Buying Product Samples from China: A Complete Guide

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Suggestion: Watch the 10 minutes video tutorial before reading this article

Product samples are essential when importing products from China, and elsewhere in Asia. Obviously, you want to see and feel the product before you start production. However, ordering product samples is also a way to test if your supplier is truly up to the task.

In this guide, you will learn everything importers must know about product samples, including IP risks, payment terms, cost examples, sample types, and lead times.

Product sample types

  • Factory samples
  • Custom made product samples
  • Production samples
  • Virtual samples
  • 3D printed samples
  • Counter-samples

Other Topics

  • Supplier-led product development
  • Intellectual property risks
  • Payment terms
  • Product sample costs
  • How to pay for product samples
  • Injection molds and tooling costs
  • Sample production time
  • Import duties and taxes

Why do I need to order product samples?

Buying product samples is a critical part of the importing process and must be done before you commit to placing your first ‘real’ order with a new supplier, or whenever you intend to launch a new product.

There are three key reasons why you must buy product samples:

1. Test your product design: You need to see, feel and test your product before you go into mass production. Design, functionality, and overall quality must be ‘verified’ before you enter mass production.

2. Injection molds and tooling: When buying certain products, you cannot even start production. As such, you must get your product samples manufactured before you can move to the next step.

3. You must test your supplier: This is the number one reason why you need product samples. Your supplier must prove that they can deliver acceptable product samples before you should commit to placing an order. A supplier’s ability to produce good samples should never be taken for granted.

Free Webinar

We can help you manufacture products in China, Vietnam & India?

  • 1. Product design and material selection
  • 2. Finding suppliers in Asia
  • 3. Product samples and payments
  • 4. Quality control, lab testing & shipping


Types of Product Samples

1. Factory Samples

A Factory sample is a ‘ready-made’ product sample that is not manufactured according to the buyer’s design or customized specifications. It serves as a way to verify the manufacturer’s production capability.

Commonly, factory samples are purchased as part of the vetting process, as they can be obtained from a large number of suppliers rather quickly.

However, a factory sample doesn’t demonstrate a supplier’s ability to manufacture a customized product. As such, the factory samples serve as a first introduction, rather than a signal for the final selection of a supplier.

In addition, factory samples can be divided into two main categories:

  • Material samples (i.e., fabric samples)
  • Standardized parts (i.e., Machine parts)
  • Existing production samples (i.e., Products manufactured on behalf of other buyers)

product samples

2. Custom Made Product Samples

A Pre-Production Sample is used to verify the manufacturer’s capability to produce a product, according to the buyer’s specification. It is also part of a learning process, both for the buyer and the manufacturer.

Developing new samples is unpredictable, and the fail rate is high. Getting a product design right can take everything from a couple of weeks to several months.

In extreme cases, it can take years.

This is part of the process, and not all suppliers will be able to meet your requirements. Hence, you need to have backup suppliers to work with, in case your preferred choice fails to live up to expectations.

It is also critical to provide the supplier with clear product specifications before production starts.

Don’t let the supplier fill in the gaps for you (i.e., pick out materials and components), as this can result in them using cheap and substandard materials.

The Pre-Production Sample is extremely important. Until you have an approved sample on your desk, you don’t know if the supplier is capable of manufacturing a product according to your requirements.

You shall not place an order until you and the supplier have reached this milestone.

3. Production Samples

A Batch sample is collected from a mass-produced lot of goods. Batch samples (or Production samples) are used for various purposes:

A Batch sample shall preferably be collected by a third party, to ensure that the supplier doesn’t provide samples that aren’t from the actual batch of products.

4. Other types

Here are some less common types of product samples that are still worth mentioning.

Virtual Product Samples

Virtual product samples can be anything from a 2D rendering created in photoshop, to showcase the product design, to more sophisticated 3D product models that can be performance tested in a digital environment.

We are already using renderings as part of the product sample production process. That said, such renderings are not a replacement or substitute for physical product samples, especially when tooling is involved.

That said, virtual samples can still serve their purpose as a way to confirm that your supplier has correctly understood your design requirements, or simulate how the sample will behave when used in real life – before you invest in expensive injection molds or other tooling.

