China Sourcing: The Future of Communication Part Two

The Future of China Sourcing

In our previous blog, we discussed the history of communication as they relate to China sourcing. We talked about the “good old days” of communications from the early 70’s to the present day, from the telex to the cell phone and left you to imagine what it was like to run your China sourcing program without ANY of the communication tools we currently use.

In this blog, we are going to look at those current communications tools and reflect about how we communicate now in the China supply chain.


To manage your China supply chain, you need to consider two distinct communications streams: that between you, the buyer and your China team (usually in English) and that between your China team and the “system enablers;” the manufacturers, the sub-suppliers, the raw material providers, the shipping companies etc. (usually in Chinese.)

Generally speaking, communicating with your China sourcing team today is pretty efficient and effective in terms of clarity. The bulk of it is by email, sometimes supplemented by phone conversations or real-time conferences with access to documents. There is less lost in translation when attempting to place an order, for an example, and the process is fast and relatively painless.

Your China team turns around and communicates within China somewhat differently.

In present times, everybody uses smart phones.  And through them, one can communicate wonderfully well.  You can hardly find anyone in China these days that does not have a smartphone – or 3.  There are 1.38 billion mobile phone subscriptions in China, of which 43% (soon to be 60%) are smart phones.  Worldwide, it is expected that there will be 5 billion mobile phone users by 2019, about half of which will be smart phones. In contrast, here in the USA about 2/3 of the people owned a smartphone in 2017, according to

The Chinese love mobile Apps, of course, and although email is still valuable and the primary mode of business communication, the bulk of day to day communication in China is done through mobile Apps.  But not the same Apps as ours:  Facebook, Instagram, iMessage, Gmail and Twitter don’t work in China.  People mostly use Tencent’s QQ, WeChat, Whatsapp, Skype, etc.  These types of apps are very versatile and constantly improve: they enable inspections to happen instantly – and enable importers to receive photos and feedback on their goods in real-time. Voice, interestingly enough, is used less and less (unless it is as a recorded message). Nobody seems to have time to talk anymore.

Technical Note – know how to write not how to speak: Since texting is the communication of choice today in China, one needs to be proficient in written Chinese, i.e. the usage of characters.  The good news is that, having a bad accent (or dealing with people who only speak dialect), or a poor understanding of tones is less of a liability since communication is in writing and voice can be by-passed.

Note on Language: Most factories have some English-speaking employees now, and, even more often, English-reading employees. This enables direct communication with importers, their sourcing agents, etc. Emails ensure that there is a record of the communications and this usually means better accuracy. It also enables parties in different times zones to communicate easily and without middle-of-the-night disturbances.  But these employees tend to still be junior and much can be lost in translation.  To deal directly with decision-makers, Chinese (i.e. Mandarin) is still the language of choice.

In our next blog, we’ll examine how communication is evolving, propelling importers into the future. We’ll also examine how these tools can improve or change their China supply chain management processes.

What communication tools or apps do you currently use to help manage your China supply chain? How do they make things easier? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


By Jocelyn Trigueros



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