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Supplier & buyer communication in China sourcing

Posted: December 23, 2016

By Li Zhang

Many China manufacturing problems between buyer and supplier all boil down to communication. This all bleeds over into service and more importantly, into the quality of the goods. When both sides increase understanding, both sides are then working with a higher quality product. Communication, in its various forms is what keeps buyers up-to-speed and what keeps the trust level up.

While the buyer is in 1 country and the supplier is across the world, communication is the lube that makes the gears turn.

But how many times do Western buyers have to email their suppliers and ask, “can I get an update on the project?” A client should almost never have to ask for an update from a supplier. The supplier’s goal aside from manufacturing a quality product, should be in making sure the customer rightly understands and receives the product. This all takes communication. The more the buyer understands, the more the buyer can sell and therefore the more they can sell, the more they can buy.

Suppliers don’t realize an update that says something as basic as “the material is due to arrive in 2 days and then we’ll start the print”, is indeed an update. In fact to anxious buyers, this is an invaluable update.

In its most fundamental sense, it’s one party shining light into the darkness. What was once cloudy is now clearer, simply because of communication. A brief email or process pictures carry a lot of weight with an expecting importer.

Should be a no brainer, right?

To the China supplier, they think, “if there’s something to tell you, I will”. Supplier communication can be rigid and it’s as if the supplier is tight-lipped. They are timid of saying more than they should.

If you don’t chase down your supplier, you could wait for days on communication.

From large updates like photo images, reports and observations, down to a brief email simply updating you on the status of your order, China suppliers don’t understand why this is needed.

How can buyers and suppliers improve this?


Express to your supplier that you expect frequent updates. This can even be something you state in the early stages of quoting. Enforce the need for frequent updates, but at the same time, don’t overdo it. Expecting your vendor to email every day is burdensome and they’ll lose focus on the main thing.

Keep cultural considerations in mind. Things that are important to you to know aren’t something that stands in the forefront of your vendor’s thought process. Therefore, it’s ok to give reminders and in China, stating the obvious isn’t thought of as “condescending” as it is in the Western world.

Determine the key processes of an order (material arrival, printing day, cutting day) and inform the supplier you expect an update during each key process.

Make sure your own communication with your supplier is professional and over time they’ll reciprocate. This is why repeat orders are important. You cannot just order 1 or 2 times and expect knock-down service. Repetition is a grandmother to success when working in China and with Chinese personnel. The more the supplier knows about your work and your goals, the more motivated they are in providing a better product.


Realize that communication is a trust builder with you and the client. The more you communicate, the more the client learns about and trusts you. Communicate how excellent you are and sell yourself more to the client. Inform the buyers in what problems you avoided and steps you took to improve the product.

Also be aware of key processes. Whenever a milestone moment is taking place in the production, inform your buyer. “Today the material arrived and we’re starting the next phase. Keep in mind we still need for you to confirm…etc…” You get my point.

Be mindful of perspectives. Things that may seem not worth communicating, are very worthwhile to know from the buyers’ standpoint. Many times suppliers think everyone knows as much about manufacturing as they do. Generally your buyer is not an expert on the manufacturing processes.

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Li Zhang has worked in international manufacturing and exporting since 2003. She has served global brands such as Bayer, Coca Cola and Warner Bros. Her background is in design and engineering. Li is a native of Jiangsu Province and currently finds herself back and forth between Suzhou, China and the USA. Contact Li at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find her penning manufacturing thoughts at her blog.

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