Is it worth spending money on a trip to Canton Fair? Ask yourself these 4 Questions to decide if Canton Fair is Right for you

Canton Fair Complex

Canton Fair is just around the corner once again & I thought it would be a great time to answer a question that I often get from existing & potential clients, i.e. whether or not a trip to the Canton fair is worth their time. 

Many of these are clients have been importing from China for a few years now & started with a specific product in mind and then sourced using a sourcing company like ours or via one of the B2B Platforms (& then eventually came to us). Other are new importers looking to take the plunge but weighing their options.

Scale of Canton Fair

Canton Fair is held in Guangzhou twice a year, in April-May & October-November and has been around for over 50 years. Canton Fair is by far the largest among all China fairs.

Just to give you an idea of the scale, the last session which was the 116th session of the fair attracted 202,766 buyers from around the world and had 59,431 booths on display. Each session is broken down into 3 X 5 Day phases with a 3 day break separating each phase.

Is Canton Fair right for you?

When I speak to people in the industry here in China, I often get very different views to this question which shows that people have their own views on whether a visit to the Canton Fair is worth it or not, especially for existing importers who have established suppliers. So the opinions shared in this post are very much my own opinions to this question based on my experience.

I believe at least one visit to the Canton Fair is definitely a great experience for any importer, whether new or experienced just to get a good understanding of how the industry in China works & to realize the enormity of the scale & diversity of manufacturing in China.

However, for a highly practical importer, with limited time or financial resources or someone who wants a direct ROI on the trip to Canton Fair, the decision may require a bit more thinking.

Therefore, there are 4 Key Questions importers or potential importers can ask themselves to see if Canton Fair would be a right fit for them. These questions would help you clarify expectations and allow you to assess if a visit to the Canton Fair is worth the investment.

Are you looking to cut costs or Looking for Ideas?

Canton Fair is an absolute goldmine for importers looking for new product ideas.

Many suppliers use it as an opportunity to launch their new products and if you are someone who is on the lookout for new exciting products within your niche or across industries, Canton Fair is a great place to be to get an early mover advantage.

Canton Fair is an absolute goldmine for importers looking for new product ideas. Click To Tweet

Many suppliers use it as an opportunity to launch their new products and if you are someone who is on the lookout for new exciting products within your niche or across industries, Canton Fair is a great place to be to get an early mover advantage.

If you have already been importing a specific product from China and the purpose is to meet new suppliers in order to cut costs, then Canton Fair is not the best avenue to reach this goal.

This is primarily because, a very large percentage of booths at the Canton Fair are manned by trading companies or large manufacturers (with marketing budgets) and the pricing in general at the Canton Fair tends to be higher.There are lots of other great ways to look for alternative suppliers for your existing products in order to manage costs & I will look at those in a future post.


Are you Sourcing “Consumer Goods” or “Industrial Goods”?

While Canton Fair would normally have both consumer & industrial products on display, I have personally found that Canton Fair is not a great source for sourcing of industrial products relative to sourcing of consumer goods. For consumer products however, there are very few places where an importer would find such a wide variety under one roof.

consumer or industrial goods

China has lots of “Industry Specific” fairs for both consumer & industrial goods & in the case of industrial goods, I find these to offer a lot more value and open access to better & a wider range of suppliers. They also tend to have more factories as opposed to large trading companies who dominate the Canton Fair.

What is your Business Model?

Many importers have business models, where a visit to the Canton Fair may not provide a tangible return on investment & only give qualitative value in the form of experience & insights gained.

Through IMEX Sourcing Services, I work with a lot of eBay Power sellers & Amazon sellers who shift significant volumes of goods each year and have very viable business models. The business models of these importers revolve around looking at new product opportunities with high margins, upward demand trend & low competition (An online seller’s dream).

Many of these importers do not have or care about product or industry specialisation. They maximize earnings in a 6-18 month time-frame and by the time the competition starts to come in, move on to a new product.

Products with high margins, upward demand trend & low competition-An online seller’s dream. Click To Tweet

While they could benefit from visiting the Canton Fair to discover new products, for such e-commerce based sellers, a visit to the Canton Fair or China in general is not an imperative as the focus is not on developing a supplier base within an industry or improving relationships with the supplier, but on finding products backed by “Online research & data” & moving on to the next big thing every time the market starts to get saturated.

