Shipping from China to Amazon FBA is probably a bit confusing.
And being new to Amazon, even more so.
Even seasoned FBA sellers stumble over the options and regulations.
This can be especially true for sellers importing from China, as they have the added layer of navigating overseas shipments, customs and tariffs.
Regardless of how intimidating this challenge becomes, it’s a necessary one.
Note: This post is a fantastic addition to our Startupbros Amazon FBA Guide ! Everything you need to know about shipping is in these two posts.
And every seller has the same goal; find the perfect product to sell, get their products to FBA warehouses in mint condition and to do so as cost effectively as possible.
After all, NO business owner wants to lose money.
Lets first discuss what shipping options are available and what the advantages and disadvantages are of each.
We will do so by rating each in the following:
- Speed (how quickly you get the shipment)
- Cost (price level of this shipping method)
- Safety/control (how likely your shipment will be handled properly or how much quality control you have access to)
- Effort (how much of YOUR time you have to invest)
Air shipping directly from the manufacturer to FBA
The fastest way to get your product to market.
Going directly from the manufacturer to FBA cuts out all the middlemen.
However, cost of air shipment is significantly more expensive than sea shipment.
Also, to mitigate those costs it’s necessary to pay Amazon to ship all items to a single location. (which is an additional $0.30 per unit…quite a hit to the margins).
You can add a little control by including inspection on the China side (for an added cost of course). But there is still no one making sure the boxes weren’t damaged in transit.
Doing this reduces your effort tremendously too.
However, You won’t be required to do any labeling or inspecting yourself, which saves you time. And time is money.
Pro Tip: Properly identify the best supplier throughout this whole process first.
Air Shipping to Home
A popular way many Amazon FBA sellers start out importing their products.
You get the advantage of faster air shipping.
And, add a layer of protection by giving you the opportunity to personally inspect the boxes/products.
Cost is, of course, higher due to air shipping.
And you may still want an inspection on the overseas side of things.
Quality control is what this strategy is all about. You are personally seeing to it that everything is done properly so that your shipment is not rejected by FBA.
You have to store the products at your location, inspect them yourself and then label them and arrange pickup/dropoff.
Air Shipping to Prep Center
You might be wondering:
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What’s the safest way to get products from overseas while making sure everything is packaged and labeled to perfect FBA standards?
The solution: Air shipping to a Prep Center.
This is a fast shipping method and prep centers, depending on their workload, can make short work of your prep requirements.
The major downside to using a prep center is the cost.
For some reason, FBA inspection centers are notoriously expensive for two reasons:
- Labor rates being rather high in the US.
- Due to the popularity of Amazon FBA, many inspection centers price according to the market.
We only recommend FBA Inspection as our inspection company.
Check Out Our Inspection Center
An FBA inspection center is specifically geared toward prepping your products for Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses.
It’s their business to ensure nothing goes wrong and your shipment is accepted.
You pay for your time and peace of mind.
(*I still don’t recommend using a prep center, and I’ll explain a better way later).
Sea Shipping From the Manufacturer to Amazon FBA
Sea shipping: The slowest way to get products to from China to Amazon FBA.
Slow as it may be, sea shipping is also the most affordable way to ship inventory.
Best Incoterm to Use? (LCL, FCL)
LCL (less than container load) sea shipments can be a few hundred bucks, reducing costs to no more than a dollar or two per item (sometimes even just a few cents).
There is the added cost of using a freight forwarder though, as they are necessary for helping obtain a customs broker and for consolidating LCL shipments or breaking apart shipments for distributed inventory.
As with air shipments, sea shipments sent directly to FBA reduce your level of quality control. Therefore, reduces safety in ensuring your products are accepted by the warehouse.
Benefits of sea shipping:
- Improves on the fact air shipments can cost anywhere from $5 to $11 per kilogram (or more).
- Only Adds a few dollars PER UNIT to your cost of products.
- Cuts out middlemen.
- Low price of factory-side inspections.
No physical effort will be required on your part. The products are sent directly from factory to FBA warehouse. Both of which will likely be very far away from you.
Let’s look at one of my favorite shipping methods…
Sea shipping to warehouse
This is a personal hack of mine:
Enter the Distribution center….
Unlike FBA inspection centers, distribution centers don’t squeeze every dime from unwitting yet hopeful Amazon sellers.
They make their money warehousing and distributing products, often times for very large companies.
Any labor will still be pricey
So use these staging warehouses to have Amazon partnered carriers come and pick up the products.
