Ordering product samples from Alibaba – An in-depth guide

If you are just starting out your eCommerce journey and planning on selling products from China on Amazon or your own shop, you may want to order samples first. It is imperative to order a product sample from your suppliers in question, to make a decision. After all you don’t want to buy the cat in the sack. So I decided to create an in-depth guide for ordering product samples from China. 

I ll cover four topics in this post about sample management:

  • Sample costs
  • Communication
  • Supervision
  • Remote sample approval 

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How do I get samples from vendors? Once you have settled on a supplier for your new product it is time to purchase a sample. Most suppliers will charge you for sending a sample. Why? Imagine being a supplier and getting 10’s of emails every day from strangers requesting a sample. Eventually you run into such high costs that it just isn’t feasible.  There is usually no way around this unless you have worked with the supplier for a longer time.

Even for me, being here and dealing with suppliers on a daily basis I can’t guarantee that I don’t have to pay for a sample.

So, how to do you get free samples from China? Again, very unlikely but here are some Insider tips to “try” to get a sample for free.

  • Introduce yourself as an assistant of a large company. Suppliers tend to smell money when a large company is interested and are more likely to give away samples for free.
  • State that if the sample is OK you will place a large order
  • State that you have especially chosen this supplier to be your exclusive supplier for this product and he has the chance now to do business with you.
  • Ask him to put the sample cost on top of the official order that may follow if the sample is what you are looking for.
  • State that it is company policy that you/your company don’t pay for samples and if he wishes to do business he should agree to your sample terms.
  • Split the costs. Offer to pay for either the samples or the freight costs.

If none of these work I recommend you to agree with the supplier to deduct the sample costs from the official (larger) order. At least this way you save the sample costs if you decide to order from this particular supplier.

Be wary of sample costs in general

On one occasion I was sourcing for a textile accessory. The item itself can be made for approx 2 USD.

I screened around 10 suppliers and eventually narrowed my selection down to 5 suppliers. They were all in a similar price range.

When it came down to ordering samples one of the suppliers (who was also the most expensive) asked me for a sample fee of 100 USD to be transferred to his bank account. That didn’t make sense.

I immediately knew it must be a trading company with no factory background.

They probably outsource the work to a factory because they have no own facilities. Eliminate suppliers that have high sample costs right in the beginning.

HOWEVER, samples are usually 10-50% more expensive than the originally quoted price. It is a common practice to charge more for samples, as many of the samples need to be handmade for the customer, especially if you have some sort of modification request. So if you get quoted 100$ for a sample while the actual product cost may only be 5$ – don’t panic. This is completely normal. 

Another reason why samples are usually more expensive than the quoted price is that they want to see if you are serious & sincere about placing a larger order later.

I can tell you that from my own experience as a manufacturer. I get about 5 sample requests per week and all of them want it for free. If a buyer is not willing to pay for a sample I won’t send it to him because I will be thinking he just wants to get a sample and there will be no follow up order.

Sometimes suppliers have stock of their items. If you do not need to have any modifications done, or you just want to check the quality before asking for more, request a sample they have in stock. If they have stock, they usually charge the regular (MOQ) price.

Generally you also need to be aware of freight costs when sending samples. Even a small package like 1-3KGS (2-6lbs) can easily cost 50$ or more to the US for example. I recommend that you check out FedEx as their rates are usually the most competitive. 


In 17 years I have learned to communicate with Chinese suppliers in different ways compared to communicating with Western companies.

What is being said or promised on the phone/chat or email is not always being followed by the factory or the supplier. Often you will find that something you said or agreed on is being done completely different.

For example you ordered a sample of a certain product in a certain color & quantity but what you receive is completely different from what you asked/paid for.

Unfortunately the chain of command in factories is not always direct. So when your sales contact gives your sample order to his sample or engineering team there may be 2 or 3 people in between.

In between often some information gets lost. So eventually the person responsible for making your sample will receive different instructions that deviate from your original briefing. Often there will be no meetings held on projects from clients (like we are used to in the western world), but rather a quick email to another person that has not fully understood what you actually want or need.

