Sample communication with your suppliers. An in-depth guide

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

  • Sample costs
  • Communication
  • Supervision

Sample costs

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. 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.

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.

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.

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 10 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.

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.

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!

For more information on communication with suppliers in China I recommend getting my 2019 edition of the “Import Bible” on Amazon:


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Leave a comment


6 years ago

Thanks Manuel! Excellent information!


6 years ago

happy to help Jessie!

Paul Peterson

6 years ago

Great information.


6 years ago

Thanks Paul! Will keep it going for you guys 🙂


6 years ago

Ausgezeichnet wie immer, Manuel!
Great information and tips as usually…thanks !


6 years ago

Danke Vesna 🙂


6 years ago

Great post and valuable information.
Thanks Manuel


6 years ago

thanks for the feedback Isaac!


6 years ago

Excellent tips thank you very much.


6 years ago

glad you found it useful, thanks Afreen!


6 years ago

Thanks Manuel, I really needed that.
I have a question. I found a product that shows real promise but it needs a few small changes. The problem is that the person I am dealing with has REALLY poor English. I send multiple emails and it seems the information is not being understood. It is making the process very slow. I have tried to get a different representative from the company by texting a different person but it seems to always be the same guy to respond.
Any advice?


6 years ago

Hey Lonnie,

My advice here would be to look for another factory. Think about the issues you might have once you place the order. If he barely responds now and only to fragments of your questions imagine how it would be later once you have your money with him. You ll want a smooth operation from the beginning on.
PM me if you have any troubles finding a supplier.


6 years ago

This is excellent information. So helpful and timely as we are experiencing great commnication with sales person but our requirements are not being met as they travel through the chain of production. Thank you!


6 years ago

Excellent Blog. I am now in the ordering samples phase. I do have a question in relation to ordering. I have submitted several inquires to MFG/Trade Co, and I have weeded them out, by paypal acceptance, sample, pricing, product offerings, etc. However, I have correspondence in and out of Alibaba.

Do you recommend all purchases, go through Alibaba, even if you are using Paypal?



6 years ago

Hey Mike,

Good job on selecting your suppliers and filtering them out!
I actually prefer the suppliers message me to my email account. Once you send your inquiry (trough Alibaba) you can opt in to share your business card (which has your email included) but I also paste my email address into the inquiry. I rather have my correspondence in my inbox than having to navigate trough the Alibaba messaging system…

If I make payments I usually also go trough emails and not trough Alibaba. If the supplier offers Trade Assurance however I might go trough Alibaba depending if you have a good communication and trust with the supplier.

Hope this helps,


5 years ago

Again great content, still a little daunting, but I am trying to absorb it. I first want to find a viable product, that I can source. I, we really appreciate someone so knowledgeable, that really knows what is going on in this business. Can’t wait to work with you Manuel. Thanks


5 years ago

Oh my. Why didn´t I find you a few moths ago?! I just purchased your Udemy course – The professional guide to importing from China, and it has helped me SO MUCH already. And I haven´t even got through all yet. Then I found this site! Mindblowing! 🙂 I am looking forward to read all the content and finish the course.

Just one question, do you have som experiences in the hair extension import industry?
I´ve found it VERY hard to get really good quality. But I have changed my whole approach now so I´ll probably get some steps further now.


5 years ago

Hey Adrianna,

Thanks for the feedback 🙂
Hmm no, unfortunately I have no experience in that category 🙁
Suggest to go to the fairs in HK or China or hire a sourcing agent…



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