How to find reliable Chinese suppliers in China - Complete guide

Shermaine Tan5 mins
Business tipsGuides
 How to find reliable Chinese suppliers in China - Complete guide
In this article

Working with China suppliers is a smart move for Singapore SMEs who need unique and original products. The country’s vast manufacturing base offers a wide range of quality goods at competitive prices.

While the potential for profitability is great, there are some hurdles to working with China suppliers. You’ll need to identify trustworthy partners from hundreds of options and build trust through messaging apps. Logistics like quality control, shipping, and cross-border payments add an extra layer of complexity.

With the right approach, sourcing products from China can be a rewarding strategy for your SME. Let’s explore how you can use Chinese supplier websites to identify manufacturing partners. We’ll also cover why opening a business account is critical to your financial operations, and how you can use the Airwallex Business Account to pay suppliers without opening a China bank account.

Why choose wholesale suppliers from China?

There are compelling reasons to get wholesale products from China. The country’s manufacturing sector has strong capabilities, efficient supply chains, and a large workforce, which allows it to offer high volumes at cost-effective rates.  This cost advantage helps you maintain competitive pricing in your markets.

SMEs can also obtain a wide variety of products from China. Whether it’s furniture, textiles, or electronics, you can find them all in one geographical location. Generalist retailers can benefit from this diversity, as it simplifies the supply chain and reduces the complexity of dealing with wholesalers in multiple countries. China's manufacturing sector can also handle large-scale production due to its extensive infrastructure, which provides the facilities and logistics for mass production, and its vast low-cost labour force. Working with China suppliers enables Singaporean retailers to meet changing consumer demand without significant delays.

What products can you source and where to find Chinese suppliers for your business needs?

Whether it’s electronics or textiles, Singapore SMEs can source practically anything from China.  Choosing which products to buy is a matter of identifying market trends and consumer preferences that align with your business goals.  

Below are some in-demand product categories you may wish to consider.

  • Furniture. China wholesale furniture suppliers are skilled at producing durable flat-pack furniture for small condos and HDBs. Ready-to-assemble furniture is also inexpensive and easy to ship.

  • Handbags. China’s bag manufacturers may be infamous for replica bags, but they are just as skilled at creating original designs using genuine leather, nylon, or canvas. By sourcing handbags from China, retailers can tap into the latest trends and cater to the tastes of the fashion market.

  • LED lights. TikTok lights generated incredible demand for LED strip lights and indirect ambient lighting. LED light suppliers in China are at the forefront of this trend, providing a diverse selection of innovative lighting that cater to different aesthetic preferences. 

Who are the reliable Chinese suppliers?

Once you’ve selected a product category, it’s time to find the right suppliers. Most SMEs use online marketplaces to research suppliers and compare options. These digital platforms are a good place to start, as they offer detailed product listings, supplier profiles, and customer reviews.

Some popular China supplier websites include:

  • Alibaba is the most well-known B2B eCommerce platform. Its search engine helps you to find verified suppliers by product, and buy in bulk directly from the manufacturer. You can also collaborate with a manufacturer to create custom products.

  • Another B2B platform by the Alibaba Group, 1688 offers a rich variety of products with low MOQs. Unlike Alibaba, 1688 caters to businesses in mainland China. Overseas buyers may face challenges due to the language barrier, and they may struggle with paying suppliers as they only accept CNY and RMB.

  • Since 1996, Made-in-China has been connecting businesses to wholesalers across various industries. They also offer services for assessing suppliers, quality checks, and logistics. Unlike other platforms, it does not directly sell products or facilitate transactions on its platform.

  •  DHGate connects China manufacturers with small global businesses. They have several suppliers that don’t require a minimum order quantity (MOQ), which can make them ideal partners for dropshipping.

How to choose which China suppliers to work with

Shortlisting suppliers requires research and attention to detail. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Verification status. It’s best to work with verified suppliers, as they have passed the marketplace’s rigorous review process and quality standards. Verification details can be found on the supplier’s profile.

  • Years of experience. Choose a supplier with at least 5 years of experience, as they’re more likely to have an efficient manufacturing process and stringent quality assurance systems. Experienced suppliers generally have better customer relations and supply chains too.

  • Product catalogue. A reputable supplier will have a specialised product catalogue aligned with their niche. For example, an experienced handbag manufacturer should offer a variety of purses, clutches, or shoulder bags. However, a handbag supplier that also sells kitchen goods and umbrellas signals a lack of expertise.

  • Name and address of the production facility. Profiles without an address are likely sourcing agents or trading companies - middlemen who will connect you to the suppliers and charge a fee for it.

  • Reviews and ratings.  Customer reviews give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work with a supplier. They help you understand the quality of products, the supplier’s responsiveness, and their production times. You can tell if the reviews are legitimate if the supplier has received them over several years. But if most positive reviews are submitted within a few days, proceed with caution.

