Sourcing Agents in China: the Good and the Ugly

A reader recently asked me how to find a good sourcing agent in China. Many dark stories involving rogue sourcing agents have shaped my opinion on this topic. My response will probably sound radical to first-time importers.

The way I see it, you have two options if you need someone on the ground to source and follow new suppliers:

  1. You hire a Chinese girl with sourcing experience, who works in your office and that you trust 110%. But that only works if you have a local office with a reliable manager. Note: you should regularly check what she is doing, except maybe if she’s your wife.
  2. You hire a foreign sourcing agency (who may or may not be based locally), with an established procedure and reference clients that you can call. That agent might or might not take possession of the goods and be your supplier. The most important is that they work transparently and give a quote for their service.

My point is that there is nothing in between.

Of course there are a few trustworthy Chinese or Hong Kong agents who can help you a lot for a low cost. But your odds of finding them is about one in a hundred.

The other 99% are attracted by the massive sums involved in foreign trade, and are looking for a fast buck. They have lots of bad habits:

  1. They will be too disorganized—and sometimes too lazy—to follow an objective process where potential suppliers are identified, then short-listed, and then visited in person and carefully checked.
  2. If they have personal contacts who may know someone who knows a manufacturer of the product you are looking for, that’s the route they will take in priority. If their uncle can supply it, he will automatically be the lucky one. Forget about competency-based selection.
  3. They will look very hard-working and honest, but in most cases they will get 5% or 10% from the factory, without disclosing it to you. That hidden commission is on top of what you will give them. Now, which option is really the cheapest?
  4. As a consequence of the above point, they will be inclined to defend the manufacturer more than your company when things go wrong—and things WILL go wrong at one point or another.
  5. They will seldom take the pain to draw samples at random and check product quality. And, even if they do it and they find some issues, they will probably not tell you. Remember, a Chinese agent that you are not supervising closely will have more than one boss.
  6. After you stop working with them, what might happen? Look at this example that I found on a forum for UK importers:

Complaint about a sourcing agent

Am I being too harsh? What do you think?

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Comments

  1. Gregory Torosyan says

    Hi Renaud,

    Although there must be sourcing companies getting hidden commission from suppliers, you cannot say the same about all sourcing companies.
    There are sourcing agents transparent towards their clients, and it is the task for the client to find trustworthy sourcing agent.

    Cheers,
    Gregory

  2. Renaud Anjoran says

    Hi Greg,
    Yes of course there are good sourcing agents. I might be a bit provocative when I write that 99% are bad apples, but I’d say over 90% have seriously bad habits.
    As you say, it’s the client’s responsibility to find a good one. That’s why I described what I see as their two options.

  3. Jeff Huang says

    Well, commission is a never avoidable problem for agency matters, every time when a purchaser want to get a lowest price, it just could be un-workable idea, maybe a more reasonable margin is expectable. to get proper quotation from some trade company at target price. I’m a trader, every time when I face a inquiry from some importers, I will ask them about the target price they could accept and payment terms they would like to have. and If they have any unsure about some matters, it’s better to clear it up before placing an order. and some later payment to guarantee their benefits.

  4. Jack kwang says

    Mostly I agree with Renaud’s point of view,although I am also an agent for a gentlemen outsite of China. Most person nowadays in this field prefer making uses of kinds of opportunity to do some under-the-table deal before they take a importer to a mill…. However,there are still good and reliable person in this trade filed,depending on how you can find him/her. If a guy can handle well for his employer,I think he deserves working for no less than one employer,but need to be at site at anytime whereever they need him….

  5. Isabelle Constantin says

    I really like this topics because few years ago I had this problem, a sourcing company wich who I was doing business was getting a commission over the suppliers, and whenever they was a problems, the sourcing agent was always pretending that even the small problems this company was far better from all the others he was working with. After a while I got suspicious and start asking to other sourcing company to look around. I was unfortunatly stock under a contract of exclusivity so I couldn’t buy anywhere else for still few months, but I fastly figure out that the company wich who I was doing business was one of the forbidden one by most of the sourcing agency I got in touch.

