China Sourcing: The Future of Communication – Part One

In our last blog, The Future of China Sourcing, we introduced a new series we’ll be following for the next few weeks. Here at CPG, we have had to change with the times over the last 40 years of sourcing from China. We wanted to evaluate that change, and discuss how it can and will affect our future.

In this blog, we’ll be examining the history of communications in China sourcing.


In the past, dating back to the late 1970’s when we got started in China, communication was already a lot better than what it was in the historical past.  I mean, you did not have to wait for a sailing boat to arrive every 4 months to find out what was going on.

Most of the communications were done:

  • In person: Face time with your Chinese suppliers (and I mean real face time, not Facetime on your iPhone) was the most effective way to ensure things were clear. This, of course, meant that one spent a lot of time in China.
  • By mail: Air mail, mostly, which took about 10 days from the USA.
  • Voice: Telephones. The hard line kind, plugged into the wall.
  • Telex: The ancestor of the Fax machine. Better and cheaper than telegrams.

As you can see, you had the basics in place.  You could do, and many did, millions of dollars of business with such a communication set up, but you must keep in mind that these means of communication were expensive, slow, and poorly supported.  For example, not every factory had a phone, hardly anyone had a telex machine (we had one of the first ones in our office in Beijing), and one single telex could cost you more than one month of phone service today.

As time progressed through the 80’s the 90’s and the millennium things got easier, faster and much cheaper with better infrastructure worldwide. And extraordinary new inventions such as the fax machine, the cell phone (anyone remember the Motorola Razor?), and, of course, the internet, with emails, wifi, smart phones etc. attached to it, obviously made things easier and more cost effective as time went on.

Language, of course, was another issue.  In the 1980’s, most Chinese factories did not have English speakers – you had to bring your own Chinese speakers to get things done.

Through the next decade or two following the 80’s, we have had the most technological advances from the flourish of the availability of email and the internet to our most common method of communication these days – cell phones.

In the next blog, we’ll discuss how these communications trends have effected current day communications as they relate to the China supply chain.

How has your communication with your China sourcing team changed over time? How have you handled that change? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


By Jocelyn Trigueros

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