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  • #34 Amazon China Product Sourcing -Peter Zapf of Global Sources (part 1 of 2)

April 4, 2016

#34 Amazon China Product Sourcing -Peter Zapf of Global Sources (part 1 of 2)

   This episode, #34, is the first of two parts of the interview with Peter Zapf of Global Sources. Peter has a huge background in working with Asian (mostly Chinese) suppliers and the whole supply chain. He has a fantastic ability to bring common sense and  simplicity to these complex issues.  

Show notes for Episode 34 (Tactics/Qs)

Peter has been working in Hong Kong for Global Sources for about 15 years.

Global sources has existed for about 40 years. It exists to help sellers/retailers find manufacturers and vice versa. They started off with magazines; since 1996, they have a website (http://www.globalsources.com); since the early 2000’s, they have run Trade shows twice a year (in April and October), in Hong Kong (http://www.globalsources.com/exhibitions).  They’re also running a Smart China Sourcing Summit for FBA sellers at their trade show (http://www.globalsources.com/summit)   

Tactical Qs (FB group) RECENT POLL/EMAIL & from recent FB group posts:

What are the pros and cons of using a sourcing agent?

The pros: often they will get you a lower price so they will pay for themselves.  And they provide feet on the ground.

Cons: Agents have a reputation for taking a cut from both sides – it could be an extra cost because you’re not going direct to factory.  Also, It’s an extra layer of communication which may be a hinderance, especially with a complex product.

Is travel to China, to source products, necessary to grow your business? 

Not really. Email and Skype work well for people starting out.

If you go Full time with your business, it’s very worth considering.

Travel “Lite” is to visit the Trade shows.

“Full” version is to go face to face and travel to meet the suppliers in the factory.

How do you work out what a “good” price is [for a product]?

The best thing is to get multiple quotes from different suppliers. Then go back to your preferred supplier and say “We’d love to work with you but can you match this price?”

However, low price is not the only factor! Consider also:

1. If you squeeze the price, the manufacturer will have to cut corners. This will lead to Quality Control (QC) issues. “You get what you pay for.”  Think about how you want to balance cost and quality. 

2. If you have say a 5% defect rate, that will lose any financial gains you make.

3.  If your product costs are about 25% of your Amazon selling price, a 10% rise in your buying costs only add about 2% to your selling price.

Other ways to save money than just product cost:

Ordering bigger quantities.

Going to directly to the factory vs. using an intermediary.

Using sea vs. air freight.

Shipping direct to Amazon warehouse vs. stopping somewhere in-between.

How your whole supply chain is set up is important for price.

How do you know if you are dealing with a factory rather than an intermediary?

Look at the Global Sources site and look at the Business Licence and see if it includes a word like “manufacturer”.  This works reasonably well in China.

But be aware they may manufacture some things but trade others!

The only way to really know if they manufacture your desired item, is to hire someone to visit the factory or do it yourself. (Compare name on business card, paperwork, factory itself, etc.)

Inspection and Quality Control (QC)- what are your basic recommendations?

It depends on the product but this works well for most categories.

1.    Get several samples. 

2.    Write down everything you don’t like about them.e.g. batteries don’t go in easily; doesn’t turn on; scratches, dents etc.

3. Make an objective list of QC criteria.

4.   Include this list with your Purchase Order. Your supplier may say “No, we can’t deliver at this level.” but it’s much better to know that up front!

5.   Make an initial payment of 30%. Never pay 100% at this point.

6.   Bring in a 3rd party inspector to do a Pre-Shipment Inspection. They should use your QC criteria from your Purchase Order (plus whatever you feel is also relevant).

7.  They will then send you an inspection report.

8. Only then, if you accept the shipment, do you release the remaining 70% of the funds.

By telling the supplier upfront that you’re having a 3rd party inspection done, you’ll get lower defects.  You are signaling to the supplier that you care about quality.

Inspection costs about 300 USD per man-day (for a 1st/2nd tier level Inspection company), and one man day is enough for a typical Amazon buyer shipment. 

How to set up the quality control level?

AQL (Acceptable Quality Limit) is the main [internationally standardised] way to set quality control level and the statistics depending on order size.

Define in your QC criteria if a  problem is =1. critical defect; or 2. major defect; or 3.  minor defect.

Minor=> customer won’t return product eg box folded wrong

Major=> product still works but customer may return

Critical=> product doesn’t really work.

Set how many critical/major/minor defects are allowed:

AQL level Big Box retailers use is 0/2.5/4 (critical defects/major defects/minor defects)

Higher quality: 0/1/2.5

A lot of shipments actually do not pass inspection but the buyer still okays the shipment the buyer may be okay with the minor defects and request improvement for the next shipment. 

