned is that it is always better to spend its money for products to sell than everything else.

    5. Simon at 11:49 pm

      Good Morning

      Does anyone knows contact of Netherlands Post in China or agent who works with Netherlands Post ?

      Because I have pending orders in China .

      Thank You

      1. ChinaImportal at 7:57 am

        Hi Simon,

        Why would you need such an agent? The postal services are linked together, so you don’t need an agent that works with the Neatherland post.

    6. Roy at 2:15 pm

      I’m setting up a online tie and pocket square company, but I’m looking for a company who will manufacture copys of ties that I have in my own collection. Is this something I could get done?

      1. ChinaImportal at 8:29 am


        I suggest you check out our Webinar, on how to find a qualified manufacturer:

    7. Mak at 8:20 am

      Hi Fredrick,

      I am interested in importing shoes to Australia and looking for suitable suppliers who can meet compliance requirements for Australian market.
      Can you please suggest some manufacturers? MoQ may vary from 100s to 1000s (different sizes, colors etc)

      Thank you

      1. ChinaImportal at 3:26 am

        Hi Mak,

        We will contact you by email!

    8. Dan at 11:16 pm

      Hi Fredrick,

      I’m looking for a small quantity distributor for hats and gloves. I’m just starting out and I’d appreciate any info. Thanks for all the info above, great help.


      1. ChinaImportal at 3:27 am

        Good morning,

        We’ll send you an email later today

    9. Isaac at 2:47 pm

      Hello Fredrick
      I plan n stating a shoe company in the US. I need to find a good supplier to make the shoes. I planning on selling women shoes. Do you know of any manufactures or know where I could find some?

      1. ChinaImportal at 3:38 am


        You should have receiuved our email by now

    10. Vicky Liu at 2:56 am

      Usually, it is not that the manufacturer do not want to help you to lower the MOQ. But you know, wool comes from the sheep. The manufacturer of course won’t pay the cost by themselves, then who pay? Of course the buyer. But for most of processing, 100pcs or 1000pcs, almost the same cost, except the raw material. And at the same time, the manufacturer have to buy raw material at higher price if low volume.

      So the best way is to find ready made products.

      If not in large quantity but with many selections, or would be a good choice for you to save more cost.

    11. Mannie at 3:34 pm

      I write from the US. I’m a starting inventor with lots of ideas and prototypes at the moment. My problem however is how to find reliable manufacturers in china since I can’t travel there now as a result of my current job.
      Please I need your advice on how to start up searching for companies to get my ideas in the market.
      I have a little money to invest on one or two of my inventions. Looking forward to hearing from you soonest. Thanks.

    12. Chatlani M.L. at 5:44 am

      Hi Fredrick……………

      Primarily let me congratulate you on your, excellent, informative, site.

      We are planning to set-up a warehouse,cum online , export store catering to businesses and not direct consumers………in the furniture trade. The sale will be on a non minimum basis per item
      but a minimum 20ft. cont. load. We are seeking assistance in warehouse location..possibly
      in Foshan/Shunde Area. Any guidance would be of tremendous help. Thks.

      1. ChinaImportal at 11:06 am


        Unfortunately we don’t offer warehousing services. But, our shipping partner, Prime Cargo, might be able to do so.

        1. Chatlani M.L. at 8:51 am

          Att: Mr. Fredrick…………………..

          Thank you for your reply.

          Kindly put Prime Cargo in contact with us, so we may communicate with

          Thank you, once again.

    13. Zach H at 2:12 pm

      I am having a hard time finding the answer to my question. Maybe you will have an idea. Lets say I find a product from China and I want to customize it a little bit and the manufacture agrees to it. Then I want to put my logo on it. Should I patent that product that I have customized or do I just sell it with my brand on it?


    14. Nicole at 5:19 pm

      Hi Fredrick,
      I am looking to import the “basha” baby leggings from China to start a small business in Canada. After reading your very informative article do you know of suppliers that already have approved certificates and requirements?


    15. custom sweatshirts at 4:58 pm

      This excellent website definitely has all the info I wanted about this
      subject and didn’t know who to ask.

    16. custom made shirts at 12:14 pm

      Hi there everyone, it’s my first go to see at this website, and post is in fact fruitful
      in support of me, keep up posting these types of posts.

    17. wisdom at 3:43 pm

      Hello Fredrik, Am from Nigeria. Am so glad to find this article and I know from your experience I’ll be in safe hands. I’m thinking of contacting a manufacturer in China to buy and brand Tshirts there. I’m completely new to importation. So please I want you to suggest a company I can contact, their MOQ and very importantly their pricing as the Tshirts should be the kind that can be bought by anybody in my locality. Thanks

    18. Aaron at 12:54 pm

      Hi Fredrik,

      How much % profit margin would be good? And what do you mean by not competing on pricing? Does it mean it’s okay for me to sell my product at a higher price than huge retailers?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:42 pm

        Hello Aaron,

        The higher the better, but it depends entirely on the product. What I mean is that it’s not possible to beat large retailers in pricing. They have the advantage of scale which small businesses simply cannot stand up against. Instead, you need to find other ways to differentiate yourself, and thereby increase your margins.