Companies like Li & Fung are increasingly applying these methods to cut product development times, by using virtual samples at an early stage to avoid costly delays further down the line.


  • 3D models
  • Renderings
  • Material simulations and testing
3D Printed Product Samples

3D printing and rapid prototyping methods can help you create demonstration samples in a matter of hours. It’s a great way to test the design and certain aspects of functionality. That said, 3D printed samples don’t replace the actual pre-production samples for these reasons:

You still need to ‘test your supplier’. A 3D printed sample from a rapid prototyping studio doesn’t do that.

You may need injection molds and tooling before you can start production. The sample that really counts is the one made using the tooling, as only this sample is a final representation of the final product.


In some cases, it makes sense to send reference samples to your supplier to demonstrate certain aspects of a product. For example, you can purchase a shirt from a local clothing store and ask your supplier to replicate certain details, such as the fabric and design.

However, the supplier must also provide a counter-sample made by them, using their material. That’s the only way to test a new factory.

Product sample and prototyping limitations

There are limitations to what manufacturers can achieve when it comes to pre-production samples. For example, creating a material in a certain Pantone color requires a certain order volume, and cannot be done on a small material sample.

This also applies to materials, as the factory may only be able to use stock material that is, to a varying extent, similar to your product. They cannot custom-make materials for a single product sample.


  • Incorrect colors
  • Incorrect materials

Likewise, sample production is more manual than mass production, which can also result in differences between a pre-production sample and the final product. Similar, technical and economic, limitations also exist when it comes to materials, components, and design.

It’s important that you are aware of these limitations before you order product samples. If not, you might end up waiting forever for a level of perfection that no supplier can ever match.

Supplier-led product development

Some buyers attempt to engage in complex product development projects managed entirely by the supplier. The buyer, lacking a product specification and the relevant files, expects the supplier to develop a product based on their idea.

I theory it is indeed an attractive approach. Share your idea with an eager supplier and sit back while they do all the hard work to bring it to market.

That said, I have never seen this work out in practice. It is impossible to get product samples made without a detailed product specification.

Intellectual property risks

It’s natural that buyers are protective of their product design and other IP. However, it is impossible to get product samples manufactured without sharing a product specification, including design files.

There is always a risk that a supplier, or one of their employees, may use your product specification. That said, this is a fact you will always have to live with – including that of unrelated companies (e.g. not your supplier) copying your product once it’s out on the market.

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Payment terms

You should always expect to pay for product samples and tooling. The payment terms can differ though and largely depend on the amount of money changing hands. Here are two examples of payment terms applicable to product samples and tooling:

General product sample payment terms (< USD 1500)

Our customers normally pre-pay the entire amount upfront for all product samples, including injection molds, costing less than 1500 dollars. You can attempt to negotiate with the suppliers but don’t expect that they’ll agree to anything but 100% upfront.


  • Clothing samples
  • Watch samples
  • ODM electronics samples
Tooling sample terms (> USD 1500)

Payments for injection molds and other more costly product samples are usually split up in two – first before production starts, and once the buyer approves the sample. Injection molds can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and there’s always a risk that a supplier may fail to deliver a sample according to your specification.

Questions & Answers

Can I send product samples to my factory and ask them to make the product that way?

Yes, and sometimes it’s easier to ‘communicate’ your design and material requirements by sending a physical reference sample.

That said, the supplier must still provide counter-samples made in their factory and using materials from their subcontractors. Keep in mind that a key reason you need product samples is to test the supplier’s ability to make the product the way you want it.

How can we protect our design and brand when ordering product samples?

You must share product information, such as logos and design files, with the suppliers before they can make a sample.

Many importers are worried that the supplier will steal their designs.

Such concerns are grounded in reality. Suppliers in China do have a reputation after all.

You may require the supplier to sign an NDA before you share any product information. Still, such agreements are hard to enforce. At least without professional legal assistance, that is out of reach of most startups and small businesses.

And, even if you succeed in enforcing an NDA, you may not be able to secure proper compensation from the supplier.

In addition, it’s also possible to circumvent NDAs by passing on the product design to a new company, that is not bound by the contract.

The only way to be “safe” is to patent the design and functions of the product in all major markets, including within China. All trademarks should also be registered, in the USA, EU, and China.

