Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Dick Locke, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on International Sourcing and Procurement. (His previous guest posts are still archived.)

the doctor requested that I look at Panjiva’s new product, Trendspotting, which they are advertising on their site and blog. It has some good points, but it also has many not-so-good points that will ultimately render it unusable for many purchasing people.

Let’s look at the three main features:

Crack the HTS code.”

The world really does need an HTS-to-your language translator. I don’t think there’s one into English, and this definitely isn’t one. From their demo page, put in “computers” and see what happens. You won’t find anything. OK, that’s a trick because I know that the entire global customs community calls them “automatic data processing machines.” So, type that in the search box.

You get a list of potential HTS codes. Here the system shows its US-centricity. I’m in Mexico, the internet knows I’m in Mexico (when I go to Google.com I get their Mexican home page) but Panjiva gives me the special 10-digit US codes. That’s still helpful in the goal of finding the right countries if you are in North America. It’s not so helpful if you are somewhere else.

Find countries

Pick the first HTS code (8471.30.01.00) and click “Trends.” You get some really helpful data on laptop imports. You can see that the two primary sources are China and Malaysia. You can see their trends. This is really a handy sourcing tool. However you can get the same data free from the US International Trade Commission‘s web site. I’ve been advocating doing that for about 14 years in my seminars. The USITC site is less graphically pleasing and slightly harder to use, however. Panjiva did a good programming job.

Find suppliers

Here it really falls apart. You would expect to find Lenovo and Foxconn as suppliers of laptops. They’re not listed. However, you do find Autoliv China Inflator Company Ltd, who makes airbag inflators. What’s going on here?

It’s a data source problem. They list companies for one of two reasons. One is that a company shows up as a sea freight shipper of automatic data processing machines on a public data base. There’s no such data base for air shipments. Very few laptops travel by ocean.
I’ve been using this kind of data for more than a decade. It has two more big problems. First if the words “automatic data processing machines” (ADP machines) show up on import documentation, the exporter gets listed. That gets items that connect to, contain, or are parts of ADP machines. Second, many companies have set up legal entities in China that purchase for them. The Chinese entity (i.e. HP China) buys the goods, and ships them to HP US. HP would show up as both the exporter and importer and you would never find the name of the manufacturer.

Of course, your results could be different than mine. Try it on a product where you know what the countries are and where the suppliers are and see what happens. Maybe it will work better for you than for me.

Thanks, Dick.