    That didn’t just frustrated me, It ripe me of most of the thrust i had with chinese sourcing company. but because I couldn’t let my business go without the business modele I built, My priece were to low to get out from China, I had to find an other company. The one I found was a Canadian manage company in shenzhen, specialize in sourcing LED light, even if my business wasn’t in LED retails, the fact that this company was foreigner manage and specialize in a different field was a good way to have someone scouting the offer with a new eyes and commiting real Audit.

    It been now 4 years that I’m working with CC Source.ltd and I never had thrust problem, I don’t says their is no problems, because that would be lying, but at least they are honest problems. So I suggest when you are looking for a Sourcing company, for non technical product, less the company is specialize in your industry, more likely they will be honest in their market scouting. After that, doing your job asking questions, pictures and repport is the less you can do to have an healthy relationship!

    I.C. best regards

  6. Renaud Anjoran says

    Isabelle,
    Thanks a lot for telling us about your experience. What you advise in the last paragraph is particularly interesting!

  7. Ivychong2008 says

    I set up rep office in Shanghai China for my British boss 5 years ago. We have successfully developed 20 suppliers here in China. I never take commission or anything like that from those factories. I am a Chinese.

    • says

      Well, you were working for that company, so I guess you can’t call yourself an agent?
      Just to make sure I am clear: I am not implying that all Chinese people are dishonest.

    • Thariq says

      Hi , I am south african. Will you be able to assist us, we will pay you commission. We need to buy from China and are looking for an honest agent who will be abl to assist us. We plan on coming at end of June

      • Hary says

        Hi Thariq i know a very good 40 years old multi national company by the name of H.Daya International they are 40 years old Hongkong based company having 12 offices in China , contact hk +852 – 27224768 and China +8620 – 28330999 ( Guangzhou ) known as Taifana International

      • Yan says

        Hi Thariq, just noticed your message here . I’m based in China . I think i can help you to do the sourcing in China. from sourcing , quality control , arrange shipment. follow up the orders and the follow up the whole process. I’m into this area for years. I can say that i know the whole process pretty well and I’m a reliable partner. So if you are interested, we could have a further discussion.

        Thanks

      • Kevin Peng says

        Hi, Thariq, please contact me if you still need a sourcing engineer in Chinse marketing, I am base in Shenzhen, GD. Thanks.

    • CHRISTOPHER says

      Our COMPANY IS FROM SRI LANKA AND WISHES TO DISTRIBUTE SESAME SEEDS AND OILS TO ALL MERCHANTS IN CHINA
      PLEASE CONTACT ME ON 0094 754662572 OR EMAIL TO micaexports@outlook.com for your interest to work as an agent on commissions or profits.
      Regards
      Christopher – CEO
      Elite Group of Companies
      SRI LANKA.

  8. Vienla says

    very professional thonghts,I can see you must have years of experience in dealing with Chinese trade company and agent. It really exist some Chinese people who is not honest and lazy, but it also depends on how you work with them or deal with them.Trust is something which is interactive,I once worked as an agent for one of my clent,actually he found me to work for him, he trust me a lot and I never get commission from factory,and always check the best price and good quality products for him,reduce all cost for him without he ask.

  9. Wangtongchina says

    I graduate from school for half a year, pls contact me, i am looking for good money life
    I have strong tight with car audio amplifier with 1,2,4,5 channels, radio with digital radio and two way radio, electronic clock, tablet pc with Telechip CPU, A10 CPU, RK2918 CPU
    wangtongchina (at) yeah.net
    Alan (Wang)

  10. Wangtongchina says

    I graduate from school for half a year, pls contact me, i am looking for good money life
    I have strong tight with car audio amplifier with 1,2,4,5 channels, radio with digital radio and two way radio, electronic clock, tablet pc with Telechip CPU, A10 CPU, RK2918 CPU
    wangtongchina (at) yeah . net
    Alan (Wang)

  11. Jonmcfly says

    I believe better communication will make it better. And nowadays, it is much easier for buyer and agent to communicate on a regular basis. I agree it takes effort to “find” a good agent, but there are good agents out there.

    • mengmeng says

      I agree with it,not all have those bad habbits,I’m a chinese girl, from Qingdao City,Shandong Province.
      I want to being your representative in china better about seafood trade.

