Russell Smith talks about The “Romantic Idea of Cheap China” and More

Russell helps manufacturers and B2B e-commerce companies increase sales and revenue via conversion optimised web design, SEO and strategic content marketing via his Strategic Manufacturer website. He’s fluent in Mandarin and a lover of high mountain wulong & ‘golden age’ point + click adventure games circa ’87-’97.

Can you give us a brief overview of your experience and background both inside and outside of China? (We can also take your summary from linked if you would like)

I began in China studying Chinese and teaching English, which was a great couple of years for me. Being in China quickly led to me looking for opportunities to make money and I started buying products and selling them back in the UK on Ebay and Amazon. I partnered up with a Chinese friend and together we had the Chinese and ‘western’ side down. We were mainly selling hair extensions, wigs and bikinis.The business was successful enough for me to make a nice living from it, but after a while I felt that I wanted to build a business of my own, rather than relying on those platforms.

I began experimenting with various online marketing services such as copywriting and web design, and from that my continued involvement in China has led me to co-operating with Chinese manufacturers, helping them with lead generation, conversion optimisation and web design.

It’s a really exciting time, as China begins to open up more and engage with the outside world, factories are going more direct to the consumers and employing more transparent and sophisticated marketing strategies and I am really enjoying working alongside them to achieve that.

My list of factory bosses who are friends is also becoming bigger all the time, which is never a bad thing as China sourcing is becoming a really hot topic.


For somebody looking to start their own business using Amazon FBA and using China as their main country to source from, what are some of the major pitfalls they should be aware of?

I would be careful of a few things:1) Try to forget about the romantic idea of ‘cheap China’. It’s a tendency of beginners to try and smash the price down as low as they can go, thinking ‘it’s China, so it should be cheap’. What happens eventually is the only thing that goes down is the quality of your end product as the supplier switches out components and materials to be able to make the product at the price you demand and still make profit.

Just know your market, know the material prices and strike a fair deal for both sides. Great deals can be had, but don’t push it too hard.

2) Consider if you really need to go to China at all. Many times, especially for smaller run items, a better option can be found closer to home. The individual cost price might be a bit higher, but you could be saving time, money and stress in the long run by dealing with someone in your own country.

I’m not saying don’t come to China, just saying be open about your options and make sure the numbers make sense before you get involved with the added complexity of dealing with China.

3) Frame everything as ‘win-win’. Chinese are very relationship-focused, so the supplier you are dealing with probably wants to look at your business together as a mutual co-operation. Let your communication get that message clearly across to the supplier, and don’t be afraid to put it in simple plain language. Give them realistic growth expectations for your product or company, and stress that you are looking for a long term relationship where you can grow and succeed together.


We recently started dabbling with shopping feeds such as Google, Shopzilla and are quick and easy ways for e-commerce sites to gain traffic. For those trying to gain more traffic to their e-commerce store (off Amazon), what are other methods you recommend to store owners?

Look at it on a product and customer level. Rather than looking for a ‘quick fix’ or guaranteed win (no problem with them if you can find them btw!), seriously think about who your customers are, where they hang out online, what kind of content they like, share and create and how they interact with other similar products.An example: Instagram works wonders for visual products, and in communities that people love to ‘share’ and ‘spread the word’. The yoga community is a great example of this. If you have visual products, such as clothing or accessories, you can send your items out to instagram influencers to share to their network, and grow your store that way.

That just doesn’t work as well for farm equipment (non-visual) or house hold appliances (can’t send free samples).

Another example: perhaps your crowd is really into body-hacking and self improvement / optimisation and you sell nootropic supplements and smart drugs. They probably don’t care so much for visuals, but spend a lot of time online reading long blog posts and relevant forums. For them you might create a series of super in-depth articles related to the topic, and post them both onsite and offsite (like guest blogs on other influencer’s sites and medium etc) to inform, help and engage them in conversation, get traffic back to your site and give people something to bookmark and share with your name on it.

This doesn’t work well for some products, but is absolute gold for others. You have to figure it out yourself.

Apply the above for PPC, SEO, other social platforms etc and really think about / test what works or will work in your market place, for your product and mostly importantly when done by you (ie. what can you actually create, write about, do and put into the world that is effective?)


What are some ways you help China factories to help develop brands and strategies for the Western market?

We work on several aspects of their overall marketing campaign, to build trust and familiarity with foreign customers, improve conversions on their website and also to stand out from the crowd.

Anyone who has shopped on Alibaba knows that there are so many factories to choose from, they all look almost identical, it can be hard to choose and also hard to connect and build trust when the language and culture barrier is so big.

We work on their visual identity and branding, copywriting and sales message, and improve website conversions by increasing relevance and clarity while reducing friction. We also focus on lead generation strategies, including content marketing and SEO.

As western brands working with Chinese suppliers and factories, what are the number 1 mistakes we tend to make when choosing the right factories to work with?

Not doing your due diligence, not performing factory inspections before final shipping and not finding a factory that a) is an appropriate size to do business with you and b) actually wants to do business with you.


With the rise of so many ad platforms on social media, choosing one can be overwhelming. What platforms do you recommend when it comes to advertising on social media?

I’m not an expert at all on paid traffic, so it’s better I don’t give much advice here.As general advice to getting traffic to ecomm stores though, I would refer to my answer above and seriously consider your product, price point, target market, competition, marketing message, USPs, ad platform, cost of advertising, profit margin etc etc, then work out (test!) what works for you and doesn’t.

Sorry that’s not more helpful!

How To Find Russell Smith


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