Sourcing From China: How long should it take?

Many new importers find that they only have a very vague idea of how long it takes to source directly from China. This is because many of them have experience buying from distributors or wholesalers here in the US, so the timeline is rarely clear. In this blog, we will review the typical steps in the sourcing process and identify a general timeline for each step. Note that this is very general information and will vary based on the product sourced and industry.

Product Development 

Before even beginning the sourcing process, you’ll need to develop your product. Product development is different and separate from sourcing. Its main purpose is to deliver proof of concept and set the stage for sourcing. Only after the product development process is complete, can you begin the sourcing process. At that point, you will need to be very clear about all your products’ specifications, packaging, and other details.  Only then are you ready to start identifying qualified suppliers.

(See more on Product development)

Find and Verify Suppliers
This step is about finding suppliers best suited to produce your product, verifying that they are legitimate, and negotiating pricing, payment terms, and logistics. Depending on whether you use an *experienced professional and on the complexity of the product, this process could take anywhere from about 1-2 weeks (for simple products) to 2 months (for more complex products).

Identifying Suppliers (estimated time): Between 1 week and 2 months.

(*See Sourcing Agents)

Secure Good Samples
Often, samples are required before production is allowed to begin. Putting aside the cost of samples (In some cases, you can negotiate for free samples if your orders are large), the process will vary based on:

1. The complexity of your product – Does it require molds, special machinery, unusual raw materials, etc.?)
2. The upfront specificity of your requirements – Did you provide a detailed and clear list of specifications, or will there be much back and forth to verify various points); and
3. The efficiency of your China team – They should review samples before shipping them to you. This saves at least one week per instance.

Securing samples (estimated time): Between 2-6 weeks.

Once you have given the green light for production, the factory will set up for production. This means at least two steps:
1. Securing all the raw materials and
2. Locking in production space (This includes setting up the machines, etc.).

The actual production time may only be 1 day, but again depending on your product, it is the set up that takes time.

Production (estimated time): Between 2-6 weeks.

Quality Assurance
This process starts before order placement. Quality control and production usually run simultaneously. Multiple inspections and quality tests before, during, and after production do not cause delays–they prevent them. Delays occur when inspections are skipped leading to quality issues.  If quality problems are uncovered too late, they could necessitate re-making the whole order.

Logistics is usually an integral part of the sourcing process negotiated with your supplier. Most orders are bought on an FOB (Free on Board) basis, which means the price includes the transfer to a sea-going vessel. To that, you must add 4 to 6 weeks depending on whether you use fast vessels and whether you ship to the West or East coast – and also such details as the usage of a mini land bridge. One option to accelerate the process is air freight, which typically takes one week. Customs clearance should only take 1 to 2 days provided all your documents are in order and you have a good customs broker.

Logistics (estimated time): Between 4-6 weeks.

All the above can be confusing, so let me add the following:  As long as you buy a traditional product (i.e., a garment, or an electronic gadget using standard parts) from a proven manufacturer, production time should be no more than 4 weeks from contract to ex-works.

As many of you know, preparation is key to predicting the timely arrival of goods when sourcing from China.

What has your experience been like? Feel free to share your opinions and ideas below.

(For more information see: Ensuring Timely Delivery When Sourcing from China)


By Jocelyn Trigueros

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in July 2019.

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