Importing from China in time for Christmas – How to make sure your goods arrive in time

Importing from China in time for Christmas – How to make sure your goods arrive in time


6 minute read | By Detype Studio

Last updated: January 16, 2024 | Published: October 5, 2017


The run-up to Christmas is a peak selling period for many traders and should be an opportunity for maximising profits. In December, buyers are ready to spend on everything from gifts and seasonal items, to party clothes and beauty products, and even big-ticket furniture and gadget items for use in the home over the Christmas break – so sellers need to be ready too! The massive shift towards online shopping means that you no longer need a physical shop or stall to make the most of that busy festive season trade. However, if you’re importing from China in time for Christmas you do need to be organised to ensure that you’re fully stocked and ready to sell when buyers start browsing. Here’s how:

Order Early

If you’re reading this in October, then you’re already cutting it fine. As a rough rule of thumb you can expect goods from China to take six to twelve weeks to arrive (by sea), so the earlier you order, the better!

Consider Production Times

The lead/production time on a product obviously has a significant effect on the final delivery timescale. The ideal scenario is that the supplier has your order ready and waiting to go, and the shipping process can start straight away.

Choose Your Supplier Carefully

Ordering from a brand new supplier at this time of year can be risky business. Ensure that you research product quality, levels of customer service and reliability thoroughly. Lead times will also vary per supplier, depending on their production capacity and volume of orders. You’ll also find that their location in China will affect shipping times.

Be Clear On Expectations

This is where clear communication comes in. Whether you’re working with a new supplier, or one that you have an existing relationship with, it’s important that they give a realistic lead time – and that you’re both aware of when the products need to be shipped by to reach you in time for those Christmas shoppers.

Expect Seasonal Delays

Of course, you won’t be the only trader looking to make the most of the pre-Christmas and post-Christmas rush. It’s likely to be the busiest time of year for your supplier too, which can cause production delays.

Order Quick-Manufacture Products

One way to cut lead times and avoid potential production delays is to concentrate on products that are quick to manufacture. If you’re unsure, ask your supplier. Suppliers might also have a surplus of certain products that are already made up and ready to go – if you have some flexibility about what you sell then going with what’s ready will save time.

Sea freight Or Air freight?

The two main transport choices when shipping goods from China to the UK are sea freight and air freight. While it’s evident that products will reach you quicker by air, most traders go with the cheapest option – which is usually shipping by sea. The downside is that goods shipped by sea take significantly longer – weeks, instead of days.

Where In China?

Transit times vary depending on whereabouts in China you’re ordering goods from. Goods coming from Southern China can take six weeks on the water, goods coming from Mid China take seven weeks, and goods coming from Northern China take eight weeks. An extra two weeks potential selling time can make a big difference to profits at this time of year, so choose your supplier carefully.

Do The Math

It’s relatively simple to work out a rough delivery timescale by adding the shipping time to the estimated lead time. However, it’s still wise to factor in a contingency for unexpected delays – and ordering as soon as possible will make the wait much less nail-biting!

Ask Your Freight Forwarder

If you’re unsure of how long your goods are likely to take to reach you, an experienced freight forwarder will be able to advise. Freight forwarding services can also be invaluable at this time of year, assisting with the logistical requirements of importing and helping to make shipping and importing a smooth, stress-free process.

Clearing Customs

Clearing customs should be quick and straightforward – provided you’ve got all the required elements in place. All businesses importing from outside of the EU need an EORI number, and you’ll also be expected to have a commercial invoice and any relevant documentations, certifications or licences.

If you don’t have all the required paperwork, then you can expect customs to hold on to your goods. Goods that need inspecting or testing such as electrical or food items will also take longer to clear customs. Hoverboards are one popular Christmas gift item that you’d be wise to steer clear of!

You’ll also need to make arrangements to pay any applicable Import Duty and VAT. Many importers get their freight forwarder to make the payment on their behalf, to simplify the process.

Be Prepared

Ensuring that you’ve got your ‘house in order’ – with everything that you need to sell, pack and ship your products – will mean you can hit the ground running when your goods do arrive. Brave sellers might consider accepting ‘pre-orders’ – do build a contingency into your lead times, however, to avoid customer disappointment!

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