Ordering and buying product samples before placing a purchase order is standard practice for importing products from China.  Sourcing Nova created this handy step-by-step guide for you.  This guide walks you through the steps from placing an initial sample product order to a final, third party inspection before importing products into your country for sale.

Are you ready to order a sample product from China before placing a large order from your chosen supplier?  Click on over to read the everything you need to know.

The next step in sourcing products from Chinese suppliers for your business is to order a sample product.  You have found the factories you want to manufacture your products.  Next is to ask for a price quotation form. In addition to the price factor, the supplier will have some other basic information for your order: MOQ, delivery date, payment terms, their product certificate and factory standards. In this article from Sourcing Nova, you will learn those issues that matter when requesting samples from Chinese suppliers. First, we will explain the reasons for requesting samples; then, we will discuss which samples to request; next, we cover what issues matter when sending samples; finally, we will help you decide what to do next based on the quality of the sample order.

The first question

Why place an order for sample products from China?

Selecting product samples is a necessary part of importing goods from China.  This is important in the buying process because it does not matter if you are working with new suppliers, or there are changes in product design.  Sourcing Nova knows that if you want to place a purchase order with a supplier, it is best to order for two samples. One sample is sent to a third party inspection company, and the other you  keep for future reference.

The three key factors in obtaining a sample are:

Test product design: Here is how to select a new product: you need to view, feel and test the sample product before placing an order for mass production. Before entering mass production, the design, function and overall quality of the new product must be “verified” as expected and is up to your specific standards.

Test the potential supplier: This is the primary reason you need a product sample. Your supplier must demonstrate that they can provide acceptable product samples before you place a large order. The ability of a supplier to produce quality samples should never be taken for granted.

In addition to quality factors, you must also ensure that the factory can fulfill expectations on sending samples before the delivery date. If the factory cannot complete requested samples in a reasonable time, how can you expect the factory to complete your full product order on time?

Check product quality: You keep the samples you ordered and label each correctly for future reference. When scheduling mass production later, you compare the quality of your samples with the quality of your mass-produced products.  Sourcing Nova recommends you send samples to a third-party inspection agency for testing. Your product sample must meet your country’s specific import standards.

What samples are available for me to order from China?

Sourcing Nova divides samples into the following six categories according to source, function and properties:

1. Existing products in the factory

When many factories arrange production for customers, they will deliberately fill the exhibition room with their products.  This becomes a reference for future customers to show their production processes and materials used. This is the most direct and effective evidence of a manufacturer’s production capacity. Sometimes, Sourcing Nova reviews the production materials used in the factory. For example: you want to order and import curtain products from China.  Paying the manufacturer for color card samples of small cloth pieces shows the materials the factory uses, and what colors are available for you to purchase.

2.Custom product samples

If your product is still a concept, you will need a factory to help you translate this concept into a physical product. This process runs in with the manufacturer, which can help you verify the supplier’s manufacturing capabilities. The custom design process carries a high failure rate. The most common reason is due to language differences.  There are frequently communication errors between the business and the supplier.  Sourcing Nova has U.S. citizens on its team specifically for this purpose.  We can more accurately understand the buyer’s design intentions in the two primary Chinese dialects – Mandarin or Canontese.

3. Gold samples

The easiest mistake an importer can make when ordering product samples is to assume that the sample quality is consistent with mass production. In practice, the factory usually chooses the best quality sample product to send to the customer or send for testing. The material for this sample is probably the most expensive, and the workers who make this sample are also the most skilled. The factory provides such samples to catch potential customers as these samples reflect the factory’s highest standard of production.  Sourcing Nova refers to these samples as gold samples.

4. Random samples

These represent a batch of products randomly selected from the mass production process.  These sample products most accurately represent the true average quality of mass production. This is the most important part of quality control.  A third party inspection company goes to the factory and conducts spot checks on your behalf.  It is not standard practice of Chinese import for suppliers to spot check random samples.

5. Virtual samples

These samples are usually based on the customer’s text description, using 2D rendering software such as Photoshop to make 2D renderings, or using 3DMax software rendering technology to make 3D renderings. Virtual samples show the factory correctly understands the buyer’s design intent for that specific product. Virtual samples are used in businesses where the initial product is relatively expensive. For example, some industries may need customized expensive molds to avoid wasting money on the wrong mold due to a communication error.

Sourcing Nova reminds you when ordering virtual samples: These are virtual sample products and cannot be used as the final sample. The final sample still needs a mold and a physical sample after the virtual design product is approved by both parties.

6. Counter-samples

This is the most common method of purchasing products by Amazon sellers: Find a well-made product from competition, buy a quantity, make modifications, add personal ideas and send the newly developed sample to a Chinese factory. The Chinese manufacturer makes a physical sample based on modifications provided by the buyer and returns the product to the buyer for final confirmation.

What is the cost to order samples from China?

Depending on the industry, the cost of samples can vary significantly. One basic, universal premise:The cost of the sample product will be several times more expensive the mass batch production.