    19. Ankur at 7:17 am


      i am planning to import small quantity children clothes from China to India, what should i take care of and also how can i group ship my purchased products from aliexpress


    20. Rylee at 3:45 am

      What is the best way to find a supplier for small business for children’s clothing? I am opening a small children’s boutique US & I cannot find a supplier that is CPSIA compliant in China. Is there somewhere I can find one? I don’t need huge quantities of one product.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:03 am

        Hello Rylee,

        Supplier rarely specify CPSIA compliance, as it’s a legal act and not a standard. CPSIA refers to various other ASTM and substance regulations, as different standards apply to different products.

    21. joe pittim at 3:10 am

      I’m considering manufacturing an item for the first time and I’m trying to get an idea of how much would be the minimum i’d have to order. Say I want to order a completely custom metal dish, what would be a typical MOQ?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:05 pm

        Hello Joe,

        I’d expect somewhere around 500 – 1000 pcs per product. However, the MOQ is often negotiable.

    22. Alfredo Santos at 7:07 pm

      I Fredrik,
      I m from Portugal and im about to start a litle business of cell phones and i m looking for some supliers.
      How can i find manufacturers with factory price?
      Tank you

      1. Rijal Abd Shukor at 2:53 am

        Hi Alfredo, Did you get a supplier yet?

    23. Alfred at 3:19 pm

      Hi Mate,
      I would like to import led lightings like bulbs and multi coloured led light chandeliers and light fittings from china to Newzealand for business purpose.But here in Newzealand they require a SDOC document ( Supplier deceleration of compliance) document or a safety test report for Newzealand and Australia standards.I am bit confused with this.Could you please guide me what and how to obtain this from my supplier.And how to find few suppliers who can manufacture light and light fittings according to Newzealand and Australia standards who can give me a test report so I can sell the lightings in newzealand.Looking forward to hear from you.Thanks very much.

      Best regards

    24. Ziebster at 7:03 pm

      Having been in touch with couple of the Chinese manufacturers in the past they don’t even want to talk to you if you don’t have the MOC qty. We custom OEM design our toy products and lots of time they simply flat out ignore our business request. We usually ballpark around 250pcs per item design per design but it just doesn’t interest them. We need varieties of items and designs in order to stay competitive and maintain our customer interested in the market place. What’s the solution here?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:11 am


        Toys are heavily regulated in most countries, especially the US, EU and Australia. In order to comply with these regulations, the supplier purchase compliant materials and components.

        These materials are often custom manufactured for compliance with a certain standard. If anything is custom manufactured, the quantity requirement goes up.

        However, it may be viable for the supplier to accept your order if you re-use the same materials and components on several products.

        1. Boris at 7:00 am

          Frederik, can you give an examples of reusing same materials and components on several products? Are you talking about closely related products that share same materials for example ceramic cups, plates, pitchers? Or various children’s toys that typically are made from plastic?

          I don’t know if this method would work with manufacturers that sell in different niches like stainless metal watches, ceramics, plastic toys. Due to diversity of materials they have, the amount of stock materials available are more limited compared to manufacturers that closely specialize in certain niche. These may have high MOQ though compared to former broad manufacturers?

          I guess when I decide to reuse materials is when products in my product like share same core materials? Because if I have products which do not, reusing materials would not work in this case.

          1. Boris at 7:43 am

            Please ignore my question about streamlining usage of materials and components because I asked before getting to that point in article.

            It seems that this method won’t work when I am zeroed-in on 1 product only after liking only 1 sample from high MOQ manufacturer out of 5 given in total.

            In this case do you think offering higher price per unit method would work with manufacturer? Like if 1 unit out of 1000 MOQ costs $3 and I offer $5 per unit for order of 100-200 units?

            1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:56 am

              Yes, it’s true that this strategy will not lower the MOQ if you buy one product, without variations of any sort. However, it can lower the overall MOQ per item or variation, if you reuse materials and components.

              Sometimes a higher price works, it’s worth trying!

          2. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:54 am


            There are no suppliers able to manufacture that many different products (apart from holding companies that are involved in different industries, but these might be considered separate manufacturers).

    25. Shawn at 8:20 pm

      I want to start selling baby items. My first Niche item is the boppy pillow and my own design pillow cover. It will be small volumes of 200 and the MOQ is 500, what should I do in this situation? Will the items the any certifications?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 11:02 am

        Hello Shawn,

        In which country are you based? Children’s products are regulated in all western countries and penalties for non-compliance are harsh. In the United States, non-compliance with the relevant regulations may result in a US$15.5 million fine.

    26. sonny lee at 8:48 pm

      so much talk on internet about being scammed on AliExpress.
      How to avoid?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:08 pm


        Yes, and for a good reason. However, has cleaned up it’s act quite a bit in the last few years. I suggest that you read our articles on the topic:

        1. mandeep singh at 10:12 am

          hi fredick,
          i m from new zealand and i want to start new business of leather shoes and i am looking for some supplier.
          how can i find manufacturer with factory price. please guide me for that.

        2. Nnamah kingsley at 8:41 pm

          Helo sir am kingsley by name nd a Nigerian new in importation biz. I want to start importing baby diapas nd wappers in a small scal. Pls, sir i want u to guid me on how to gate a suppier that wont demand MOQ as well rebrand the product. Thanks

      2. Kunbi at 10:13 pm

        Hello I want to go to China to produce my own slippers designs Is it possible to get a manufacturer that will do fifty pairs per design.

    Comments are closed.

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