Pro Tip: No need to pay Amazon that extra fee to have everything delivered to a single FBA center.
Distribution centers handle:
- Freight forwarding
- Duty and Customs
- Palletize inventory when shipping less than a container load
You reduce your shipment travel time when your distribution center is located closer to your factory.
Benefits of Choosing the Right Distribution Center
For example, if you sell on Amazon in the US and import from China, having a distribution center in California keeps your products on the water for about 16 days, as opposed to 30 to 45 days going to the East Coast.
- Shipping by sea is affordable extra costs of freight forwarders is often made up for in speed of delivery and quality control.
- Distribution centers help with quality control.
- You can ask them to open a box and send you a picture to ensure things look good inside the cartons.
- The center will be either palletizing or shipping/floor loading your products at FBA
- Damaged cartons will be rejected by FBA and held at the distribution center to be returned.
- Distribution centers handle your sea shipment and make the process entirely hands off.
- You get peace of mind knowing things are being labeled, handled and organized properly.
Pro Tip: The biggest appeal to sending products directly from the manufacturer to Amazon FBA is to cut out the added cost of prep centers.
Here’s the thing:
After you understand the process, shift the labor over to your factory for a fraction of the cost.
Use a staging area like a distribution center warehouse (for sea shipments).
Or have the products directly sent from the manufacturer to Amazon FBA (for air shipments) by letting your factory overtake the labor involved.
Important Checklists: The Seller and The Supplier
Organize yourself and Don’t forget anything important when you’re shipping your inventory from the manufacturer to Amazon FBA.
This also helps you keep your factory on track and held accountable.
To this end I’ve prepared two checklists; one for you the seller and one for your manufacturer.
- Get incoterm, unit price and MOQ from supplier (example EXW, FOB, DDP, etc)
- What is the size of your order (number of units, number of components, etc)?
- Get unit dimensions and weight, carton dimensions and weight and number of cartons from supplier (remember boxes cannot exceed 25in on any side
unless it contains a single oversized unit. Boxes also must not exceed 50lbs unless it is a single, oversized unit).
How will you ship (air or sea)?
- Divide shipping quote by number of units to determine shipping price per unit.
- Will you use “inventory placement” or not (this will affect your unit price if you do use it)?/li>
- Create your listings (doesn’t have to be fully optimized, just get the process started) so you can download your FNSKU to provide your supplier. To print just go to Inventory > Manage FBA Inventory, click the SKU and Print Item Labels.
- Get production date from supplier. Issue contracts or agreements that outline penalties for late production (if you have any).
- Set up pre-shipment inspection with an inspection company. Issue any contracts or agreements that outline penalties for failed inspections (if you
- Procure design files for logos, designs or other customization for the product itself or the packaging (typically an .ai file, but some suppliers
can also work with a .pdf). You may have to get a packaging template from the supplier first. Provide completed files to your supplier.
- Procure label designs for wash labels, care labels, country origin labels or any regulation required labels that go in or on the product or
packaging. Provide this to your supplier.
- Provide your supplier with the “carton markings.” These are the words printed on the outside of the master cartons. These should include Country of
Origin, Weight in lbs and kgs, Carton Dimensions in cm and in, Number of Units and any Safety Information on one side. On another should be Company
Name, Commodity (what the product is), Variation Information (color, size, etc) and Destination (and expiration date if applicable).
- Ask whomever will be handling your customs clearance for the HTS code (for your records).
- The size of the Carton must not exceed 63.5cm on any one side.
- Weight of the cartons must not exceed 22.6kg.
- The cartons cannot have more than 150 units (a unit is the item and all components in its final packaging).
- Master carton should be made of double-walled corrugated.
- FNSKU barcode must be on white background.
- Coordinate with inspection company date of pre-shipment inspection. Failed inspection may result in penalties, such as re-inspection at the cost of the factory.
- Ensure all polybags have suffocation warning.
- Make sure product labels, packaging labels and carton markings are spelled properly.
- Please deliver accurate production completion date to company XYZ. Penalties for late completion may be issued.
- Provide company XYZ with packing list and commercial invoice as soon as available.
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How to Save Money: Cut Out the Middlemen – Have China Do All the Labor
Notice that one of the steps on the seller checklist was to download the FNSKU labels?
Have your supplier apply the labels FOR YOU.
Amazon charges you an additional $0.20 per unit, slowly chipping away at your margins.
Typically your supplier will do this for free,
but sometimes they’ll charge a nominal fee. (a couple cents per unit extra).
