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Chinese business etiquette: What you need to know

Neena Sandhu, head of buying and merchandising at online retailer Bathrooms.com, reveals three things to remember when doing business in China

As a many British retailers will know, it is commonplace to manufacture your product abroad, with China being one of the most popular trade locations. With modern technology working internationally can be carried out through Skype and email alone, but there are certain things that need to be carried out in person, and with such a varied culture to that of the UK, knowing the correct business etiquette is paramount.

I have recently come back from a three-week business trip to China to see Bathrooms.com’s manufacturing partners and wanted to share my experiences and key learnings, which can help you too!

Timing is everything
They say timing is everything, and this is definitely true in China. Avoid planning your businesses trip during February and March, as this is during Chinese New Year. During this time many hotels will be booked up and suppliers will not have the availability to meet you, due to their extended 4-6 week holiday period. China has very extensive rail networks, which support the mass movement of people during their New Year celebrations; so travelling may also prove difficult at this time too.

From the heart
Relationships are a core part of doing business in China, and prevalent from the very minute you arrive for a meeting. Allow plenty of time between meetings as ritualistic tea drinking and rapport building is a key part of starting any meeting respectfully. It is also commonplace for your suppliers to take you for lunch or dinner for a few hours afterwards. Using chopsticks whilst you are dining is polite etiquette and as a guest of the organization you will most likely have your food ordered for you. This can be daunting, but try not to ask too much about what everything is; rest assured they will have picked the best dishes.

The Chinese are by culture very hospitable, often sending a car to pick you up from the nearest train station and even dropping you to your next appointment in some instances. Shaking hands is normal and expected in Chinese business settings, but big no no’s are wearing red, especially as a buyer as this is the color of wealth in Chinese culture. To exchange a business card, you should present it with two hands and bow slightly.

Technical difficulties
In rural areas where many factories are located, mobile coverage is scarce so don’t rely on using your smartphone whilst our visiting suppliers. The same applies when you arrive at your meetings, have all of your documents printed ahead of time, to avoid your everyone having to huddle around your laptop. In China, salesmanship is conducted using glossy brochures and printed data so you should respond by presenting in the same capacity.

Even with modern day translation technology, I would recommend hiring translators for your visit. It requires patience during the meeting to negotiate deals and prices, it is important to be very clear and ensure that both parties have a good understanding of what is being discussed.

There are many more things that I could share, but these tips are the basics that will stand you in good stead for any business trip to China. If you would like to know more about Bathrooms.com business strategy and brand can you visit our website.