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Interview with Global Sources: How to Maximize Your Time at Trade Shows

If you've been looking for suppliers from China for any amount of time, you've probably run across Global Sources. Global Sources is one of  the most frequented supplier directories on the internet. When compared to Alibaba, Global Sources is often thought of as containing higher quality and more vetted suppliers. In addition to their supplier directory, Global Sources also has a number of magazines, trader shows, and conferences.

I'll be attending the Global Sources Summit from April 17-19, which is set to be one the best events targeted towards ecommerce sellers importing from China. It was from researching the Global Sources Summit that I had an opportunity to meet Meghla Bhardwaj, Head of Content Marketing and also the organizer for the Summit.

Meghla was based in China for 10 years before relocating to Singapore and she shares with us her wealth of experience both in importing from China and working at Global Sources.  

Dave ( What exactly does Global Sources do?

Meghla (Global Sources): Global Sources helps importers find and meet exporters in China and the rest of Asia via an online supplier directory at, trade shows and magazines.

More than 1 million importers, including 95 of the world’s top 100 retailers, use our services.

We started with trade magazines 45 years ago with the goal of bringing manufacturers and overseas importers together.

Our website was launched in 1995, and then in the early 2000s we started organizing trade shows.

Currently, we host four trade shows in Hong Kong every April and October – Electronics, Mobile Electronics, Gifts & Home, and Fashion. There were over 8,500 booths at our last show in October 2016.

We also host a conference for online & Amazon sellers called Global Sources Summit in conjunction with our Mobile Electronics and Gifts & Home shows.

Our website Smart China Sourcing is for people who are beginning to import. Buyers can read articles about sourcing-related topics such as logistics, inspections and payments on this site.

Dave: For better or worse, Global Sources always seems to be compared to Alibaba. Can you compare and contrast Global Sources with Alibaba?

Meghla: One of the key differentiators is that we host trade shows.

Attending shows can be advantageous for importers as some suppliers prefer showcasing their products only at trade shows, and don’t have an online presence.

Many companies that participate in exhibitions and are also online, launch new products at trade shows before they are posted online. This is because suppliers believe buyers attending trade shows are more likely to place orders as they are more “serious buyers” that have invested the time and money to attend a trade show.

Further, we check and verify our suppliers in a couple of ways. For example, business registration details of all our advertisers are verified by independent third parties such as D&B (Dun & Bradstreet), Ease Credit or Experian. All suppliers on our website and at our trade shows are verified.

Also, it’s much easier to identify actual manufacturers on the site. If a supplier’s business scope, as licensed by relevant government departments, allows them to manufacture goods, we label the company as a “Verified Manufacturer”.

In addition, we curate products to make it easier for buyers to identify new products. On the Global Sources website, and even at our trade shows, buyers will find “Analyst’s Choice” products. These are unique products selected by our in-house analysts.

Lastly, our website is vertically-specialized. Buyers can find a lot of editorial and curated product information on our industry-specific homepages listed in the left column of the Global Sources homepage.

Dave: Global Sources has been around for nearly 50 years. I suspect your business has changed enormously from the 70s when China was first opening up to now, when China is a lot more open. How has the company changed in the last 5 decades?

Meghla: There has been a dramatic change in the mediums importers use to seek information about supply markets. We started with print magazines in 1971. At that time, importers didn’t have too many information sources and our magazines were one of the few sources they had to keep up with the latest developments in supply markets.

Today, with the Internet and apps, information is more widely accessible.

Global Sources also hosts the Global Sources Summit geared towards ecommerce sellers from April 17-19
Global Sources also hosts the Global Sources Summit geared towards ecommerce sellers from April 17-19

In fact, some importers feel there’s too much information available. For example, with thousands of suppliers and millions of products online, sometimes it is difficult for importers to identify which manufacturer really owns a specific product, or which products are truly new in the market.

Today, there is a need for curating content to help importers quickly identify new products and suppliers that are right for them.

In recent years, there’s also been disintermediation in the retail industry. Amazon and other online e-commerce services have reduced the barriers of entry into retail.

While a few years ago, mostly traditional retailers, distributors and brands were in the importing business, today an increasing number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and individuals are importing from China. Their needs and the way they do business is quite different from traditional importers.

What hasn’t changed is the need for importers to find reliable suppliers. And this has been the core of our mission right from our inception.

Dave: Are trading companies allowed on Global Sources or is it only factories?

Meghla: Yes, trading companies are allowed on Global Sources. Some buyers prefer sourcing from trading companies for their personalized services, and ability to supply smaller quantities.

Many buyers want to go direct to factories and on our website; they can easily find verified manufacturers.

Dave: How does a supplier get listed on the Global Sources website? Is there a vetting process? Is there a free and paid option for suppliers?

Meghla: Suppliers can list minimal information for free on the site, and our paid option allows them to make many more products, and product information available to buyers.

For our paid suppliers, the first thing we do is to verify them, mostly by visiting their factories or offices, over the phone and checking government records.

We also review their business registration to ensure they are a legally registered entity. Companies that don’t have a valid business registration are not allowed to be listed.

Dave: One of the things I’ve noticed is that when trying to find a supplier I’ve found through Port Examiner or Import Genius is that I’ll find their contact information on Global Sources but nowhere else. Unfortunately, often they’ll have phone numbers listed but no websites or emails. Is it common for suppliers to not have a website? If so, is it worthwhile to try and reach out to them via the phone numbers listed on Global Sources?

Meghla: Many suppliers do have their own websites, but these are not updated regularly or well maintained. Typically Chinese suppliers don’t have the expertise to market themselves or their products internationally, and therefore rely mostly on B2B directories such as Global Sources or exhibitions to meet with importers. In fact, we offer free training to our suppliers on how to communicate and deal effectively with importers. There’s a separate department in the company that focuses only on supplier training.