Then again, this is expensive and time-consuming, and not a viable approach for most startups and SMEs.

Unfortunately, there are no quick, cheap and simple ways to protect your IP when buying product samples from China, or other countries in Asia for that matter.

How much do product samples cost?

The cost depends on the type of sample, and whether new tooling (i.e., injection molds) are required to produce its components.

When ordering a factory sample, for example, you normally only need to pay for shipping.

However, when ordering customized product samples, you may end up paying anything from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars – all depending on the cost of tooling (if any).

Product sample cost examples
  • Garments: $20 – $150
  • Wristwatches: $300 – $800
  • ODM Electronics: $10 – $200
  • OEM Electronics: $800 – $6000

How do I pay for product samples?

You can use any standard payment method when paying for product samples. Here are a few examples:

  • Wire transfer
  • PayPal
  • Alibaba Trade Assurance

It’s increasingly common that suppliers create digital invoices via the Alibaba payment gateway. I also recommend that you request to pay via, as that guarantees that the payment is sent to the right company – and not diverted to a different supplier.

Can I order product samples on

Yes, in the sense that you can find suppliers offering to make product samples. Further, you can also pay for product samples using

Are samples free on Alibaba?

While some suppliers may offer free product samples, they always expect you to pay the DHL or FedEx delivery fee which normally ranges between $30 to $40.

How long does it take to make product samples?

That depends entirely on the type of product sample. Simple material samples can be sent via DHL and FedEx in a day or two, while more complex products can take more than a year to develop.

Here are a few examples:

  • Material samples (in-stock): 3 – 7 days
  • Material samples (made to order): 14 – 30 days
  • Clothing samples: 14 – 45 days
  • Injection-molded samples: 45 – 70 days

How can we keep costs down when developing a new prototype?

Additional tooling is the main cost when developing new samples. As such, reducing the need for new tooling can help to keep costs down. However, this requires that you choose existing components, rather than customizing parts according to your own design and functional requirements.

This approach also requires that the supplier owns such tooling, which is not always the case.

While many suppliers tend to showcase a large number of “catalog products” (i.e., on their company website), they are rarely willing to let importers use tooling owned by other buyers.

Thus, it is not always possible to “reuse” existing tooling

How do I communicate my product specifications prior to buying a product sample?

The main document is the product specification (sometimes called Techpack), which may include the following information:

  • Design drawings
  • Material specification
  • Bill of materials
  • Photocopies
  • Circuit diagrams

This is the document that the supplier will use, during sample production.

As this document will be passed between engineers and subcontractors (i.e., material suppliers), it is crucial that the product specification is extremely clear and simple to understand.

Do not leave anything open to interpretation, as this can easily result in misunderstandings.

What should I do if a supplier refuses to send product samples?

While you cannot expect a supplier to give away or produce samples free of charge, you should always be able to get samples as long as you pay for them.

Suppliers that come up with excuses for providing samples normally have something to hide.

You shall not consider doing business with such suppliers.

Do I need to get product samples before each order?

No, you don’t need to get pre-production samples every time you re-order the same product, from the same supplier. That said, you must order product samples in each of the following scenarios:

  • You order a new product from a new supplier
  • You order an existing product from a new supplier
  • You make design or material changes to an existing product

As such, every time you intend to order a new product, work with a new supplier or make changes – you need product samples before you enter mass production.

What should I do if the manufacturer fails to produce a sample according to our specification?

As mentioned, a pre-production sample is made to test the suppliers’ ability to manufacture your product.

It is to be expected that many suppliers are unable to comply with your requirements, and deliver a satisfactory pre-production sample.

If a supplier keeps failing, after two or three sample revisions, you shall not waste your (or theirs) time. Simply move on when a supplier can’t manufacture a product the way you want it.

Can the final product differ from the pre-production sample?

Yes, it can go both ways.

Making Product samples enables the supplier to invest considerably more time per produced unit, than for a mass-produced unit. In addition, the higher pace of mass production can give rise to previously unforeseen quality issues.

When placing the very first order of a new product design, you should consider minimizing the order quantity as much as possible. You are also recommended to have the products inspected, prior to shipment. However, that is not limited to the first batch, but all orders.