Get advice on these topics from your inspection company. 

Overview of the inspection process in this multi-part article (Part 2 is my favorite): http://www.smartchinasourcing.com/home/china-product-quality/2485-managing-qc-inspectors-part-1-the-hiring-process.html 

Description of AQL here: http://www.smartchinasourcing.com/home/china-product-quality/354-back-to-basics-what-is-the-aql.html

How do you set an appropriate quality level? 

If the customer isn’t going to return the product, give negative reviews or negative feedback, then it’s probably fine. So that’s probably the main criterion for rejecting or accepting a batch.

This is another reason for not beating the supplier down too high on price!

Ocean Shipping

Do you recommend shipping insurance?

Like all insurance, it’s easy to get cover but it’s hard to get a payout if needed!

The actual probability of a loss is mathematically low. It comes down to risk tolerance.

If you can afford to lose the money, it’s may not be necessary. If it would bankrupt the company, that’s when to get insurance!

What is the cost difference between ocean and air freight?

There was a recent study on a product that was medium small sized, and they calculated a cost per unit of $6 by air and about $1 by ocean.

There are fixed port costs either end. A very broad rule of thumb is that above 150 kg or 3 cubic metres, sea shipping makes more sense. Also very bulky items need to go by sea (because of volumetric weight)

Customs clearance

How do you handle customs clearance at a US port? (also: What is the cost of customs clearance for sea shipping? How do you select a customs clearance agent for SS?)

Answer to all of these: let your freight forwarder handle it! Peter has talked to the folks at Flexport (based in the USA), but the industry is fragmented and there are many, many freight forwarders.

The Freight Forwarder will ask :

1.    Do you want

a. EXW (Ex works) (pick up straight from factory gates?) or 

b. FOB (Free On Board) (the supplier will get the products on board ship then the Freight Forwarder takes over)?

2. Where do you want it delivered to?

3. What are the dimensions and weight of the product?

They’ll handle port fees and inland freight fees. And they may or my not include duty in the quote but if not included in quote, and they will bill you for it.  When Sea shipping, always use a freight forwarder!

Do you need a freight forwarder for air freight?

Be clear about the difference between Air Freight or Air Courier service.  Here is a good article: http://www.thesourcingblog.com/air-freight-from-china-explained/

The latter is eg DHL, Fedex, UPS. [You may get away without a freight forwarder for this. I have several times. But it’s not foolproof- I also got burnt once! – Michael]

For air freight proper, you probably need a freight forwarder.  If in doubt – ask a freight forwarder if you need to use them!

Do you need a separate customs broker?

The Freight Forwarder will usually either have that in-house or have a relationship with one. So basically they take care of it.

When making initial contact with Chinese suppliers, should I act as if [I am] the buyer and have to OK prices with my boss?                     Peter doesn’t recommend starting a relationship with “untruths”! Mostly the reason for this is for price negotiations. That leads back to price vs. quality trade off (plus the time and aggravation spent on negotiating for small price differences)

If you do want to negotiate on price, you can focus on getting multiple quotes and then compare. (Traditional retailers also figure out the costs of materials and labour and add on margin for the supplier, but this is more complex)

Is it true that Chinese factories generally give you a price that is close to the cost of production?

It can be. Chinese factories often get their profit margin from the VAT rebate of say 9-17%.  If you are getting a good quote, the price can be close to cost – depends on how good your price is!

Any advice on Sourcing from US, UK and European Manufacturers?

This is not something that Global Sources focusses on although the issues may be mostly the same.

Is using a gmail address OK for contacting suppliers? (because of spam from would-be suppliers)

Suppliers are also getting more sophisticated – they will often look up you and your company in eg Linked-In. Good suppliers are capacity constrained. The new suppliers and ones that will work with anybody may not be the ones you want to work with!

To convince the good suppliers to work with you, you want to come across as well as possible (although some of the buyers from the larger retailers do use Gmail to avoid spam).

Try to have a company domain, a company website. Give background about you that sells you as a legitimate and experienced buyer or at least an experienced business person. 


In Episode #35, Peter gives his strategic big-picture thinking about how to develop a long-term sustainable Product business. Amazing thinking that I have not heard anywhere else. Stay tuned!


In Episode #35, Peter gives his strategic big-picture thinking about how to develop a long-term sustainable Product business. Amazing thinking that I have not heard anywhere else. Stay tuned!


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Watch AMAZON SOURCING TACTICS Peter Zapf of Global Sources – Part 1 of 2

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  1. Learned amazing information on this podcast. Really has me thinking and am sharing it with my Amazon group. Everyone needs the inside scoop that Peter offers here.
    Thanks so much Michael.

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