5 Things About Samples Every Importer Should Know

Recently I was speaking with a smart, switched on business woman called Rose. Rose knew her products back to front. Her marketing was fantastic. However, her understanding of how to import from China wasn’t very good.

We’d been working on a project with Rose for several weeks – and having just sent samples the feedback was positive. “The samples from factory A are perfect – I’m really pleased with them” said Rose.

Ready to place her order we asked Rose what level of QC (Quality Control) she wanted us to carry out on her order.

“Well, the samples were perfect – so we don’t need you to QC the order thanks.”

Don’t Make This Extremely Costly Mistake

Every day importers like Rose make this mistake. Soon enough they learn a little secret about China imports – samples DO NOT equal production run quality.

Most people think if the sample is ok – there’s no point in bothering with quality control.

They mistakenly think production will turn out exactly like the sample they have received. They don’t realize their sample could be handmade (different process to mass production), that it could be a “bait and switch”, or that the factory with the best intentions may stuff up their production run.

It’s a massive error to assume samples will equal your production run. For a whole host of reasons one-off samples may not be the same as the actual production run.

Let’s examine several common situations which occur:

1. THE “INTENTIONAL DECEPTION” aka “bait and switch”

The factory has a little room of samples they bought from the leading manufacturer in China of your product. You want a sample? No problem! They will send you the best sample in the market.

One day someone who hasn’t done their homework decides to pay them for an order. For the first time ever this factory will attempt to make this product. If they totally screw the product up, then that’s ok. They will ship your stock out and try and improve it for the next sucker that comes along.

Western people often shake their heads I disbelief. Surely THAT would never happen? It does happen.


Let’s say you’re buying plastic bags. There are good plastic bags which are very strong. They have plastic 30 microns thick.

You get the sample, it’s great.

However, you don’t specify the microns with the factory. Your production run turns up. It’s exactly the same as the sample. Same bag, same size, same colour.

With just one difference.

They have given you a bag that’s 15 microns thick. It’s weak, it’s flimsy. They actually use 50% less of the material than you thought you were getting!

You complain to the factory. They respond “Sorry Mr, but 15 microns is our standard thickness, we only send you the sample to see the design and the size. You never told us you need 30 microns, if so the price is much more!”


The sample comes from a ‘good run batch’ but when your order is made its a ‘bad batch’. This can happen for a million different reasons. The machines are not adjusted correctly. The material supplier has some issues – maybe the paint work was put on when it was the wet/humid season and your order has been stuffed up.

I recently visited a factory we’d used for years – but lately production quality had markedly deteriorated. Why? The factory owners were involved in a bitter divorce and in the fight for control of the factory – things had gone haywire. Everyone at the factory was distracted and involved. Most people don’t expect something like a Chinese factory version of Bold and the Beautiful to screw around with their orders. It does happen.


Finally, the reverse can also occur.

I recently had some samples of a metal product. The product is simple, essentially it’s a cast piece of painted metal. Having previously worked with a skilled metal fabrication factory we recommended a particular manufacturer to our new customer.

The sample came and it was alright. However there was a slight problem with the paint work. Basically the product had been painted and rested on something before it had dried properly, effecting the surface of the paint.

We called the factory and said, look, we can’t send this sample. You have stuffed the paint work up. What on earth will the customer think if they see this?

The factory didn’t understand. From their point of view, they had sent a sample so the customer could check the actual ‘functionality’ of the product.

They knew they could paint it properly. And so did I. But to our customer sitting 5,000 miles away, not getting the paint job right didn’t look so good.

Without my intervention here the customer would have got the sample, then said I’m not ordering that rubbish.
Only because I KNEW this was actually a good manufacturer did we go forward with the order and it passed our QC with flying colours.

So there you go, sometimes factories send you a ‘bad’ sample but make a good product!


If a factory refuses to give a sample – is this a warning sign? To many people this doesn’t make any sense and a definite red flag. But in our experience this is no red flag at all.

There are all sorts of reasons why really good manufactures won’t give out product samples.

Often they are so proud of their product/invention, they know there is a market for it and they know they are the best in China producing it. So they have plenty of orders on. They worry someone will get hold of a sample and passing it onto another factory.

Read the ultimate guide to find a manufacturer in China

Key Takeaways:

there’s a few key lessons to learn when dealing with samples.

  1. Never leave out the QC process just because you think the samples were fine. This is China and if you’re going to be naïve you’re going to fall a cropper.
  2. Your order will never be 100% the same as the samples you have received
  3. Prepare for the worst – make sure you’re not dealing with an intentionally deceptive factory
  4. Realise samples are just one piece of the puzzle, but not something to rely on 100%
  5. Bad samples or no samples are not an indication the factory cannot do the job

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    About the Author: Adam

    Adam Gilbourne is the Founder and Managing Director of Easy Imex. Since 2005, he has helped hundreds of companies worldwide to successfully import from China. He has a large expertise on product sourcing, quality assurance, and supply chain management.

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