      With 11 years working experiences in seafood trade and processing factory as an export sales and president,I can do the following :

      1.communicate with suppliers
      2.bargin prices with suppliers
      3.follow order status
      4.arrange shipments
      5.attend fairs and contact with buyers
      6.inspect products’ quality

      Kindly contact me if you can offer an oppotunity.
      Thank you.

      Ms Terly
      e-mail:mengmengblue@hotmail.com

  12. Fashion Bop says

    I think you are a little bit harsh to Chinese agent…
    As one of them, we do work hard… But just give a little space to them, for long terms business, they will work hard, and carefully!!  Not all agents are bad.. remember that.

    If you can’t trust them at all, why contact at the first place??? Just my own opinion…
    Learn everything about them at first.. and do some small orders before your bulk ones, but don’t tell them you do bulk order… that’s a nice way to test!!

  13. Racheal says

    Does anybodu know of any legit agents ??? Please let me know, as i do not have the funds to there and source right now. i want someone who can import the things to me. please help me. i am tired of looking online for an agent!!! 

  14. Tony Pinkpank says

    Very correct thoughts, but Where there is a will, there is a way, work as a China agent, I want to provide below solution to supply this topics:

    1. Specify the wage and expense, if the wage or commission is enough attractive, i don’t think they will take a risk to lose their job, pay the expense and wage on time.

    2. Specify the Job guideline, can’t take commission from factory is the first one.

    3.Don’t ask your agent to check the cargo, please book the third party like TUV, ITS, SGS and etc to check the cargo and the report will come to you straightly,

    I have worked with a China agent very well, i can leave his contact as below,
    ssa.jason@hotmail.com

  15. DDEP says

    I am a professional Chinese sourcing engineer. I am a chinese man. I want to say , YOU NEVER GET A SCOURING AGENT, YOU GET A SELLING AGENT. They have little experience in sourcing & purchasing. They are good at sell & service. The real Chinese sourcing & purchasing guy are doing work for Chinese manufacturers. They are really expert at Sourcing & purchasing . But not easy to find for a foreigner. As a foreigner , you can esaily find a international trading company. Yes in China , we call them trading company. They are good at export, and earn money from the spread. A really Sourcing / purchasing job should not earn money from the spread but earn money by your expert / hight level work. That’s the most different.

  16. says

    Hi , I am an Indian, Will you be able to assist us, we will pay you commission. We need to buy from China and are looking for an honest agent who will be able to assist us and talk and communicate in Hindi language. We plan on coming in the month of May.We want that agent to find products according to our requirement at good prices.

    • Eric says

      Hi, if you need buying agent in China, you can find me. But I can’t say the Hindi language, just english. so, if you need, you can find me or indian agent in China.
      Hope you to find the suitable products and suitable price for you.

      Cheers,
      Eric
      Email: eric.chan.2012.1@gmail.com

  17. says

    Hi , I am an Indian, Will you be able to assist us, we will pay you commission. We need to buy from China and are looking for an honest agent who will be able to assist us and talk and communicate in Hindi language. We plan on coming in the month of May.We want that agent to find products according to our requirement at good prices.

  18. says

    Can anyone give free advice on where to find direct producers of Tea in china that can bag the tea and export to smaller businesses? I recently bought 20,000 tea bags from a manufacturer in China. Now still after one month I am still waiting. The product is still at the airport on their end!!
    email me directly:
    info@teatoxtime.com

    • Kevin Peng says

      Hi, Man, please talk to me if you still nee any support for direct producers of tea bags, I can find out the best for you, and serve you for smaller business.

  19. gabriele gottani says

    Hello to everybody .
    I m an italian sourcing manager from 12 year in China .
    I have 2 Chinese manager that work with me from 7 years and I 110% trust them and they will never become my wife!
    My job is find factory and do the quality check on the production .
    I usually do promotion production , so each time different product .
    [Edited by moderator]

  20. Marney Hynam says

    Hi iam looking for a buying agent in china. We want to put our brand on fashion clothes and then wholesale in australia. So I am looking for a fashion savy female that would help us grow our business. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Renaud Anjoran says

      You might want to look for a trading company in Hong Kong that has strong experience in development and production of fashion clothing.

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