How to find Chinese suppliers - Guide to vendors in China

Hannes Ausmees

Small business owner or ecommerce seller wondering how to find a supplier in China? This guide is for you. We’ll talk through the pros and cons of using a Chinese supplier, smart ways to connect with vendors in China, and the questions you’ll need to ask potential suppliers, to make sure you get the best price and quality of products, with a smooth and reliable service.

And to help you improve your profit when dealing with suppliers in China - or elsewhere in the world - we’ll also introduce Wise, for smart business accounts you can use to pay vendors and suppliers overseas with the Google exchange rate and low, transparent fees.

Table of contents

Pros and cons of using vendors in China

Let’s start with the obvious question - why use suppliers and vendors in China in the first place? China has an enormous manufacturing industry - but it’s not the right place for every business to source their products. Here are a few pros and cons of using vendors in China you may want to think about:

Pros of using vendors in China

  • You can find more or less anything you’re looking for
  • Labour costs are low, keeping down prices
  • Raw materials are easily available, which also helps to reduce costs
  • Huge range of factories to choose from, so you can find an efficient and reliable producer

Cons of using vendors in China

  • Not confident in your Mandarin? Language barriers may cause issues
  • Some suppliers are more reliable than others - quality of goods can vary quite widely
  • You’ll need to be on your guard against scams and fraud
  • Pricing does vary, and you’ll pay a premium if you need to use intermediary services to do things like quality control and shipping

How to find manufacturers in China - 4 key tactics

So, now you’ve decided that using a manufacturer in China is the way you want to go, how do you find the right supplier or factory? Here are a few common approaches to consider.

Use Alibaba

When you think about finding Chinese suppliers, one name comes to mind - Alibaba¹. This huge marketplace site has pretty much every product type you can imagine, with listings direct from the manufacturers. You’ll be able to connect with suppliers directly once you’ve found products that interest you - but bear in mind that this will likely mean talking to vendors in Mandarin. If your language skills are rusty, consider using an interpreter or an intermediary service to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Alibaba has huge volumes of suppliers listed - so it’s no surprise that quality and reliability can vary. Ultimately it’s a case of buyer beware - although Alibaba also offers support like its trade assurance program to try to make the buying experience work better for both the vendor and the buyer. We’ll cover this, and some important questions to ask Alibaba suppliers before you start to work together, a little later.

Try an alternative B2B marketplace or a sourcing agent

Alibaba may be the most famous place to find a Chinese supplier - but there are actually plenty more B2B marketplaces you may prefer, depending on the products and services you’re after. These marketplaces and companies typically offer a broad range of languages, too - so if you’re not confident in your Mandarin, this may be a strong option.

Many of these marketplace sites also offer add on services, and act as sourcing agents. That means that while the services available differ, they can include far more than simply connecting you with a supplier and leaving you to deal with the rest of the process yourself.

Easy Imex², as one example, is a UK based site which offers a full end to end support program, including connecting you with suppliers, checking product quality, negotiating the price and helping with shipping. Maple Sourcing³ also has end to end support options.

Global Sources⁴ is another option, which also covers suppliers elsewhere aside from China, and has a business matching service to help connect international buyers with the best suppliers for their specific needs. Finally, Made in China⁵ vets the suppliers they use, and offers access to vendors’ audit information - they cover thousands of product categories, and have over 6 million suppliers on their books.

Ask around and get word of mouth recommendations

If you’re already connected with other businesses which operate in your niche, you may find you can get personal recommendations for suppliers through your network. This has the advantage that you’ll be reassured about the vendor’s credentials before you start to work with them - but whether or not this is an option will obviously depend on how well connected you are. For newer business owners, this may be a slightly trickier option - but one to bear in mind as you add to your product portfolio.

Visit local and international trade shows

Another way to connect with vendors in China is to visit local or international trade shows, where suppliers come to meet potential buyers, explain their products, and show samples. The biggest global show for Chinese suppliers is the China Import and Export Fair⁶ in Guangdong, held twice a year. This show covers more or less any product you can imagine, and draws in many visitors from around the world.

There are also dozens of different trade fairs and similar events here in Singapore, often held at the Singapore Expo Centre or Sands Expo and Convention Center. You can get a listing of events⁷, which also includes details about which visitors will be welcomed, online - or get in touch with venues directly to see if there are any useful fairs coming up for your niche.

If you’re not Singapore based, a quick Google search can help you find trade fairs near you - check out Tradefair dates website⁷ as a good place to start your search.

Questions to ask Alibaba suppliers and other vendors in China

If you’re buying direct from a supplier, you’ll be responsible for checking that the individual and business you’re dealing with is legitimate, reliable, and can provide the product you want and the price and time scale you need it.