Amazon prefers a sticker, but printing it on the box is okay so long as the background is white.
That means, you should NOT be paying an inspection center to apply your labels.
What about products in a kit? or Custom Packaging?
You can have one supplier ship products to another supplier
and have them assemble, bundle or kit your products for you.
If your supplier doesn’t provide the type of packaging you want, you can order packaging from a separate factory, have it shipped to your supplier, and have them box everything for you.
China to FBA Direct
- They place labels on the boxes
- They’ll shrink-wrap and label the pallets
- Anything else a prep center would typically do
Setting things up this way, shipments go straight to FBA, or are ready for Amazon partnered carrier as soon as it hits a warehouse distribution center or staging warehouse.
How to Set Up Air to FBA Shipments
Shipping “air express” directly to FBA is a simpler way to handle your FBA shipping.
First, you should probably choose to set up “inventory placement”.
Sending two or three boxes separately to different facilities will likely be more expensive than just paying $0.30 a unit.
Just go to “Settings” at the top right of Seller Central. Then click “Fulfillment by Amazon” and then go to “Inbound Settings.”
“Distributed Inventory” is the default setting, but if you edit you can change to “Inventory Placement” which will make Amazon accept all the products to only one facility.
Next, you’ll need to create the shipment in Amazon.
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Setting up an FBA Shipping Plan
This allows you to get the box shipping labels to your supplier.
When creating the shipment, remember to choose SPD (small parcel delivery) and OTHER.
*Pro Tip* You cannot choose Amazon partnered carrier, because that UPS account is only for the United States (or local country). If your address of origin is outside of the country, this is not an option for you.
When you choose OTHER, also remember you must use a major freight courier that is on Amazon’s list.
Examples of major couriers are UPS, DHL, FedEx, USPS and TNT.
When the shipment is complete, this will allow you to save the file with the shipping labels and send them to your supplier to apply to the boxes.
How do I know which FBA facility my products will go to?
Answer: When you complete the shipping plan you’re assigned a designated FBA address
If you don’t ship an enormous amount of products via air under your own account each year, don’t open your own shipping account.
Use your factory’s shipping account. Most factories in China have a DHL account.
Because of how much they ship, they can often offer you a pretty good deal.
Also, I would get your own quote as well, to make sure your factory is actually giving you a discount.
Alternative: Use Alibaba to Find Your Own Freight Forwarder
Source a third party logistics company.
You can look on Alibaba for these the same way you look for product manufacturers.
These logistics companies are typically shippers with seasoned accounts with all the major couriers and they simply lend those rates to sellers for a fee.
If you choose to source a logistics company from Alibaba you will need to vet the company the same way you would vet any vendor.
You can find a fantastically affordable solution that you choose to stick with for a long time.
How To Set Up Sea To Distribution Center Shipment
Use sea shipping for large orders not possible via air.
Over the ocean, you’ll be shipping either LCL (Less Than Container Load) or FCL (Full Container Load) in containers that are either 20ft, 40ft or 40ft HQ.
Advantages of shipping to a distribution center:
- You have the ability to create a shipment using Amazon’s Partnered Carriers.
- The service is often heavily discounted.
- You can use distributed inventory, since it will be Amazon’s carriers who pick up the products.
- Organize your product variations the way you want and have them palletized separately.
- A final set of eyes on your products to ensure shipping damage didn’t occur before everything is sent to FBA.
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You must decide whether you wish to have your products palletized by your factory or by the distribution center. There are pros and cons to both methods.
- Having your products palletized by your factory will save on labor.
- It decreases the total capacity of your container (pallets take up room)
- The pallet itself could be a concern. Amazon FBA clearly states pallets MUST be wooden.
- You will be required to take extra steps to ensure your factory has vetted one.
- If wooden pallets aren’t properly treated and fumigated, they could arrive in your FBA country either broken or infested.
Working with the distribution center to palletize your products will cost you more, but the pallets will meet all standards and regulations.
Whoever you decide to have palletize, they will also need to stack, shrink wrap and label the pallets according to Amazon’s guidelines. If the facility has no experience sending pallets to Amazon, you will need to supply them with the “FBA – Shipping Inventory to Amazon” handbook.
A couple of quick notes about pallets, however, are:
- Must be standard 40” x 48” wooden.
- Cannot exceed 1500lbs
- Cannot exceed 72” in height (unless it’s a single oversized unit).
- Must be shrink-wrapped.
- Labels go on each of the 4 sides
First, have the products palatalized, then when you know the number of pallets you have, their dimensions and weights, you can create your shipment and provide your preppers with the pallet labels.
