Alibaba

How to Request a Sample from China Using a Supplier on Alibaba

For many small businesses, the daunting task of finding a supplier in China has been made significantly easier with Alibaba. Alibaba is an online marketplace that helps connect Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers. With the click of a button you can order thousands of products. But it’s not quite as easy as shopping on eBay. While most of the manufacturers on Alibaba are reputable, you still need to be sure that what you see is what you’re going to get.

 

While most of the manufacturers on Alibaba are reputable, you still need to be sure that what you see is what you’re going to get. Once you’ve settled on a supplier, it’s time to procure a sample product.

 

Once you’ve settled on a supplier, it’s time to procure a sample product. When importing from Alibaba, a major concern is product quality and a practical way to control this is to request a product sample from your supplier in China.

 

Specifying Details When Asking for a Sample

Communication styles differ in China and the US. Because of these cultural differences, it’s necessary to be specific when requesting a sample from your supplier. For more on these cultural differences, you can read our guide: How to Do Business in China.

 

Details specified on the phone or by email are not always adhered to by the supplier. The reasons for this is that the chain of command in factories is not always direct and there may be two or more people the message goes through before it gets to the person who’s actually making the sample.

 

Details specified on the phone or by email are not always adhered to by the supplier. The reasons for this is that the chain of command in factories is not always direct and there may be two or more people the message goes through before it gets to the person who’s actually making the sample. In between, information can get confused or lost so, as you may expect, the person creating the sample may receive different instructions than what you relayed.

 

After each email or telephone chat, you should follow up with written detail as to how you want the sample produced. You should include the following bullet points:

  • The address you want the sample sent to, with a specification that the sample be labeled “sample: of no commercial value.” This will save you from being charged duty for the package
  • Specifics about the product that contain as much detail as possible. You could even include a diagram. No detail is too small: for example, one small business ordered a sample of a plush snowman toy and it came with carrot eyes. Be aware that what you think of as obvious, may not be. Take the time to be specific.
  • Many of the manufacturer on Alibaba will agree to test the product before sending it to you, so feel free to ask.
  • Ask your supplier in China to include a model number and company name tag so you don’t get their samples confused with other samples you may be ordering.
  • An indication that the sample needs to be a working sample as it will undergo tests once it arrives. (While you may be planning minimal testing, specifying that you need a working sample will help insure you’re getting a high quality sample).

 

Some other tips on clear communication with your supplier in China:

  • Every reputable manufacturer on Alibaba will be used to working with clear deadlines and should be able to communicate a timeframe for samples. Make sure you ask for their process and timeframe, that way you’ll know when you can ask for changes and when it should be on its way to you.
  • Include diagrams and drawings of what you expect the sample to look like.
  • If you’re worried that there may be confusion, ask your supplier to confirm the specs they’re using to create your sample. You should be able to tell quite quickly if they’ve understood what you’re asking for.
  • Ask to do a video chat with your supplier once the sample is completed so you can see what it looks like before it is shipped. Perhaps modifications can be made before shipping which would save both you and your supplier in China money.

 

Before you sign off on the pre-production sample from China

Ask how the product will differ from the sample in mass production. Sometimes the same material is not available in small quantities for a sample. Many of the manufacturers in China produce tens of thousands of each product, so a one-off sample will most likely have at least a few differences. Sometimes the sample is handmade by the supplier, or made on a different machine than will be used for mass production.

 

Ask how the product will differ from the sample in mass production. Sometimes the same material is not available in small quantities for a sample.

 

Remember that the invoice is very important in China, and that any details or variations from the sample you expect the product to have should be specified there. You can read more about invoices in our How To Do Business in China Guide.

 

Paying for your Sample:

There is usually no way around paying for your sample product from Alibaba. However, here are a few tips that may help reduce the cost of ordering a sample or even getting one for free:

Some other tips on clear communication with your supplier in China:

  • Explain that if the sample meets your requirements you will place a large order. Many manufacturers on Alibaba will agree to subtract the sample costs out of your first order.
  • State that you expect to do business exclusively with this supplier in China. (This is part of having good guanxi).
  • Ask your supplier from Alibaba to add the sample cost to your official order. This way if you decide to order from another supplier you will save the sample cost.
  • Offer to split the costs with your supplier in China.

 

Some other tips on clear communication with your supplier in China:

Once you’ve settled on a price for the sample from Alibaba, the easiest, fastest, and completely secure way to make a wire transfer to China is using Veem. Your supplier in China will thank you for making payment quickly and safely.


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