Can we order 3D printed product samples?

No, a 3D printed sample cannot replace a ‘real’ pre-production prototype. At best, a 3D printed sample can help you design the product.

As mentioned, the purpose of a pre-production sample is to test your supplier’s ability to manufacture your product.

Should we buy product samples from more than one manufacturer?

Yes, letting suppliers ‘compete’ is a crucial strategy – especially in the apparel industry.

The fail rate is often as high as 50%. In a worst-case scenario, you could end up investing thousands of dollars, and several months, into a supplier that just keeps failing.

Instead, you need to have a set of suppliers, which enables you to simply disqualify suppliers that don’t live up to your requirements, while you focus on those that can. This strategy is more costly, as you must pay more than one supplier.

How can I get the product sample delivered?

Product samples are normally delivered by airmail. Basically, all manufacturers can ship samples via their freight forwarders. However, you can also arrange your own forwarder to collect and ship product samples.

Can samples from multiple suppliers be sent in one parcel?

Yes, this service is often offered by freight forwarders and sourcing companies.

Do we need to pay import duties and other taxes when importing product samples?

Yes, but it does depend on the order value. In many markets, there are minimum thresholds or even exemptions for commercial product samples. If the sample is valued at below the threshold, you do not need to pay import duties or other taxes.

However, if the customs value of the sample is above the threshold, you must pay import duties (and possibly other taxes), according to the applicable duty rate.

Notice that this can result in significant amounts, as tooling is considered as part of the customs value.

Thus, you cannot decide to only declare the value of the product sample, and leaving out the cost of the tooling. The latter can cost several thousands of dollars.

When is the right time to order a sample?

Don’t start off with buying a lot of samples before you’ve made a bit of price research and confirmed whether or not a supplier is compliant with the required product certification standards in your country.

The sample costs add up quite quickly if you order them from several suppliers and it’s a waste of time and money to buy them from suppliers that are not qualified to begin with.

Why do suppliers often fail to make product samples?

If it was certain that a supplier could make a product according to specification, product samples wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. The reality is that you may pay for samples that never get delivered – at least not according to specification.

Here are two reasons why this happens:

1. The supplier is not qualified: The supplier may simply lack the experience, machinery, or subcontractors to realize your product. If this happens you simply need to move on to the next supplier.

2. Your product is difficult to manufacture: There are technical and economic limits to what can be manufactured. As a small buyer, you cannot expect cutting-edge materials and technology available to giants like Apple. Likewise, your specification may require tolerances or design elements that are not realistic. If this is the case you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

How should we store samples?

When you receive a sample, mark it with the supplier’s name, SKU, and the date of its arrival.

Sample marking

  • Supplier name
  • SKU
  • Date of arrival

The sample is your quality reference that shall be stored as long as you stay in business. You might also want to order a few additional samples so you got something to show your own customers.

Another mistake you better avoid is to send back your only remaining sample to the supplier as a part of the order confirmation. If you’re left without product samples you’ll have a very hard time proving non-compliance in case of failed production.

  • Free Webinar

    We can help you manufacture products in China, Vietnam & India?

    • 1. Product design and material selection
    • 2. Finding suppliers in Asia
    • 3. Product samples and payments
    • 4. Quality control, lab testing & shipping


  • 52 Responses to “Buying Product Samples from China: A Complete Guide

    1. Tamara R at 4:09 am

      What a great article, Fredrik! I am in the process of writing a business plan for a swimwear line and find your blog so insightful!
      My question correlates highly with Annie’s question:
      If I decide to go ahead with placing a sample order with the Chinese factory, does it mean I would have to commit for a bulk order, assuming samples are done nicely? Is there a certain clause in the agreement that the buyer can overlook?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 11:09 am

        Hi Tamara,

        No, ordering samples does not mean you have to commit to a bulk order.

    2. Susie L. Clarke at 9:11 am

      I am contemplating the prospect of contacting a supplier (Alibaba) to manufacture an athletic apparel item but I am uncertain how to get started. The process itself is overwhelming in determining the NDA to hopefully protect manufacturing as well how to contact the sourcing to discuss the prototype item. I previously discussed this endeavor a year ago thru email but seemingly cannot locate.