If you work with a distribution center, you’ll want to choose one that also offers freight forwarding and customs clearance, as your products will have to clear customs upon entry to your FBA country.
When you create your shipment, you will have to choose a pickup date for Amazon’s partnered carrier.
A couple of days before the pickup, a Bill of Lading generates in Seller Central that you need to provide to the distribution center.
*Pro Tip* If you create the shipment before delivery (which will be the case if you have your products palletized overseas) you’ll need to account for customs clearance when choosing a pickup date. This take as little as 48 hours, to as much as a couple of weeks.
If you choose to work with a distribution center on a coast directly across from your manufacturer, you can cut down shipping time, limiting the trip to a single ocean of travel.
If the warehouse is near a major port, the process takes even less time. This is why I personally work with a distribution center located in Los Angeles.
My factories are typically in China and both LCL and FCL shipments mostly go to either L.A. or Long Beach.
How To Set Up Sea To Amazon FBA Shipment
With sea shipments, make no mistake, there are still “middlemen”.
But by setting up a system that limits time and confusion, you won’t experience unnecessary lag.
Sea freight shipment from the manufacturer to Amazon FBA is different depending if your shipment is LCL or FCL.
Option 1: Have the products palletized overseas
First off, you must understand that you will not be using Amazon partnered carriers if you ship directly from China to FBA.
That means the responsibility for scheduling drop off is on your end.
FAQ: What does it mean to have a floor load shipment
Answer: It’s when the boxes in a full container stacked the right way to allow warehouse employees to be able to go into the container on foot, lift the boxes and carry them out
Amazon FBA allows floor loaded shipments, but only from a container. This means, the products have to be on pallets unless a whole container shows up properly filled.
If the staging warehouse doesn’t do the palletizing, then ask your factory to do it.
Option 2: Use a “direct to FBA” forwarder that offers consolidation.
You’ll need a forwarder to help you handle logistics and customs clearance anyway, but what one of these China to FBA forwarders can do is offer “consolidation.”
What this means is, because they work with mainly FBA sellers, they are able to ensure the LCL shipments of many sellers are sharing the same containers.
Even with product from different merchants the whole container is full when it ships to FBA warehouses.
You own the entire container, pack it properly. Then set up a direct to FBA shipment where it’s floor loaded.
Your freight forwarder will just ensure shipment of your products from your factory to the US (or wherever you sell), set up customs clearance once at the port, and then commission a trucking company or rail company to ship the products to the designated Amazon FBA warehouse.
When setting things up this way, you’ll create your shipment choosing “Less than truckload (LTL)” and then “Other carrier.”
If you click the hyperlink for “Which method should I choose?” you’ll see the exact information you’ll need to provide to your forwarder.
There is a downloadable FBA Booking Form they’ll need to set up the appointment for drop off. There is also a link to Transportation Central, where your forwarder will need to set up an account. (if they don’t have one already)
This is necessary for submitting the booking form. And finally, there is a download link for the User Manual for Carriers. This has the instructions on how to use the transportation portal to set up a shipment.
Your factory will also need to be sure to load the container properly so that the FBA center accepts a floor-loaded container from you. The full list of requirements is located in
Amazon.com help documents, but here are the main points:
- Stack boxes into columns.
- Maintain at least 3 inches between column stacks and container walls.
- Stack boxes no higher than 72 inches, unless they conform to the slip sheet or clamp truck instructions.
- Make sure that the overall height of the column stack allows 3 inches of clearance from the top of the stack to the roof of the container.
- All shipments should be properly secured using the load cars or straps.
- Products exceeding 48 inches in length must be loaded along the length of the container or trailer.
Putting It All Together
At the end of the day, you need to do what is most beneficial for you and your business. Selecting a product to sell is hard enough.
As a physical products seller, supply chain management and logistics is an important issue. When you focus on the customer experience, it can lead directly to better Amazon reviews and more sales.
In the beginning, you may want to do whatever is easiest, but as you become more experienced, it will be important to refine your systems so they are more efficient and profitable.
These tips will hopefully paint the landscape of possibility so that you can begin streamlining those systems. Just keep these key points in mind:
- You want to shorten the distance traveled as much as possible.
- Reduce the number of hands involved as much as possible.
- Have everything organized beforehand to reduce unnecessary prep times.
- Systematize the process so that it can train others and replicate it across all imports.
When you adhere to these principles you optimize your supply chain and free up both time and expenses, which will ultimately increase the bottom line.