Canton FairWhen importing from China, you must decide how you want to deal with the Chinese. Do you want to find a Chinese buying agent to work on your behalf, or do you want to ‘skip’ the middle man and enquire directly with trading companies and factories yourself?

Ultimately, there are advantages to both, but also some pitfalls that can catch you out.

Importing from China is not often a simple task. Finding the right supplier(s) is one of the hardest things you will do for your importing business and the most crucial. Without a reliable trustworthy supplier sending you correctly manufactured products to your quality specification, on time and without issue, can be very important.

Here is a rundown on the options you may have when sourcing/importing product from China.

The options

There are 3 main ways to source your products overseas. They are

  1. Visiting tradeshows, suppliers, and making contacts yourself (traditional)
  2. Using websites like, and establishing contact (gaining popularity) or
  3. Using a buying agent in the originating country.

Lets have a look at each option, its pros and cons.


Tradeshows can be a great way to source product from China or any other country. Tradeshows are often run for particular product verticals (furniture, FMCG, electronics etc) and you can find tradeshow information (when and where they are being held) online. Globalsources has a good section for this.


  • You get to see a range of the suppliers gear in person
  • You can compare many different supply options at once
  • Saves a lot of time in communicating, as you are face to face
  • Great for establishing a relationship (very important)
  • You get to travel and see the world!


  • More expensive (flights, accommodation)
  • More potential downtime for your business while you travel
  • Not all of the biggest suppliers attend these shows

Online Sourcing

Online product sourcing, using sites like Alibaba or Globalsources can be very good. These sites have grown enormously over the past number of years as international trade restrictions have dropped, and more and more retailers start buying product direct from the source. Alibaba currently quotes on their front page they receive over 56,000 new product listings every day, and they have suppliers from all over the world, not just China.


  • Huge range of suppliers (more than a trade show)
  • Can more often find the top tier/largest suppliers online
  • Tools and information provided to help you through the process
  • Easy to contact many suppliers at once, quickly.


  • Risk of fraud (some businesses may not be what they seem…)
  • Takes a lot of time and effort to communicate back and forth by email
  • Less of a ‘relationship’ is established, compared to meeting in person.

Using a Buying Agent

Using a buying agent, when you can find a good one, can be a great way to organise and purchase new products and categories. Finding a trustworthy agent might take some time, and some experimentation, but if you find a good one, that has good contacts, then this can really open the doors for you.


  • Buying agent does the legwork for you
  • You have someone on the ground for quality checks
  • There are lots of agents that can be found online.


  • Are they boosting their commission somehow?
  • Hard to regulate performance and commission
  • Might be hard to find trustworthy agents


In summary, each option has its merits.

For someone looking at small, low values items, lower transaction values, then using the internet to source suppliers might be the best option.

For companies with bigger budgets for purchasing and higher quality standards and demands, then either visiting suppliers regularly in person and managing the relationship yourself, or vai an agent, will be the best option for you.

Personally, I have used all 3 methods. We started out just using Alibaba, then travelled to tradeshows, established better relationships with our initial suppliers and formed relationships with new ones ate these tradeshows.

These days, we have trusted agents that work for us to source new product, and they do a good job for us. Maybe you have had different experiences? Or maybe you can add pros and cons that I have missed? Let me know!

Looking for a quality sourcing agent? Mine is looking for some more business. Fill out the form below with some info on the products you are interested in importing (serious enquiries only please).