      Please advise the method to contact the company (not limited to the above mentioned) as well a concise method to start this stagnant effort of mine to ignite this process.

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 6:17 pm

        Hello Susie,

        An NDA is not offering any meaningful protection. I suggest you read this article to better understand:

        Further, you can also watch our free webinar that explains the importing process in detail:

    3. Annie at 8:21 pm

      Hi Fredrik,
      This is my first time manufacturing a product and being in contact with Chinese manufacturers. I have a really basic question but need advice!

      I have been in contact with 4 different suppliers and bought a customized sample for each for my product (a sports wear top). I have specified I only want a sample currently, but there has been talk with each supplier about potential bulk orders.
      During the process of designing my product sample, all 4 manufacturers have been great to work with and communicate with.
      I know which one I want to select and work with. But I don’t know how to advise the other suppliers that they aren’t my preference (since they’ve been so good to work with, I would like to have them as a future option if I might ever need them.)

      Can you advise what is a good way to inform unsuccessful suppliers, without losing their willingness to work with me again if a future need arises?

      If Chinese manufacturers create a sample product and message about potential bulk orders are they strongly expecting an order to be placed once the sample is finalized?
      Do Chinese manufacturers regard the sampling process as relationship building or strictly commercial?

      Thank you very much!

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 8:36 pm

        Hi Annie,

        Great question. It’s necessary to inform them that you have selected another supplier.

        Also explain why you did so, and that you are still interested in working with them on future products.

        I’d say it’s a bit of both. But, they know that an order is not guaranteed.

    4. Sarah Vu at 1:59 pm

      Hi Fredrik,

      I am process of talking to suppliers to design a gift box lined with velvet and I am getting quoted $210 usd to ship it to Australia! Is this too expensive?

      Thank you

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 6:56 pm

        Hi Sarah,

        Does that include the box sample? If yes, then the price looks reasonable.

    5. Wong at 7:02 am

      Hi Frederick,

      Thanks again for your range of important vids.

      I have a question please, I know what best practice is, but im looking for a more practical answer.

      Re: Duties paid on Samples

      So I currently have 4 factories ready to air freight, door to door completed samples to Australia.

      One of the factories has charged me quite a high price in excess of <$2000 USD to complete the samples. (no tooling cost)
      Now I know I should declare the full value right! However if I were too manufacture a larger run of these products, this cost per unit would be considerably less.
      Do I declare the actual cost or the large production value cost?

      The samples are purely a small run of 5 different products with 5 samples each or 25 units.
      They are purely for evaluation purposes, quality control & testing. So they have no value as they are not for resale.

      In Australia the tax free threshold is anything <$1000AUD.

      My question is do I declare:
      The actual cost (subject to heavy duties)
      The retail cost (what I would charge a customer for this product)
      Or a smaller value, based on the fact that if they are damaged in transit, then I would get part of the cost back from insurance?

      Also what have other people on here done in the past, any comms would be greatly appreciated.


      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 4:51 am

        Hi Wong,

        The customs value is based on the production cost (not based on the retail price). If some units are damaged, you should be able to deduct that value.

    6. margarita at 2:22 am

      i want to order a sample and it shows 10.00 per sample how do i find out what will be the exact charge am ordering an overhead garage rack ,and i live in california .thank you

      1. Ivan Malloci at 11:47 am

        Hello Margarita,

        I’m sorry but we don’t know where you are trying to order the sample. If it’s on, then you shall contact the supplier and get a quotation for the samples.

    7. Deepika at 2:26 am

      Hi. I recently started by business in Canada and ordered samples from china. But the UPS people are charging 500$ freight charges for 13kg weighing sample. Please help me that how can I waive off such heavy amount of freight.

      1. ChinaImportal at 2:53 am

        Sounds very strange. Are you paying this fee directly to UPS to via the supplier?

    8. Joyce at 2:40 pm

      Please can anyone suggest the cheapest way to ship samples

      1. ChinaImportal at 10:11 am

        Hi Joyce,

        That depends on the weight and volume of those samples

    9. jimstew at 12:29 pm

      Greetings everyone

      So I have been in contact with a few suppliers on Alibaba regarding purchasing a few products that are related to a niche market that I want to sell into. After searching through a few suppliers I found one that looks very professional and have been trading on Alibaba for about 8 years.

