China sourcing agents: Part Three – The Future

A few weeks ago, we started a series about how the role of sourcing agents has evolved to adapt to the age of ecommerce and the instant availability of just about anything on the internet. A couple weeks ago, we published another segment to that series: China sourcing agents: Past, Present & Future – Part Two.  This blog is part 3 of that series: the future.

I am mindful that the future is always hard to predict, but analysis shows a progression in the role of China sourcing agents over time and we can anticipate how their role might change. Below we’ve discussed a few key functions in the roles of the China sourcing agents that will be affected in the future:

Technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will predict market demand for your products as it never could before.  The newest technology will enable you to monitor the production of your goods in China from the comfort of your home office in the US.  And, as we reviewed in a previous blog (China Sourcing: The Future of Logistics and Technology), you will be able to track and control the shipping of your goods like never before.

Financing and payment methods too will change with technology, making it easier to pay in many different ways, and increasing trust between buyers and sellers.

Your agents will use technology to improve communications as well; there will be more and more apps and platforms making communication clearer, and more instant.  Apps like Skype, WeChat, and others will make meetings and general communications with agents easier, faster and clearer.

Data storage, analysis and management will alsoimprove, and with all that technology, it would be tempting to think that agents themselves will become redundant.

Services

However, the redundancy of sourcing agents is unlikely for 3 reasons:

The first is the general tendency for importers to always want to squeeze more out of technology to gain a competitive edge, so it will never be enough.

Second, the very role of the importer will be in question. Importers of the ecommerce age will be looking at a different arena,where supply chain fundamentals will have changed. Chinese factories will move up the supply chain and the end-users of goods will establish closer links with the manufacturers.  Importers will struggle to stay relevant.  They will not compare what they had in the past and be satisfied, they will instead look at the competitive trends and will want to keep an edge.

Lastly, business will continue to be about people.  It is people that will provide that edge. Should you observe an issue developing on those live-feed cameras, who are you going to call?  That’s right, your agent.  But beyond that, the human touch is expected to remain an important add-value factor to the supply chain as long as humans are involved. Relationships between buyersand sellers will remain a key component of success, a key differentiator. And this will be especially important in the China supply chain, where language and culture will continue to challenge participants, no matter how good translation software gets.

Services, however, are still expected to change. Things will move faster, and there will be less room to forgive errors. Sourcing agents will not be needed for mundane activities that will be automated and better managed by technology. They will be freed from that and will be expected to focus on other aspects of the supply chain. The market will demand more.  More transparency, more tracking, more CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Importers will want agents that can manage the whole process—from managing relationships to benchmarking factories, processing samples, supervising production and quality control, logistics, accountability etc.—in order to stay relevant and competitive.

Sourcing agents will have to strive hard to meet these increasing demands, and might struggle to develop the skills and expertise required to manage the whole process. When this happens, clients may choose to transition to having their own China sourcing office, to achieve the excellence, optimal pricing, and quality control they seek in their China supply chain.

How do you see these trends? Will these changes benefit your supply chain? What is your vision for the next 5-10 years? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

 

By Jocelyn Trigueros

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