After reading this article you'll be able to assess quality of products at the Canton Fair, you'll know why presenting yourself as a direct-to-consumer distributor is better than saying you're an Amazon seller, what questions should you ask potential suppliers and why taking 🤳 selfies is MUST-DO thing.


Jumping on a flight to source Amazon products at the Canton Fair is on the bucket list of many beginners. But how does one successfully navigate the world's largest trade fair, let alone any international trade show?

Never attended the Canton Fair to source new products? Today we'll be highlighting some excellent Canton Fair sourcing tips and strategies.

From this, we hope that you'll feel more confident and professional in your first in-person sourcing experience.

Prior planning

There are three phases to the Canton Fair (there is a Spring Fair and a Fall Fair). The next one starts on Oct 15.

They are divided based on the type of products, as such:

Phase 1:

  • Electronics & Household
  • Electrical Appliances
  • Lighting Equipment
  • Vehicles & Spare Parts
  • Machinery
  • Hardware & Tools
  • Energy + Resources
  • Chemical Products
  • Building Materials
  • International Pavilion

Phase 2:

  • Consumer Goods
  • Gifts
  • Home Decorations

Phase 3:

  • Office Supplies, Cases & Bags, and Recreation Products
  • Medical Devices and Health Products
  • Food
  • Shoes
  • Textiles & Garments
  • International Pavillion

Planning ahead is the real secret to not just surviving, but thriving at your first Canton Fair experience. For the average Amazon seller who may be used to hiding behind the computer, attending China's biggest trade show can be an overwhelming experience.

But it doesn't need to be.

There are some things worth planning ahead of time:

1. Vendors and Products list

The Canton Fair is massive, as many first-time visitors realize after their first day. It's very challenging to get through the whole range of stalls and products on offer.

For this reason, it's an excellent idea to note down exactly what you're searching for at the Canton Fair. Particular products are found in certain sections, with plenty of helpful maps available and sign boards.

An excellent tip is to communicate with factories that you've previously found on Alibaba, and communicate with them via WhatsApp or WeChat. Announce to them that you'll also be at the Canton Fair, so your first introduction is warm.

2. Life hacks you need to know while traveling to the Canton Fair

Book a hotel as close as possible to the Pazhou Complex, and choose one that has a free shuttle bus service to and from each day. Trust us - very few taxi drivers understand basic English.

Most hotels do provide complimentary shuttle service. If your budget allows, the high-end hotels such as the Hilton will provide multiple departure and pickup times for guests.

Also - food options are the Canton Fair are quite limited, especially for those with dietary needs. It's wise to stock up at your hotel's breakfast service, and simply pack snacks that you've pre-purchased back home.

Sample inspections and supplier questions

After setting into the first hour or two of the Canton Fair, you'll start to feel confident going into stalls and talking to vendors. There are some good questions to ask, but also, you'll have to assess sample quality at the same time.

Some first-time traveler tips we can share are:

  1. Observe product quality between stalls especially as you'll find the same products often across multiple stalls. It's wise to ask suppliers if they can make variations with the use of English terminology when discussing changes to their on-shelf sample.  
  2. Consider intellectual property implications. Ask yourself if such products might have trademarks, patents and/or exclusive manufacturing in other countries. Especially important as you grow your Amazon business through worldwide distribution.
  3. Request from each supplier their MOQ's and lead times, just as you would on Alibaba. Often you'll find them quote a different price. Some may create a price out of thin air, whilst others have prices written down clearly on paper, so each foreigner is quoted the same price. We recommend stalls with the latter approach.
  4. Consider any certifications needed and packaging options that might be available. Certifications and verification procedures could slow down the time it takes to take this product to the Amazon marketplace. Also, whilst they may have produced an excellent sample, customers may be disappointed by the ordinary packaging upon opening.
  5. Take selfies of you with the reps, so that you can send it to them soon after and refresh their memories of your conversations.

Each stall is going to share with you a business card. To come across as professional, you too will also need a business card. See - those in stalls speak to people all day long, and soon work out who has a real business that needs to grow, and who's just here for a quick visit.