Why are samples more expensive than mass-produced products? There are two main reasons for this:

1. Mass production has scale advantages

Generally speaking, the larger the quantity produced, the lower the production cost per unit of product. This is common economic law.

2. The factory screens out poor customers in this way

If this is the first time a potential business is placing a product order, the factory screens out buyers who are not serious.  Just as you are sifting through suppliers to find the ones that produce the right products, provide quality products, competitive prices and trusted business relationships, suppliers are evaluating you in a similar way. Are you experienced or new to this industry? Does your business look credible? Are you willing to buy the minimum amount of product or more?  Have you been bargaining for a cheaper price?

Put yourself in the factory shoes.  One of the best ways to screen out bad customers is determine if the customer are willing to pay for a sample product. In the past, many Chinese factories provided free samples to foreign customers, hoping to take this opportunity to express goodwill and get orders. Many immoral businesses took advantage of the factory’s generosity and cheated factories out of many free samples. Purchasing sample products is now the norm for Chinese factories. Chinese factories generally ignore rude customers who demand free samples.

The three cases when you may not have to pay for a sample product:

1. Before placing a purchase order, clearly indicate that the sample fee is to be refunded;

2. If you are a member of the purchasing department of a foreign first-class company, such as Wal-Mart and IKEA, there is a high probability that the factory will not ask you for a sample fee;

3. Familiar and returning customers may not need to pay the sample fee.

What information is necessary before ordering product samples?

The email should short and easy to read.  The email should contain product specifications, which should include, but not limited to, the following information:

  • Product design drawing;
  • Bill of materials;
  • Physical samples you can find.

This information is transmitted between manufacturers and raw material suppliers.  This is important information.  The email must be clear and easy to understand. You need to ensure accuracy of this information, and there is no room or excuse for misunderstanding from any perspective. Under normal circumstances, buyers do not contact the direct head of the production workshop when purchasing products from China. The buyer’s point of contact is  the salesperson. As the salesperson provides samples to the production workshop, samples may pass through 2-3 different people. In this exchange process, the original product information is very likely to be lost.  This means instructions received by the technicians who arrange for production will be very different from your original product intentions.

Sourcing Nova strongly recommends avoiding fragmented email messages and social media as the basis for communication with the factories.  Use PDF format to describe your requirements on your sample products. If you choose Sourcing Nova as your sourcing company partner in China, we assist you in preparing the PDF documents in both English and Chinese. The English version is for your reference, and the Chinese version will be passed to factory, where it reaches the production head.

What should I be aware of before I order product samples?

1. Some contents cannot be sent by air

Toys with built-in batteries, for example, are rejected by many air couriers. Find manufacturers that provides Material Safety Data Sheets.  These sheets meet your imported product needs.

2. Tariffs on imported samples

In many countries, customs have minimum thresholds or even exemptions for commercial product samples. You may need to remind the supplier to indicate “samples of no commercial value.” This generally helps reduce tariffs.

3. Mark a lower amount

The amount you declare should not be so low as to be unreasonable. For example, for a sample product worth $50.00, it is not appropriate to declare $5.00. It is more appropriate to declare the sample product for $30.00.

4. Confirm with the supplier in advance that the sample fee is refundable

Make clear with the supplier before ordering sample products that the fee is refundable. If you place a purchase order in the future, the sample fee should be deducted from the purchase amount. Experienced vendors generally agree to such requests.

5. Pack and send samples from different suppliers together

If you are getting various samples from different suppliers, air shipping will be more expensive. Use Sourcing Nova’s procurement services instead. You order product samples from different suppliers in China.  Sourcing Nova collects the samples together on your behalf and sends the samples to you in a single package – from door to door.  This saves you time and money.

How do I check the quality after I order a product sample from China?

1. Most familiar product samples:

Check the appearance of the product with the naked eye, and try the product yourself to feel its function. For most general products, the most common thing for buyers to do is check the quality of the products themselves.

2. Hire a third party inspection company or laboratory

Some data can only be tested with the aid of scientific equipment, such as the moisture content of bamboo products and the chemical composition of textiles. Third-party inspection companies provide a complete inspection report, and you use this report to decide if the sample product needs quality improvement. Depending on the inspection’s depth and scope, such reports can cost hundreds of dollars.

If you are just starting to source products from China, the product itself is relatively simple and the purchase amount is not high, Sourcing Nova recommends the first method and check the quality of the product samples yourself.

If your business is well-established, has continued sales or your product is expensive, then the second approach may be more appropriate for you. Inspection reports from authoritative inspection companies can increase the credibility of your products and enhance your competitive advantage over your competition.

Third-party inspection companies usually choose different production stages according to your requirements. The most common time is during Production Inspection.  This initial inspection checks the product quality at 80 percent of total product production.  The second time is Pre-shipment Inspection.  This inspection checks the product quality before the factory is ready to ship to you.

Under normal circumstances, the buyer pays the first sample inspection fee.  Sourcing Nova recommends buyers and manufacturers agree in advance in the case of failed inspection.  The factory will pay for the other inspection costs until the production order passes inspection.

Are you ready to order sample products from China?  Send us a request, and Sourcing Nova takes care of the rest for you.