How to communicate with Chinese suppliers

Once you’ve identified potential suppliers, the next step is to initiate contact and negotiate a deal. However, starting a business relationship isn't as straightforward as sending a Request for Quote (RFQ). You need a clear idea of what you want, and you must present yourself as an ideal buyer. 

Follow these tips for effective communication with Chinese suppliers.

Avoid writing generic messages

The first message you send is the most critical, as this starts the relationship-building process. Avoid sending a generic RFQ, as this won’t get a response. Suppliers receive dozens of inquiries from prospective clients, and the most in-demand ones are highly selective about whom they do business with. 

Instead, write a thoughtful message that shows you are a serious buyer who’s interested in placing an order. We’ll cover how to do that in the succeeding sections.

Know your products 

To come across as a legitimate buyer, you need to show that you know your product. Do your homework and be clear about your desired specifications and technical requirements. Once you know what you want, you can start writing to suppliers.

Let’s say you’re a lighting retailer looking for an LED light supplier in China. Your message must describe the lights’ intended applications, LED type, colour temperature, installation method, etc. You can even include rough sketches or photos of your preferred design.

This attention to detail makes you a more attractive potential partner and can increase the chances of a response. It also helps you identify which manufacturers are capable of creating unique products for your business.

Use simple sentences and photos

Knowing basic Mandarin can be an asset, but you don’t need to speak the language to communicate with suppliers. Leading B2B marketplaces like Alibaba and DH Gate will automatically translate messages from English to Mandarin, and vice versa. Suppliers who export overseas often have staff members who speak English. 

However, complex words and phrases can get easily misunderstood. To overcome the language barrier, you need to make your message as simple as possible. Here are some good guidelines:

  • Write simple sentences and avoid technical terms.

  • Write numbers as numbers, i.e. use “1” instead of “one”.

  • Instead of long paragraphs, use lists or bullet points.

  • Attach as many photos as possible so you can minimise describing your product in words. 

Use the correct messaging channels

China supplier websites have busy interfaces, and it’s easy to miss the “contact” button that lets you write to the supplier. Avoid clicking “start order” or “buy now”, as this will let you buy products as-is. 

Instead, locate the “send message”, “chat”, or “contact” buttons to start a conversation with the supplier.

What terms should you negotiate with suppliers in China?

As soon as you’ve established trust and are satisfied with the supplier’s samples, it’s time to start negotiating.  Here are 3 negotiation points that help set expectations.

  • Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs). As the name suggests, MOQs are the smallest quantity of a product that buyers must purchase. China manufacturers operate on small margins, and MOQs ensure that production is cost-effective. You'll often find MOQs listed in the supplier's profile. If the standard MOQ is too high for your business, you can negotiate small trial orders or negotiate a higher price for lower quantities.

  • Lead times. This is the time it takes for the supplier to manufacture and deliver the products. Knowing the lead times is essential for planning your inventory and ensuring that you have products in stock. It's also important to discuss and agree on lead times to avoid any unexpected delays.

  • Payment terms. These are the conditions under which you will pay the supplier. Common payment terms include a 20-30% deposit, partial payment upon passing quality control (QC) inspections, and full payment upon delivery. Negotiating favourable payment terms is important for managing your cash flow while assuring suppliers that they will get paid.

How to pay your Chinese suppliers from Singapore?

SMEs have several options for paying Chinese suppliers, such as opening a China business bank account or paying from Singapore via bank transfers and fintech business accounts. Here’s a quick view of the international money transfer methods from Singapore and what they cost:

Airwallex SWIFT/Telegraphic transfer via banks Wise business
Transfer fees Free for local transfer methods
SWIFT: $20 (SHA), $30 (OUR)
Varies by bank From 0.43%
Additional cost for transfers via SWIFT
Transfer speed 0 - 1 working days 1 - 5 business days 0 - 1 working days
Conversion fees from SGD to CNY 0.40% Yes From 0.43%
Other fees None Intermediary bank fees, commission, fees, account fees etc. 54 SGD to create a Wise business account

 Sources: Airwallex, Wise as of 25 March 2024

Due to their long-standing relationship with banks, most Singapore businesses send money to China via SWIFT - wire transfer or telegraphic transfers. However, payments made through traditional banks may be slower than other options and often come with hidden fees, which increase overall transaction costs.

Fintech firms like Airwallex or Wise can be more cost-effective and convenient, as they may offer faster transfer times, transparent fees, and friendlier conversion rates compared to banks. The Airwallex Business Account offers several benefits for SMEs who send money to China:

  • Convert SGD to CNY at market-leading rates. You’ll always see the fees before you send your payment.

  • No transaction fees when you send CNY to your supplier via your China-registered business, or if the sender and recipient are Chinese citizens. Unlike banks, Airwallex uses local payment rails in Hong Kong and China to send your payment. It’s treated like a local transfer, which means you don’t have to pay hefty telegraphic transfer fees. For transfer via SWIFT (SHAD), Airwallex charges a standard rate of S$20.