There are also online sellers who mix & match a lot of products and import these in consolidated shipments. Canton Fair is once again of very little value to them as suppliers MOQ’s would be too high for them.

These importers are better off buying off wholesale markets in China (Traditional Importers), through B2B Wholesale sites or through sourcing companies in China.

What is the Scale of your Business?

While I believe anyone looking to do serious business with China would consider a visit to the Canton Fair as a small investment, I also believe a visit to the “Canton Fair” or China is not necessarily the best investment for new ecommerce based importers on a tight budget.

I believe that money is better spent on a lot of other areas like, educating themselves about the nuances of international trade through web based courses & training programs, utilising those funds for increasing purchase quantities and being able to meet supplier MOQ’s in order to get better pricing & control over quality, investing in quality control for e.g. through pre-shipment inspections of goods or in improving sales & marketing systems.

Final Thoughts

In summary, a visit to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou can be a great way to find new products, to find new suppliers for your existing products, to build relationships with existing suppliers or simply a great exercise in assessing the realm of opportunities that exist in importing from China. It can also be a great cultural experience.

However if you are on a tight budget or switch products regularly then there are better ways of spending your money. Canton Fair is definitely not the place for buying goods in smaller quantities (i.e. wholesale lots) & not the best place for finding low-cost suppliers for your products.

What are your thoughts on the Canton Fair? For those who may have visited the Canton Fair in the past, what sort of value did you get from the fair & were you able to meet your objective? If you are in Guangzhou for Canton Fair, you are always welcome to visit our office for a chat.

Ashish is the founder of IMEX Sourcing Services, a sourcing & QC company helping people importing from China manage their costs & risks as well as develop new products. Ashish also does consultancy work in the field of International Trade & Import Risk Management & loves to write during his free time.

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  • Hi Nadra,

    This is a common scenario and can happen because often the sample and bulk production are made under completely different environments. The best solution is to get 2 samples or send your approved sample to a Quality control company and use that as the standard for “pre-shipment inspection”.

    It is also important to point out the standard in as much detail as possible on your contract with the supplier and define acceptable quality criteria.

  • Nadra

    I am about to order a sample of my product from China. I have read in many forums that even after you have sent a very good quality sample of the product you want to manufacture they might send you low quality items in the end. Many have advice me to visit the factory physically but a start up company like mine can’t afford to invest on visiting the factory in China at this stage. I would like to know how to solve this problem on QC without physically being there.

  • Thanks James

  • This is so True Sara and if you are dressed in a suit, the suppliers are very quick to identify that you are likely to be a “new importer”, which leads to “higher quotes”.

  • Thanks Nathaniel,

    Glad you found it useful. Getting a visa and invitation is a fairly straight forward, as you can get an Invitation letter from the Canton Fair website and use that to apply for a visa. However, we do help importers visiting the Canton fair through one of our services and you can find some more details:

  • Agreed Alexander. Internet & B2B sites have definitely taken a lot of business away from Trade Fairs.

  • James Taylor

    Going to a china sourcing fair such us the Canton Fair will save you a lot of time compared to sifting through lots of sellers in Alibaba which most often than not are traders and not manufacturers. Great article!

  • Sara Jane Peyton

    Invaluable info! I just want to add probably the best piece of advice before heading out to the Canton Fair: wear the most comfortable shoes that you own! You don’t want to have blisters at the end of the day!

  • Nathaniel Preston

    Thanks for such an insightful article. Me and my partner were actually having a tough time deciding on whether to actually come down to China. We are in the process of getting our visa and invitation. Can you help us with this?

  • Alexander Nicolas

    Because of the very fast progress of technology, lots of buyers can search potential suppliers now via websites such as Alibaba. I would go to a trade show as a guide to what is hot on the market and new product launches to look out for, but only make contact with suppliers after the fair. I imagine trade shows were much more important a decade or more ago when they were the only way to quickly source a lot of different contacts overseas. Now the internet is perfect to make first contact and go to China, any time of the year.