      They make the same product that alot of the other suppliers do. The difference is the other suppliers are making the same old looking product over and over again. This supplier is making something that looks pretty pleasing and everyone hat has seen the images say it looks really good and that they would buy one.

      I sent them an email regarding buying this product, and they told me it is still just in design, and that they dont actively make it. They told me if I wanted to actually have it made that they would require $3400 to cover the material costs and labour costs of producing it. This does not include the cost of the MOQ which they are saying is 500. I am trying to negotiate with them to get a lower MOQ, but they are not budging and are saying it is not worth their while to go lower.

      I am trying to get samples from them but they are saying they will only 1-2 samples, and those samples would be without the part that needs to be designed and produced, hence the $3400 i was quoted earlier on. Which really dosnt seem worth it to me. Without samples, and samples with the main part how can I even know how good the product is

      My questions is really why would they actively be selling something on Alibaba and then saying it requires $3400 to go in to production, which dosnt include MOQ. To order MOQ + cost would be $5500. They dont look like a scam company and have been trading on Alibaba for 8 years, and they are a gold supplier, and have been site assessed, and I really want to source this product. Does anyone have any advice?

    10. Mandy at 4:31 am

      Hello Fredik, I’m heading to China to meet some of the possible manufacturers for my customized bag in a few days time and was wondering how to assess the reliability of the factory when I am there eg. is there some sort of criteria or things to look out for?

    11. Christian Henriquez at 5:48 pm

      Dear Fredik ,

      I am veyr thankfull because of your posts and replys and excuse me to ask you the following:

      Is it possible to load a container either in a FCL or LCL mode with products from different suppliers?
      To do that I have to deal with a trader or could be directly done with suppliers, buying somehow the space in an specific container and refering thus the specific container to the suppliers? provided that obviously delivery date is the same for all suppliers.

      Please let me know if otherwise you can handle that so that we can work together.

      Best Regards

      Christian Henriquez Prevoo

    12. Rachel at 8:44 pm

      I want to get samples of dishes from China. What is the quickest most cost effective way to get them here? I don’t want to wait 30 days for ocean shipping. The manufacturer quoted me a price 350 usd for express shipping. Is there any other way?

    13. Mohamed at 11:31 pm


      I am trying to launch a AW2015 collection for my brand and this is gonna be the first collection ever, but i cant seem to find any manufacturer, and I would like factory that are really good at OEM.


      1. Jimmy at 10:10 am

        Hello Mohamed,

        I am Jimmy from Earnest China, we are professional OEM direct factory for decades.

        We can make product by using hundreds of import materials, and you might get want you want from us.

        You could contact me and let’s talk more detailed of your needs.

        Skype: jimmy19911112 (Ou Fangzhou)
        Whatsapp: 8615980777232

    14. Shri at 12:24 pm

      I plan to visit Guangzhou and Yiwu for the first time and purchase through agent and have some queries to start with.

      1) I need to understand if I could select supplier based on product on display (garments) and order them.
      2) Also, does it sounds good to provide original sample to agent for Quality Inspection and keep a photo with myself?
      3) How do I ensure that supplier send the photo along with Quality and labeling requirements to their production?
      4) How much pricing negotiation could be done with the supplier or many do not provide discounts both in Guangzhou and Yiwu?
      5) What should be MOQ? Does each piece with different color and size would be separate MOQ or it is combined together?

    15. felipe Gonzalez at 6:28 am

      Hi Fredrik.

      I just want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone. Out of the last few months I think I have spent well over 60 hrs reading your site, as well as Dan harris’ and quality inspection org, so thanks again!

      A question that i have is “what is the best method to actually pay for a sample?” Assuming that you went through all the proper screening procedures, but had some reserve about providing any credit card information or bank account information. What is the most common or safest method to purchase such samples? Pre-paid visa cards?

      Your expertise in this matter is highly appreciated!

      aka Youcancallmephil

    16. Boris at 1:48 pm

      Hi Fredrik

      1. I heard that PO can act as sales agreement at the same time. That means there’s no need in having unnecessary bureaucracy if sales agreement can be outlined in PO?

