Weigh Benefits and Risks When Purchasing Outside the U.S.

The wide acceptance of Internet purchasing has opened up new markets for companies abroad looking to sell to designers in the United States. While many products are available from distributors and suppliers licensed in the U.S., purchasing directly from the manufacturer or factory eliminates the middleman, which may result in substantial savings. I stress may because the total cost to procure the product could be much higher, depending on what and how you purchase.

Several obvious factors come into play when purchasing from overseas vendors, such as time zone, language and cultural differences; sourcing and supply chain issues; quality control and reliability; and accessibility of customer service and support. Others can add to the cost of the products you purchase, including currency exchange rates (which fluctuate constantly), shipping and delivery costs, customs duties, and taxes. You also need to take into consideration whether manufacturing, climate, economic or political factors could delay production or delivery of your purchase, as well as any costs or delays that could be incurred due to damaged or flawed goods or incomplete shipments. Keep in mind, too, that many countries have different laws regarding warranties and guarantees, which could hamper efforts to recoup losses if you have to file a claim.

It pays to do your homework in advance before making any commitment to purchase to investigate not only the vendor but also the applicable rules and laws for the country in which the purchase is recorded and from where it will be shipped (which could be different than the country where it is manufactured). I also recommend requesting references from other designers in the U.S. who have recently done business with the vendor, especially if you do not have much experience with this kind of purchasing.

Whether you and your client ultimately benefit from purchasing directly from the vendor depends on the type and quantity of the product you are buying, how much lead time you have between placing the order and the required delivery date, and the degree to which you are willing or able to manage the process. Weigh whether the total cost, including the cost of your time, results in significant savings over going through a supplier or distributor.

Photo by Erin Weir

Posted in

Pearl Collective


  1. Rush Jenkins on October 7, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Great advice Gail. Every point is very valid as we have experienced all of those points through our overseas procurement. Thank you!

  2. Susan Moss on October 7, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    One other issue that can come up is the goods could be infested with bugs like powder post beetle, etc. They’re supposed to spray the container before it leaves Asia, but sometimes these little guys slip in anyway.

  3. Berni Greene, ASID, CID on October 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Excellent advice! You have brought forth some things we may not have considered. Also temperature or natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires, could also effect where we buy goods.

    Berni Greene, ASID, CID, IIDA
    Brian Craig Interiors, LLC.

  4. Heather Bates on October 14, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    This all contributes to why I prefer American made products, aside from the fact that we have great artisans here. this is important to me as an Interior Designer.

    I was approached a few years ago to help design the interiors of two new 6-star hotels in two cities of Australia, I begged off, precisely for these reasons you speak of. Would have to involve lawyers, agreements so the hospitality firm would not whisk the project control from me, not to mention numerous trips to the site, and trying to find lots of new vendors. Would have taken over my life for about 4-5 years. No thanks for that bailiwick.

  5. George W. Moore, IV on October 14, 2016 at 4:55 pm


Leave a Comment