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Sourcing goods from overseas Understanding the process

Sourcing and importing goods is a major part of retail logistics, and can seem like a complex process for first-time business owners. With so much at stake, it’s important to do things properly. However, the process doesn’t have to be as complicated as it may first sound. All it takes is the right advice and some forward thinking. First things first, it’s important to equip yourself with a fundamental understanding of how things will work. Whether you’re working with a logistics business or are managing your supply chain alone, the key to success is knowledge.   

Some of your initial considerations should include whether you’re going to ship by air or by sea, whether you need an agent, and how you can get the best value for money. It’s also important to get to grips with the different costs you could come up against. For example, if you’re looking to import goods from a non EU country, you may face customs import duties and VAT. As with most things, you shouldn’t jump into a deal without shopping around. Gather quotes from various manufacturers. Undertake comprehensive research and understand what it is that you want to achieve from your investment. That means getting to know your potential customers and their needs. It also means finding a manufacturer that understands your needs in terms of both quality and quantity. There’s plenty of advice available when it comes to building a partnership with someone you can trust. Take your time, do your research and think long-term planning.


One of the most important things to consider in goods importation is timing. With most overseas vendors having to manufacture your product from scratch, lead times can be lengthy. Preparation is key in making sure you can deliver what your customers want, when they want it. For example, in fashion retail logistics, ensure enough time has to be accounted for in order for products to be delivered on-time and on-trend. That means ordering way ahead of season. Realistically, you could be looking at a waiting time of several months from the ordering of your product to its delivery. With this in mind, looking ahead and anticipating demand is vital.

Air vs Sea

Once you’ve secured a partnership with a trustworthy manufacturer, you’ll have a better idea of timings. At this point you can start thinking about the actual transportation of your product. There are two options: shipment by air or shipment by sea. Whilst shipment by air may be more convenient, it’s also much more expensive. That’s why, time permitting, those ordering a large volume of goods often opt for shipment by sea. It takes longer but is usually around five times cheaper than air.

Choose an agent

If you do choose shipment by sea it’s essential to hire a good customs agent. This person will take care of customs documentation, customs entry, customs duty and your customs single entry bond. In hiring a communicative and responsible agent, what at first seems an impossible task will become both easy and manageable. For example, your agent will make sure you receive the following documents prior to shipment:

  • A commercial invoice: This is the declared value of the items
  • A packing list: This is a list of what you are importing
  • A detail sheet: This outlines how the products are manufactured so customs can determine the duty classification
  • A bill of landing

These documents are required in order to clear customs, which is why it’s best to work with an expert in obtaining them.


In mapping out the logistics solutions for your business, don’t underestimate the importance of storage. Securing the right space will give you peace of mind in knowing that your valuable merchandise is safe and in reliable hands. It’s absolutely key to remember that storage space must be investigated before the arrival of your inventory. This should include both a meeting with the storage manager, and a visit to the space itself. When it comes to the importation of a large quantity of goods, there’s no room for risk.

Sourcing goods from overseas is a great way of obtaining high quality products at a low cost. It’s a big step in the right direction when it comes to turning a profit. So for the best chances of success, be sure to take an analytical approach. Choose a manufacturer you can trust, work with an agent you can rely on, and understand your market. With a little hard work, you can reap huge rewards.