We would recommend that you create business cards in your home country before flying to China. However, there are services at the Canton Fair that can print business cards to a very high standard. You'll find these in the main thoroughfare.

eCommerce and competitors

Contrary to popular belief, most foreigners are not there to source Amazon products at the Canton Fair. There are wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, Shopify sellers, and big box store representatives from dozens upon dozens of countries.

Competition, therefore, is minimal. However, many are starting to understand the power of Amazon as a sales channel, especially the Chinese.

To present yourself as professionally as possible, we would recommend that:

  1. Simply don't introduce yourself as an Amazon seller, or at least, not right away. You may wish to say something like "USA direct-to-consumer distributor" or similar. Be creative. This approach means that you're unlikely to be quoted higher unit pricing.
  2. If you've worked with a factory before that exhibits at the Canton Fair, then it's wise to remind them that shelf display of your products is NOT permitted. Otherwise, they will simply assume that it's OK to show competitors YOUR products at the Canton Fair, and even allow others to place bulk orders.
  3. It's likely at some stage that you will come across another Amazon competitor. If they happy to be in a stall where you wish to engage with a supplier, then it's wise to return at another time. Otherwise you risk revealing your product range through eavesdropping to another marketplace competitor.
  4. Lastly, dress the part of a real foreign business person. Whilst many entrepreneurs believe that jeans and skateboarding sneakers like Gary Vaynerchuk are the way to roll, the Chinese simply aren't impressed. They expect buyers (which are Amazon sellers) to be well dressed, so as to be taken seriously. If in doubt, dress smart casual at a minimum.

Factories are still more than happy to work with eCommerce sellers. While we mentioned that many are understanding the power, they themselves haven't quite figured out how to sell successfully on Amazon. You still have the upper-hand, if you present yourself properly.

Factory inspections

Right - so you've been at the Canton Fair for a day or two. In that time, provided you've followed our advice here, you've probably been invited for several factory tours by representatives from stalls.

These tours are something we recommend, provided that the factories are close to Shenzen, Guangzhou or Foshan. If not, kindly advise each factory representative that you'll make more time on your next China trip - they'll appreciate it and understand your time constraints.

Through our experience as Amazon sellers, we would recommend the following:

  1. Book multiple inspections if you have a few spare days in China after the Canton Fair. This way you can gauge differences in their workmanship, systems and process, and their general tidiness. We would recommend a taxi to get between factories, with clear direction from Google maps provided.
  2. Understand that the Chinese always say yes. It's apart of their culture towards foreigners. They don't wish to disappoint you, either at the Canton Fair or during their own factory tour. If you want variations in size, color and build quality, they may not be able to maintain this standard, despite saying yes.
  3. Detect if you're working with an agent or real factory. If you're with a real factory, then the representative from the Canton Fair will know the boss extremely well, and look up to him. The own of the factory will also drive the most expensive car, with it parked directly out front.
  4. Avoid making orders without running through the real numbers. Whilst it's tempting to make a promise that you'll order XYZ volume each and every month, it's imperative that making a profit on a product with consistent sales volume is your #1 priority. You can always submit a purchase order upon returning home.

Factory inspections are highly recommended, especially if you've found a supplier that you consider trustworthy for the long term. It's often the last piece that helps Amazon sellers across the line.

Summary

We've covered just about everything there is to survive your first Canton Fair experience and find Amazon products to scale your business. We recommend that all sellers make their way to China at least once in their journey.

Remain both calm and confident is two words we can use to summarize this. In addition, consider learning Guanxi which is evident across Chinese business culture. In simple terms, this is a term to describe how businesses in China seek long term success in partnership with foreigners.

The Canton Fair isn't scary. Almost every factory representative speaks basic conversation English and can answer simple questions. Many welcome you with open arms, provided you come prepared.

Speaking of preparedness - we help thousands of Amazon sellers to protect their account. Consider Bindwise's free option to prevent hijackers and stranded SKUs.