      2. About samples. Have you heard about “Virtual Manufacturing Network”? I read about it on Wikipedia and think it’s a network of collaborating manufacturers which seems to me like there’s a lot of subcontracting. If that’s correct, then it will be hard to know who made samples if ordering from front end supplier.

      3. Are you familiar with ICP license that suppliers who own .CN website must have permit in order to operate such website? This license number is usually shown on home page but I have seen when it was not show at all. Do you consider this small thing to worry about?


      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:27 pm

        Hello Boris,

        1. No, the Proforma Invoice (issued based on the PO) is not recognized as a legal document in China.

        2. No, I am not familiar with that term, but there is always a lot of subcontracting as the “outer layer” of exporting suppliers are basically assembly factories.

        3. No, but whether or not they have such a license is of no particular interest when sourcing suppliers. It is not indicating compliance or reliability in any way.

        1. Boris at 5:15 pm

          Hey Fredrik, I was talking about Purchase Order in my first question being also used as sales agreement. I wasn’t talking about Proforma invoice.

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 2:24 pm

            Yes, I understand, but the PO can never act as the Sales Agreement as it is issued by the buyer. The PI, issued if the supplier accepts the buyers PO, is the document that really matters. Yet, in China, it is only an attachment and cannot be used as a Sales Agreement.

            Also, it is not efficient to do that anyway, as that would force you to renegotiate terms for ever order. It is much better to have one contract, valid for 2 to 5 years, with fixed terms. For each order the supplier only issue a PI, and you don’t need to deal with continuous negotiations.

            1. Boris at 6:43 pm

              Hi Fredrik

              I wanted to include some terms in MOQ of 100 order with new supplier and think that writing contract at this point is not suitable until I get to know supplier good enough to make orders on a constant basis.

              At this point I want to include some terms in PO that I want supplier to acknowledge and reference in PI. Will referencing PO in PI be enough or I will need to ask supplier to reference specific sections in PO that describe those terms?


            2. Fredrik Grönkvist at 8:31 pm

              PI terms are not legally binding in China, which is the opposite to the United States and EU. I would advice you to sign a Sales Agreement at this point, as it will be much harder to negotiate terms while the business relationship is already active.

              The supplier has no incentive to offer “beneficial” terms later on, as they can already make the assumption that you will rather keep ordering from them, even without a Sales Agreement, rather than spending time and money sourcing new suppliers.

    17. Boris at 2:28 pm

      Hi Fredrik

      1. When I want to get samples, how do I make sure that I get ODM sample from default factory production run according to specifications mentioned on product’s page? I don’t want to get sample from factory production run where client made customized order because I want to see how sample from their default factory production looks like. Must I emphasize this when contacting manufacturer?

      2. When I have samples from different manufacturers and decided on one of samples, must I send it back to supplier I bought from to serve as reference for next small-medium-large order?

      Thanks for help!

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:23 am

        Hello Boris,

        1. That’s a very good question. In fact, this is very very hard to verify. But yes, you should emphasize that you allow no subcontracting and that you may send an inspector to the suppliers location – without notice. I also advice you to add “no subcontracting” as a term in the Proforma Invoice.

        2. Yes, you should make them sign and stamp reference samples (along with technical documents and photo copies). But make sure you don’t send back the only sample you got! You need to keep samples for future reference, which is especially important in case something would go wrong during production. Without a reference sample, you’ll have a hard time maintaining a case against the supplier.

        1. Boris at 5:05 pm

          1. “No subcontracting” in Pro Forma Invoice or in Sales Agreement too?

          2. Does that mean I send 2 chosen samples back to them to have them signed and stamped as reference samples? Best would be to order 3 samples initially to have enough as backup reserves before making larger order?

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 9:36 pm

            1. Usually it’s only mentioned in the Sales Agreement. The PI basically lists payment terms, items, specifications and quantity. It shall be considered an appendix of the sales agreement, rather than a “standalone” document.

            2. That is right, that way you have at least one backup samples.

            1. Boris at 8:46 am

              I wondered why abbreviation of Pro Forma Invoice is not PFI…
              How does Purchase Order differ from Pro Forma Invoice Fredrik?

