The days of taking gifts to your vendor are over

This morning I was reading the Shanghai Daily over my bowl of Cheerios and I saw the headline that the Chinese are now the # 1 consumers of luxury goods worldwide.  Of course this should not surprise anyone, as China’s transformation from one of the world’s poorest countries to one of the richest is widely acknowledged.  But it does pose problems if you are travelling to China and want to take your vendor a gift, what overseas buyers have traditionally done over the years when sourcing in China.

As recent as 10 years ago when travelling to China it was never hard to come up with a gift for vendors, a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, or some Chanel # 5 would always go over well and would ensure that your vendors listened a little more carefully when you outlined all your production and lead-time concerns.  In those days, your average Chinese could not afford these products and when you showed up in China bearing luxury gifts, people were truly appreciative.  In fact, when I worked in wholesale and had a trip to China planned I always requested that management allow me to buy gifts for vendors and the people working on our orders, including office personnel and some workers.  It was an effective way to separate yourself from the factory’s other clients.

So last week when someone emailed me and told me they were headed over to China this week and asked me what kind of gift they should take to their vendor, I must admit I was at a loss seeing as the Chinese are now the World’s # 1 consumer of luxury goods and can pretty much buy anything they want. I imagine that nowadays if I showed up with a carton of cigarettes for a vendor they would just laugh and look down at me as a hick.

As I am wont to do when I have a question about China, I emailed my friend Jessie in Shanghai.  Jessie is an old colleague from my textile days, and one of the most savvy Chinese business women you will meet.  When I asked Jessie what is a good gift for a female vendor these days, she also didn’t have an answer.   Finally she suggested a handicraft gift, or something that would not be available in China.  This made sense and so I emailed back the person who had asked me what to bring and suggested she take a high-end designer bag that is sold in boutiques here in the Bay Area and NYC and is made in the Philippines.

But the more I think about this now I really am inclined to believe that the days of travelling to China bearing gifts for your vendor are over. Unless you have a very special relationship with someone there is no need to bring gifts I would say.  And the next time I go over I will follow my own advice as odd as it will undoubtedly feel.

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