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In the West we’re used to interacting with suppliers at a slow, remote, one-to-one level. If we want to talk to vendors of a particular type of part they may be scattered all over the city. Visiting a vendor involves making an appointment, driving across town, having them make you coffee and exchange business cards, small talk, watching painful Powerpoint presentations, and so on. Before you know it half a day is gone just to visit one particular potential supplier. If you want to investigate multiple vendors and negotiate prices, it can take days or weeks. That’s considered the “professional” way to do it in the West. It’s slow and inefficient, and that’s one of the reasons the West is having its arse kicked by the East in many industries including electronics.

In contrast, the electronics markets of Shenzhen are trading floors that bring together the representatives and agents of many companies into one tightly packed little space, bringing maximum convenience to buyers. The closest analogy for Western visitors is a permanent, city-wide trade show. The market buildings typically contain hundreds of little booths on every floor…