            2. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:49 pm

              A Purchase Order is issued by the buyer, to the supplier, detailing the items the buyer wish to order. The Proforma Invoice is issued by the supplier.
              I have no idea why it’s called PI, and not PFI.

            3. Jimmy at 10:19 am

              Thank you Fredrik,
              I am a new salesman of a chinese manufacturer. I also have learned many things via all the conversation. I start to know more about what buyer is thinking and improve our service.

            4. Kay at 4:49 pm


              How do you find companies? I’m wanting to purchase from China but don’t even know where to begin finding companies. Can you please help? My correct email is gmail the first reply was incorrect. I apologize

            5. ChinaImportal at 4:10 am

              Hi Kay,

              I suggest you check out our Buyer’s Guide, as it explains (among many other things) how to find and verify Chinese suppliers.

              You can read more here:

    18. Cheryl at 12:03 am

      Hi Fredrik – thanks for the great post! I am getting ready to reach out to suppliers about ordering plush samples based on specific characters my company created. I am happy to pay sample fees, but I see that many sellers require my company to pay delivery costs of the sample. What are your thoughts on having them send a picture of the sample, and only if it looks close enough to our character pay for them to ship it to me? I’m simply trying to avoid paying for shipping if the sample is way off target. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:54 am

        Hello Cheryl,

        Yes, buyers are always required to pay the delivery fee, even if the sample itself is “free”. However, it’s a good idea to request a photo before they deliver the sample. We’ve done that too, and often an image is enough to determine whether a sample should go straight back to the workshop.

        1. Cheryl at 5:46 pm

          Thanks!! I really appreciate your site and your services. Keep up the good work!

    19. Ken at 11:03 am

      I have just ordered two samples from a company in china they have been a gold member of alibaba for eight years . For the two samples they charge me $110 dollars does that sound to expensive . Thanks Ken

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:41 pm

        Hello Ken,

        Whether that is expensive or not depends entirely on the type of product you’re buying. Is the cost including delivery?

    20. Sam at 3:44 pm

      Please I have a watch supplier on alibaba that am currently communicating with. He has agreed to produce the customized sample for me and has even sent the design job which I am ok with. The problem is this; He insists that I pay full sample fee before they can commence production of the customized product sample. Is this a red flag or normal policy in China. By the way, the amount is 25USD.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:16 pm

        Hello Sam,

        There’s nothing strange with that. Few suppliers would provide free custom samples to new buyers. Too be honest, 25 USD for a customized watch sample is lower than I would have expected.

      2. Jimmy at 9:45 am

        Hello Sam,
        I am Jimmy from China. 25USD for a customized watch? Could you tell me how to contact with this supplier? By the way, prepayments is very normal in foreign trade. For the big volume, deposit is always necessary.

      3. Andrew Choe at 11:03 pm

        Hey Sam,

        How did you find your specific manufacturer in China? I am also aspiring to do a watch brand on Kickstarter and don’t want to make any mistakes with production. Did your sample come out as expected?

        I wish to speak to you more indepth regarding this matter. Hope to hear from you soon!

    21. Dee at 3:26 am

      I am in process of attempting to set up business, but find getting samples from china to Melbourne Australia the freight cost very high.
      So I want to know if i do get larger orders and but not container lots, Who or What can be done to reduce cost so can make my potential new company endevour viable.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:17 pm

        Hello Dee!

        Yes, international freight costs for small volumes is very high. However, there are options for buyers importing less than full container volumes. We’ve already written an article on that topics. You’ll find it here:

        You can also request a free shipping quotation on

        We manage shipping (both sea and air) of small volumes, worldwide.

        1. Boris at 5:07 pm

          I haven’t noticed earlier that you do Fredrik.

          For air courier shipping you do it through your established account?
          For sea shipping you are acting as freight forwarder or leverage your freight forwarding partner?


          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 2:22 pm

            Hello Boris,

            Currently we primarily offer shipping services to clients, and are therefore not advertising it on the website. However, we will introduce shipping – and many other services, for everyone to buy on Expect that to happen in Q1 or Q2 of 2015.

            We are not a freight forwarder. We work with an established freight company in Hong Kong.

    Comments are closed.

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