China is sometimes described as the world’s factory, so it’s no surprise that there are huge numbers of different suppliers, vendors and manufacturers you can choose from when you source your product from China. The majority of suppliers will be helpful, honest, and looking to build productive long term relationships with sellers. But, as with anything, there are also fraudsters and scams out there - as well as some suppliers which push out poor quality product, or which don’t honour their commitments.

Because of the variety in terms of the overall quality of suppliers, you’ll want to vet anyone you’re considering using thoroughly. Simply going through this process should also give you a good indication of how responsive a supplier is, and how prepared they are to offer a good level of customer service - all important when you’re considering building a business relationship.

Here are some questions to ask Alibaba suppliers - or any other vendors you’re dealing with - to make sure you get what you expect at the end of the process.

1. Can you view samples of the specific product?

This should come as no surprise - but seeing samples of the product you’ll be ordering is an important step in the process of picking a vendor. Get quite specific when talking to your potential supplier about samples. Even if you’ve seen samples on display at a trade fair or expo, it’s important to know specifically what product you’ll be sent. If it’s not exactly the same as the item you’ve already seen and handled, it’s worth asking for more samples before you move to a full production run.

2. What is the lead time on production?

Time is money, so the longer you’ll need to wait for your products, the less opportunity you have to profit in the short term. Checking how long production will take with various different suppliers can help you find the right one to suit your needs.

You may find that factories with larger production capacities have lower lead times. Or you could discover that specific suppliers are able to expedite the production process to have your goods with you sooner. Starting this discussion early in the process of finding a Chinese supplier should mean there are no surprises later.

3. What’s the minimum order quantity?

Different suppliers will set their own minimum order quantity - and the prices may well vary based on how much you order at any given time. Ask for your options with a few suppliers, to see which suits your needs. While you don’t want to have too much of your working capital tied up in stock you’re yet to sell, placing a bigger order with a trusted supplier may mean you get a lower cost of goods.

4. What protection is in place if something goes wrong?

One final conversation - what if there’s a problem? There’s always the chance that things won’t go smoothly, so you need to know your supplier can keep you informed about the production process, and will be responsive when you have questions.

If you’re using an intermediary service, the chances are that the organisation you’ve used will handle any issues or disputes. Some of the B2B marketplaces we highlighted earlier also vet all their suppliers and can provide audits and other data which you can use to complete your due diligence checks. You may pay a little more for this service, but it can pay off in the end.

You’ll also have the option to look at things like the Alibaba Trade Assurance program⁸, which allows you to access Alibaba support if either the product quality or shipping dates don’t match your original contract. To use this service you’ll have to pick from specific Alibaba suppliers which are covered by the Alibaba trade assurance program. Support is in place up until 30 days after the items are delivered. In the case that things aren’t as you expected, Alibaba can help to investigate, negotiate and resolve the problem with the factory - offering some peace of mind to buyers.

A convenient way to pay your suppliers in China - Wise Business

Found your perfect supplier? Once you’ve negotiated and sealed the deal, you’ll need a way to pay.

Choose Wise to send CNY, HKD or USD to Chinese suppliers, and get low fees and the Google exchange rate. All you’ll need to do is set up a Wise Business account, and you can send money to China or Hong Kong - as well as almost 80 other countries - online and in-app, for a low, transparent fee.

The true cost of sending SGD to CNY

You’ll pay in your home currency - with a bank transfer, or using your card, for example - and the funds are converted by Wise with the Google exchange rate to the currency you need. They’re then deposited to the suppliers’ bank account - which means the supplier doesn’t need to sign up with Wise. Just get their regular bank details and you can arrange a Wise payment to save you money, and make life that little bit easier.

Learn more about Wise Business

Pricing/fees: Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Finding a supplier in China can make a lot of sense - no matter where in the world you’re selling. There’s an enormous choice of suppliers and products - so you’ll definitely find something that suits your business. But you’ll need to make sure you’ve done your due diligence checks, to be confident in the reliability and quality of the product once it starts flowing.

Once you’ve got your Chinese supplier arranged, check out Wise to see how you can pay in CNY, HKD and USD to China or Hong Kong, with low fees, and no hidden charges tucked into the exchange rate. That can mean you save on the transfer - and keep more of your hard earned money yourself.



  1. Alibaba
  2. Easy Imex
  3. Maple Sourcing
  4. Global sources
  5. Made in China
  6. China Import and Export Fair
  7. Tradefair dates website
  8. Alibaba trade assurance

Sources checked on 17/02/2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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