Dave: In your experience, on average, what’s the least amount of money a buyer would need to place an initial order with a supplier on Global Sources?

Meghla: With more online and Amazon sellers sourcing from China nowadays, an increasing number of suppliers are willing to accept small orders.

We have a filter for “Accepts Small Orders” on the site that allows buyers to shortlist companies producing in smaller quantities. And there’s a significant number of suppliers who indicate they accept small orders, and the number is growing rapidly.

The actual amount of money required and minimum order quantities depend on the product being ordered, but we do have a large number of suppliers that accept MOQs of less than 100 pieces.

Dave: You have three trade shows in Hong Kong in April for electronics, home and gift products, and fashion products. Your shows are taking part at the same time as the Canton Fair in Guangzhou. What are the differences between the two shows?

Meghla: It depends on the product categories buyers are sourcing. If they’re looking for electronics, our show is a must-attend because it is the world’s largest sourcing show for electronics.

Our Gifts & Home is smaller than Canton Fair, but features a variety of curated and creative products.

Global Sources show - 1

Our Fashion show is the largest sourcing show in Hong Kong, and is more of a fashion event bringing together the eco-system including manufacturers, designers and service providers. Apart from mainland China suppliers, buyers can find exhibitors from emerging markets such as India, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, etc.

There are a number of special services for online sellers at all our shows. Global Sources Summit attendees can avail of a supplier matching service where we help identify suitable suppliers for them based on their requirements. There’s an eCommerce Pavilion with exhibitors keen to do business with e-tailers, and a Ready-To-Buy Zone where buyers can place immediate orders.

If people are looking for high-volume, price-competitive products, they might find Canton more suitable.

Apart from our shows, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council also hosts trade shows in the city around the same time, so buyers have a wider variety of suppliers to meet.

Hong Kong is generally more accessible to overseas buyers, and travelling to Hong Kong is more convenient and hassle-free. Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Hong Kong, which is not the case for mainland China. Travel options are also more convenient and English is more widely spoken.

Dave: Do you find that most visitors of the Global Sources show are also visiting the Canton Fair? I suspect it’s no coincidence the dates for Global Sources happen between phases of the Canton Fair facilitating easy attendance of both shows.

Meghla: Some buyers prefer to attend only the Hong Kong shows, some go only to Canton, while others attend both for more options.
This is a personal preference and comes down to convenience and the products being sourced.

The shows are scheduled in a way that makes it convenient for buyers. For example, Global Sources Electronics phase 1 runs from April 11 to 14, while Canton Fair phase 1 (featuring electronics) starts a day later on April 15.

Here’s a calendar of the April 2017 trade shows in the region:

Dave: Are there many Hong Kong trading companies at the Global Sources show? What are the advantages to sourcing through a Hong Kong Trading company opposed to a Chinese trading company or directly with a Chinese manufacturer?

Meghla: The majority of exhibitors at our shows are manufacturers from Mainland China. Of the Hong Kong companies at our shows, most have their own factories in the mainland, while a few are trading companies.

Some buyers find that Hong Kong-invested factories in Mainland China tend to have more experience dealing with foreign buyers and might be more familiar with international business practices.

Of course, Mainland China-based suppliers are also export-experienced, but there may be companies that don’t export directly and therefore don’t have a good understanding of how to work with importers.

Dave: One of the things I always profess to readers is that finding a supplier not advertising on Alibaba will dramatically help reduce the amount of competition when selling. I’ve always found Trade Shows critical for finding such suppliers. Would you be able to give a very rough ball park of the percentage of suppliers at the Global Sources show not advertising on Alibaba?

Meghla: Yes, some suppliers are “trade show fans”, and they prefer not to advertise on online platforms. Buyers attending trade shows have access to these suppliers that other buyers sourcing only online don’t.

Also, suppliers tend to launch new and unique products at trade shows. Eventually, these products will be posted online, but buyers attending a show will have a first-mover advantage.

Dave: I think the value someone gets out of visiting a trade show in Hong Kong or China is related strongly to their preparation for it. Do you have a few tips you could give readers for visiting trade shows in Hong Kong and China?

Meghla: Yes, absolutely. Preparation goes a long way in maximizing a trade show trip. Here are some suggestions:

  1. List products you are interested in: This will help you focus and save time when you’re at the show.
  2. List product features and your requirements: Make a list of specifications, product functions and features, quality standards, certifications and other information that is important for you.
  3. Get estimated prices: Send inquiries to suppliers online before you leave for the show to get reference prices of the products you are interested in. This will help you quickly determine if prices quoted by exhibitors at the show are suitable.
  4. Shortlist exhibitors online before the show: Search for exhibitors online and send them inquiries asking for information about the product, pricing, certifications, and other aspects that are important to you.
    This will help you shortlist exhibitors that can meet your requirements and you won’t waste time at the show talking with too many suppliers that don’t meet your needs. You can search for exhibitors at Global Sources shows on our website or app.
  5. Get a map of the show floor: This will help identify which halls at the exhibition venue have products you want to source. You can even plan your walking route prioritizing important halls. This will ensure you can get to work as soon as you reach the venue.
  6. Print business cards: Business cards are critical in China. You should have about 150 to 200 cards available at the beginning of the show.
  7. Prepare your wardrobe: Hong Kong and Guangzhou are located in a warm and humid atmosphere, but conference centers are air conditioned and it can be much colder inside than out. Pack comfortable, casual business clothes. Many people tend to dress casually in China while doing business.


Dave Bryant

Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He's also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.

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