  • Receive CNY without unnecessary conversion fees. With the Airwallex CNY Account, you can generate local bank details and accept CNY payments without unnecessary conversion to SGD.

  • Free to open. Create an Airwallex Business Account at no cost, and start using it as soon as you verify your business details.

How to ensure quality and compliance in your supply chain

If you’ve clearly defined your product requirements, you’re halfway to producing high-quality goods. The other half involves quality control (QC) and compliance with international standards. Here are broad guidelines for ensuring QC throughout the production process:

  • Visit your supplier’s facilities. Make at least one trip to your supplier’s production facility. This is an opportunity to see the manufacturing process up close and ensure that the factory adheres to international regulations.

  • Inspect goods in production. Final inspections are essential for approving the finished product, but try to see the product in the early stages of production. This lets you identify possible QC issues and avoid costs associated with returns or corrections.

  • Hire a third-party QC service. If a visit to China is not feasible, consider hiring a third-party QC inspector who specialises in your product. A QC service can check and confirm the quality of products before they are sent to Singapore. Some firms can also do an ethical audit to ensure compliance throughout the manufacturer’s supply chain.

How to ship goods from China to Singapore?

Your products have passed multiple QC inspections and are ready to leave the factory. All you need to do is understand your shipping options and ensure that you comply with Singapore customs requirements. 

Before choosing a shipping method, you must know your budget, what type of goods you’re shipping, their weight and size, and how quickly you need them. Based on these, you have 3 options:

  • Door-to-door express shipping. This service replicates the experience of eCommerce delivery to your home and can send goods as quickly as 3 business days. It is also the most expensive, and only suitable for small packages.

  • Air freight. Shipping by air costs less than door-to-door, and is suitable for delicate or high-value goods. However, air freight fees are charged per kilogram. The heavier your package is, the more expensive it is to deliver. 

  • Sea freight. Shipping by sea is the most cost-effective option for high-volume goods and heavy loads. For smaller volumes, you can opt for a Less than Container Load (LCL). Its downside is speed - it can take several weeks for a sea freight delivery to reach Singapore from China.

Customs requirements for importing goods into Singapore

Importers need to follow several customs procedures when importing goods from China.  According to Singapore Customs, you need to do the following:

  • Activate your customs account on TradeNet

  • Check if your goods are controlled or prohibited by searching the HS/CA product code

  • Apply for Inter-Bank GIRO, which lets you pay all GST, fees, and charges directly to Singapore Customs from your business bank account

  • Provide a security payment via a Banker’s Guarantee, Insurance Bond, or Finance Company Guarantee

  • Get your Customs Import Permit through TradeNet

  • Prepare documents for cargo clearance

Conclusion: Why working with China suppliers is worth the effort

Sourcing from suppliers in China gives SMEs an unfair advantage through cost savings, access to quality goods, and scalable manufacturing. To capitalise on these advantages, you need to find suppliers and build trust from Singapore.

Several tools can ease the process. B2B marketplaces like Alibaba let you browse hundreds of suppliers and compare options based on your requirements. Their in-platform messaging apps have translation features that break the language barrier.

Finally, fintech firms like Airwallex simplify cross-border payments to China suppliers, with 70% of payments arriving on the same day. The Airwallex Business Account gives you CNY local bank account details that you can use to invoice customers, hold, and pay CNY without unnecessary conversion fees.  You can also convert SGD to CNY at friendly interbank rates and minimise the impact of foreign exchange risks. On top of that, Airwallex has tools to streamline your bill payments, accounting, and eCommerce payments.

Ready to discover how Airwallex can help you grow your business?   Open a free Airwallex Business Account today and start sending fast payments to your suppliers in China.

Frequently asked questions

1. What are the typical lead times when sourcing from Chinese suppliers, and how can I reduce them?

There’s no hard and fast answer for production lead times, as this varies per supplier, product, and project. The only way to find out is to write to potential suppliers with clear product details, specifications, and order quantities. A reliable manufacturer will have a production schedule and provide realistic timelines.  

To minimise production delays, check the samples thoroughly and document your feedback clearly. If the sampling and prototyping stage is done well, production should happen as scheduled.

However, be prepared for delays due to unforeseen issues beyond the manufacturer’s control. The only way to prevent this is to work with multiple suppliers. If one supplier runs into issues, you can switch to another one without disrupting your ability to serve customers. 

2. How can I ensure my products comply with international shipping regulations when importing from China?

To ensure compliance with international shipping regulations, label your packaging according to global shipping standards and prepare all documents required by Singapore customs. Consider working with a freight forwarder that specialises in importing goods from China. They can help you prepare the right documents and avoid issues that can cause delays at customs.

***Note: This publication does not constitute legal, tax, or professional advice from Airwallex nor substitute seeking such advice, and makes no express or implied representations/warranties/guarantees regarding content accuracy, completeness, or currency.


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Shermaine Tan
Manager, Growth Marketing

Shermaine leads the development and execution of content for businesses in Singapore and the SEA region.

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