Suppliers have a knack of communicating that will leave you scratching your head. Their puzzling answers can leave you in a cold sweat while you consider buying a plane ticket to China to figure things out…

The easy answer as to why the supplier communication is the way it is, is because of the language barrier.

I believe that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Understanding the reasons behind the kooky answers can, hopefully give you more insight into the world of China sourcing and importing.

This is a follow-up to the last post concerning buyers’ unhelpful phrases.


This is the most obvious reason. Your supplier is using a second language and thus certain aspects do not translate over so well. But this is only the surface reason for the communication issues.

Points could be expressed via photos, mocked-up images, short bullet points…so there are many alternative actions the supplier could perform instead of laboring over a wordy email.

Lack of motivation and creativity.

Instead of applying themselves to effectively communicate, the unmotivated supplier allows the language to be a barrier.

Suppliers can be timid when dealing with foreign buyers and they don’t consider there are multiple ways to get a point across, ie a flow of photos of production, photos of samples or mocked up images detailing issues.

Most points-of-contact at the supply company are typically younger adults who are not motivated to be understood. Thus a point of key detail is ignored or expressed in a muddled way.

If pressed as to “why” they did not inform you, the sales person would say “I’m sorry for my English”.

*This is important and don’t get me wrong. They are not necessarily unmotivated to work hard or get the job done, but they are unmotivated in communication. They are unmotivated and oblivious to the fact that you, as the overseas buyer are largely in the dark and rely on their updates.

Good suppliers are working hard behind the scenes to put out fires and find solutions, but because they do not communicate what’s going on, it causes them to look indifferent and unhelpful.

They Are a Low Cost Factory, Not a Marketing Company: the communication is going to be sparse, the service is going to be lacking and they see their main role as producing the agreed-upon item

They Are a Low Cost Factory, Not a Marketing Company: the communication is going to be sparse, the service is going to be lacking and they see their main role as producing the agreed-upon item

Not accustomed to service-oriented feedback and being to-do list minded.

You ask your supplier a question:

[Buyer]:  Can we incorporate the blue color?

[What buyer hopes to hear]:  I’m sorry, but currently, the blue is not an option for this order quantity, but we’ve combed through the material markets and attached are photos of existing, different threads laid against the pantone card in perfect lighting so that you can see the possibilities.

We’ve also expressed mailed you a package with each thread swatch clearly labeled and organized.

[What the supplier actually says]:  We do not have blue.

[Buyer]:  So what are our options?

[Supplier]:  What do you want?

…and the game goes on. When immediately dealing with a customer, they are reactive instead of proactive.

Suppliers do not consider giving over-arching updates so that the importer is in an assured and educated frame of mind.

It’s bit by bit communication and draw-your-own conclusion game.

They don’t know what you don’t know: Suppliers tend to think that you know all things concerning the manufacturing of the product you are importing. In the supplier’s mind, they do not see the need to let you peek behind the curtain.

The supplier thinks, that if you’re importing backpacks, then you must be a backpack expert…it’s hard to blame them for this view. The supplier discounts that the internet and offshore sourcing have created an army of ignorant purchasers from the Western side.

Little industry knowledge:  Your supplier contact is unfamiliar with brand managers, purchasers and  merchandising companies that buy a wide range of production and for various markets. Suppliers are not experts on demographics and trends.

They simply happen to be manufacturing “item x” and if that item fits a certain market, then so be it.

The internet and low-cost, open trade have created an army of ignorant buyers on the Western side and an army of ignorant sellers on the China side. I mean ignorant in the proper, nice-way sense, by the way.

Low understanding of the actual manufacturing: Sales staff and English-speaking contacts are not well-versed in manufacturing processes. The workers who are skilled to discuss the manufacturing processes are on the production line and are not able to discuss with you

This leads to answers on questions that do not completely add up. The sales staff will answer first before they confirm with production to see what is or is not possible…that’s if they bother confirming.

Factory visits are beneficial because you are able to sit down face to face with with the production team who can answer questions in 1 day that the sales staff may delay for a week.

They don’t want to tell you the truth / avoiding conflict / saving face: You may ask a completely normal question but because the supplier thinks the answer will create a conflict or make them look bad in some way, they give some form of scrambled response that doesn’t completely add up.