When you start to import from China, to make sure you find the good suppliers, work through the process, and assure product quality, you need to find a buying agent to help you. But it is not easy.
Here are 5 things you should keep in mind when selecting a buying agent:
1. Trust is everything
I think you would agree with me that to work with an agent, trust is important. I would rather use a reliable and trustworthy but mediocre agent than someone who is capable but not reliable. Ideally, you need someone who is both competent and reliable.
How can you tell if your buying agent in China is trustworthy? In many cases, first impressions can misguide you. You can do some online research to see if there are any comments and feedback about them. Give them some trial tasks to gauge their performance. You can generally understand their work ethic by working with them a few times.
2. Contract versus verbal commitment
Some buyers think a contract is not important so they work with purchasing agents and suppliers on verbal commitment, binding by morality and virtue.
My suggestion is to sign a detailed contract with your buying agent irrespective of how good your personal relationship is with the agent. Ask the help of lawyer to draft and review the contract.
3. Buying offices versus buying agents
Buying offices normally have experience in more industries while buying agents often specialize in certain areas such as consumer electronics. If your sourcing projects cover many industries, it might be better to use a sourcing office. If you deal with only a few products, you could work with an individual agent.
Also, if your project is relatively big, it might be better to use a sourcing office as you will need many sourcing experts to work on your project at the same time.
Buying offices are normally legally incorporated companies, so if they breach the contract, you will have somewhere and someone to chase after.
A sourcing agent is often a one-man show. If bad things happen, they might disappear. So relatively speaking, buying offices are more reliable than agents.
Individual Agents might offer lower rates compared with buying offices. For small buyers, a reliable agent might be a better choice.
4. Hire an expert, not a secretary
There are thousands of products global buyers are buying from China, and each product is different. Sometimes it takes months or even years to understand the production details of a specific product. A competent sourcing agent should be a product expert. If he does not know the product, he will not know how to plan quality control, he will not know the costing, and cannot negotiate the price properly. He might not even know where to buy the products.
5. Communication is often a problem
First is the language. You should make sure your sourcing agent speaks your language well enough to understand your emails, and to draft and review an English contract. They should also be familiar with the product in your language (parameters, specification, drawing, parts and other details).
You need a sourcing agent who is well prepared to hit the ground running. If you are looking to build a long-term relationship with your agent, ideally the agent should be proficient in oral communication, as in many cases, email is slow and you will need to call them to speed up the process.
The efficiency of communication is an issue to look at, especially when there is a time zone difference. Your agent should reply your emails promptly. Instant messengers can be used to speed up communication, but suggest you follow up with an email after text messaging to reassure all important matters are clearly communicated.