Often there will be no message or notification that your project may be urgent or requires special attention. That might be a simple instruction, for example telling the sample team to make the sample with a US plug or adapter. No one has told the sample team and common sense is unfortunately not requested when being a worker in the factory.

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Which brings us to:


I can’t stress enough how important it is to supervise & monitor your order/samples or other projects that you have with your supplier.

Westerners work differently. We are more detailed and we expect people to have the same common sense that most of us have.

Information will get lost. You need to plan for it.

After each discussion on the phone/chat or email you should follow up with written and agreed on-points. Try to think of everything FOR the supplier and make it as easy as possible for him to follow up & complete your instructions.

Give him a “goodie” at the end of the email to advise him of the potential to be working with you.

For example (content in BLUE are my notes for you):

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the talk just now. I would like to summarize the discussed points:

– Sample to be sent to ……. (your address)
– Sample needs to be in working mode. A non-working sample is not accepted, as the sample will undergo quality tests by my third party laboratory. (this part doesn’t need to be true but he will think twice before sending you a sample in poor condition)
– Sample needs to have a US plug (attach him a picture of a US plug-make it easy for him)
– Please make sure the sample is tested on your side before being sent out.
– Please attach your model number & supplier name-tag to the sample as I am getting many samples and would like to know who sent which sample. (this way you will not lose reference of which supplier made your sample if you order from more than one)
– Make sure you mention “samples of no commercial value” to the Sample Invoice (in order to avoid customs tax on samples at your destination).
– Etc.

Please give me a written confirmation of all discussed points and your understanding.

If the sample works out well and everything is as it is agreed on, expect an order of… pcs.


Here a few more tips on communication & supervision with your supplier:

  • Give deadlines to suppliers that you both agreed on.
  • Set yourself reminders on your smart phone/computer that will help you to remind your supplier.
  • Make simple sketches & drawings of your requests if the supplier misunderstands you.
  • Have him confirm each step of your modification or request
  • Keep emails clear and with bullet points to make your requests stand out

For example I had difficulties in explaining my suppliers on a recent product that I developed what I would like to have changed. It wasn’t easy to explain via email or phone so I made him a simple drawing on a print out what I would like to have done:

Besides sending the drawing I explained in the email what needed to be done and I eventually got my correct sample after a few days.

If the supplier has completed the new sample, you could also ask your supplier to do a video call via Skype with you with the newly manufactured sample before he sends it out to avoid wasting more money & time.


Alternatively you can also hire a third-party inspection company such as QIMA to have your sample inspected. This might come in handy in 2 cases: 

  • You’ve either already ordered a sample and now want to have a pre-production sample checked by quality inspectors. AND avoid another high cost for sample sending. 
  • Or you want to avoid time delays and high sample costs. 
  • Plus, the inspection company can take this sample to the final inspection to check if the production is exactly the same as the approved sample of yours. (why you ALWAYS need inspections is covered in this post).

Once you have a feeling on what you need to pay attention to it gets a lot easier and your sample orders in China will be a lot smoother.

I hope this helps!


Once you receive your samples it is time to perform a visual inspection and a functioning test. Whether your sample is of a textile nature, an electric product, or a decorative item, make sure you test it. Bend it, stretch it, use it, and test how it functions.

Often I receive samples and they are so difficult to figure out (for example electronics) as they are not user friendly at all. How can your customers understand and use your product in a simple way when you can’t? Make sure that your item is easy to handle for everyone and that it comes with an instruction manual (if applicable).

You don’t need to be an engineer to test simple functions. If you do have a friend or colleague who knows technical things hand the sample to him and let him give you an honest opinion. If you found anything that you would like to change or have explained ask your supplier to look into this, either to improve the product quality or give you feedback on any problem. Make sure that the supplier will improve any problems and indicate to him that (in case of an order) you will test this during the inspection.

Analyzed by Jon Elder

Jon has sold over $10 million in sales on Amazon since 2014 and exited 5 Amazon brands for millions. He now helps Amazon sellers experience the same level of success through 1:1 coaching. He is happily married with two kids in Texas!