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You’ve finally found the perfect product. All you need to do now is to go online, send out a few inquiries on Alibaba and wait for the bidding war to begin! Well, at least that’s the way plenty of importers wish things worked. But, as many of you are painfully aware of, the reality surrounding suppliers sourcing and price research is very different. Getting the supplier’s attention is one of the main issues faced by small businesses sourcing products in China.
It may sound rather absurd that you, the buyer, should be the one fighting for attention, and not the supplier. However, Chinese suppliers do indeed have very good reasons to be somewhat picky. In this article, I explain why suppliers don’t reply your inquiries, and what you can do to change that.
“I’m the buyer. Why should I need to convince a supplier to work with me?”
This is indeed a valid question. However, try to put yourself in the suppliers shoes for a moment. Chinese suppliers are accustomed to manufacture products according to the buyer’s specifications. This requires a serious commitment from the buyer. Suppliers listed on Alibaba, and other B2B directories, can receive large numbers of inquiries on a daily basis. They are, just like any business, doing what they can to cut through the clutter and avoid wasting time on leads that are unlikely to ever give a return.
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Reason #1: Your inquiry is too vague and makes you look like an amateur
A while back, I found this comment on the Alibaba forums from a Chinese sales manager, explaining why he or she simply don’t bother to respond to most inquiries:
“I am a supplier too. You should inform some professional questions about your products such as your ingredient, you’re packing, your country regulation, whether OEM or not.
As a supplier myself, I only reply to a specific request. When your questions are very broad, it is very difficult for supplier to understand and follow up with you. Be specific about the products that you are interested.”
The easiest way to tell the difference between opportunists, and real buyers, is by looking at how much they actually know about the product. A professional buyer of LED lights, for example, will certainly ask questions about compliance with foreign standards (e.g. FCC and EN LVD), LED chips and other quality factors. The opportunist will, on the other hand, jump straight to the point and request rock bottom prices, great quality products (whatever that may be) when buying miniscule volumes. Let’s make a comparison and see which one you rather spend time on, assuming you had a factory in China:
I’m very interested in your products and would like you to send me a quotation for all your LED bulb lights. I am not keen to engage in lengthy price negotiations, so please give me the best prices available. I’d like to purchase something like 20 – 50 pcs a model. Please provide me with quotations for each quantity.
A lot of people actually send out inquires like this, without giving a second thought to how much time it actually takes a supplier to provide such an extensive quotation. This inquiry is not specifying any models, but actually expects the supplier to quote every single model. Providing an accurate quotation for tens, or even hundreds, of models takes hours. This is also leaving the supplier guessing the product specifications. No serious supplier would ever waste hours working on a quotation based on a vague inquiry such as this one. I highly doubt you would either.
We recently visited your website and are interested in the following LED bulb light models:
We also have the following product specifications (applicable to all models mentioned above):
LED Chip: CREE
Base Type: E14
Input Voltage: 230
Work Frequency: 50-60Hz
Color Temperature (CCT): Cool White
Lamp Body Material: Aluminum
LED Chip: Epistar (Taiwan)
Please quote us a price for 1000 pcs of each model. Also confirm the following technical data, for each model, in the quotation:
Lamp Luminous Efficiency
Ecodesign Directive Compliance
If possible, we would also like to purchase samples, 3 pcs of each model, right away. We are in need of a new supplier, and hope you could be our future LED supplier in China.
This one is crystal clear and easy to follow. A professional buyer knows that it’s not realistic to ask a supplier to quote their entire product line. Instead, they start with a few models, and work their way up from there. They also provide highly clear product specifications, and let the supplier fill in the gaps. This way, they show that they actually know a thing or two about the product in question. This is the kind of buyer a Chinese supplier is looking for.
Reason #2: You present yourself as a (too) small buyer
So, you just started your own online store and you lack previous business experience. Great, you gotta start from somewhere – but there’s no reason to tell your Chinese supplier about it. Chinese manufacturers are not startup incubators. They want serious business now, not half a decade later. Let’s make another comparison:
I’m thinking about opening an online store on Amazon.com and think your products would be just perfect for me. I have not registered my business yet, but would like to know if you could lower your MOQ requirement to 300 pcs? We’re on a really small budget, but I promise you that my volumes will grow as my business becomes bigger.
Chinese manufacturers are also operating on razor thin profit margins, often as low as 2 – 4%. The MOQ requirements are there for a reason. A supplier must manufacture a certain number of items in order to break even. Vague promises about large future orders is not paying electricity bills and wages.
The Professional (Small) Buyer
I’m the senior Purchasing Manager of LED Bulb Light Inc, based in Dallas, Texas. We are currently looking for a complementary manufacturer in China, for regular shipments for our E-commerce department. Before we purchase larger volumes, we need to start with a trial order of 300 pcs.
That’s more like it. Even though the two inquiries are asking for the very same order quantity (300 pcs), the impression is entirely different. First of all, China is a strictly hierarchical society and its people respects authority. It doesn’t really matter if the company’s senior Purchasing Manager also happens to be the sole owner and employee, or if the “E-commerce department” is a simple Shopify store. The point is that you make the impression to be a worthwhile client. That’s a must if you want to draw attention.
Reason #3: You contact too few suppliers
Before I co-founded ChinaImportal.com, my previous role primarily involved extensive price research. A client would come to us with long lists of product specifications and quality requirements, from which I sourced 8 to 12 suppliers. The product specifications and the supplier list were then forwarded an experienced Chinese price researcher.
Yet, the response rate rarely went above 50%. For various reasons, suppliers refused to offer quotations. The lesson here is that a large number of suppliers will maintain radio silence, regardless of how well prepared you are. That said, a well performed supplier selection process can increase the response rate to 75 – 80%. However, in the end you must always contact an adequate number of suppliers, and not limit yourself to the first two or three suppliers you find.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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