In today’s era of technology, we live in a world where we spend a great part of our lives online- including shopping online. Where online shopping has made the experience of shopping much more convenient and fun for customers, it has dramatically made the requirement for businesses to provide good quality a compulsion. A few decades ago, one of the ways poor quality could adversely impact a business was through product returns and reworks. Now, however, a prime source of consumer feedback is online reviews- and they have the power to make or break your business!
Even if you feel as a business that you have a great product idea, a highly competitive market strategy, coupled with an incredibly enthusiastic customer base to start off with- poor product quality can bring your tumbling down quicker than you think. Not only will it result in endless amounts of losses in the form of product returns and product recalls, the damaged reputation that these substandard products will cause for your business would be very difficult to recover. Poor customer reviews will swirl customers off of your page and on to the competitors in a matter of minutes.
When coming down and looking hard at the core problems behind poor quality, many importers are quick to point a finger at their manufacturer. However, is it fair to say that virtually all problems exist due to your supplier? Probably not. In more than a few cases, the quality concerns may be arising due to the importer’s own neglect of the QC process.
1. Ignoring quality control inspection prior to shipment
Quality control inspection is perhaps the best option available to you for identifying quality issues before you actually receive the products. If you wait until you receive the products to address any quality issues, you’ll have to bear the cost of repair and rework, as well as potentially risk being stuck with thousands of units of products that cannot be sold due to some major defect in them. So why would you wish to risk going through this trouble if all of it can be avoided simply by performing a pre-shipment inspection by a third party inspection team?
Once you’ve decided to conduct a pre-shipment inspection, the next question that you’ll be faced with is whether to have the factory staff performs the inspection or seeks help of an external third party inspection team; and as most importers have come to conclude after years of experience, an external QC inspection team is most probably your best option.
Why is that?
There are several reasons why an external third party QC inspection team will be a better option for you:
- The factory staff may be inherently bias in favor of the supplier
- The third party inspection team will act as fresh set of eyes to spot any issues that you may have overlooked
- You’re likely to receive little or no reporting when you leave inspection in the supplier’s hands
- There will be a lack of transparency when the supplier will be inspecting his own products
An external third-party inspection team will put your interest first
The third-party inspection team that you hire will have no affiliation with the supplier or the factory staff; therefore, the chances of having a biased inspection report produced are very little. In addition to this, third party QC inspection teams often have very strict policies and rules regarding integrity practices in place, so that you can be rest assured that they will represent your interests in the best of their abilities without falling prey to any measures such as bribery offered by the supplier.
These inspectors are also professional experts in their fields, so will not only be able to aptly spot any issues in the products or the production process, but also offer valuable advice to you and your supplier regarding any improvements that can be made to improve product quality.
2. Overlooking quality expectations during supplier negotiations
Quality expectations are one of the most integral parts of the entire business transaction between you and your supplier; would it make sense to omit this discussion during supplier negotiations? Most of us will think of it as rather absurd to do so. However, many importers make the mistake of conveying their quality expectations only after the production process has already begun for thousands of units.
What differentiates a successful importer from one, who falls short on quality products and thereby loses his customers, is that a successful importer will never make the mistake of omitting quality expectations during the negotiation phase. This means that he will make sure that the supplier fully understands all that is expected from him before the discussion on other elements such as price, quantity or deadline begins.
There is a common misconception among importers in the West that certain regions, including China, are only capable of producing substandard products. However, this is far from true. China is a such an immensely dense market that you are bound to find a supplier who is capable of producing exactly what you wish for- the only condition to achieve this is that you have to be willing to actively look for one, and never settle on quality that is lower than your expectations just because you feel that it is the ‘best that you can do.’ If you make sure that you have a thorough discussion about quality expectations before you hire them, suppliers will be fully aware about how important quality is to you and they will design their production process accordingly.
Expressing quality expectations after the supplier has set up his production process makes it difficult for him to adjust the mechanism to meet your needs; can you really blame him then, if you failed to make your quality expectations clear from the start?
Bottom-line, never lose footing during a negotiation and feel that no supplier can produce exactly the quality that you wish to have, there’s always a manufacturer out there that is equipped to produce what you require. Just look harder!
Make sure to set a price that accurately reflects the quality level which you desire
No matter what part of the world you produce in, no supplier has the magic to produce high quality products at the cheapest price. If they did, the whole world would be dying to work with them. You get what you pay for, so keep in mind that if you trade lower costs for quality, that’s what you’ll get.
Factory owners are in business to make a profit too; if you offer them an unrealistic price that does not correspond to the quality standards that you are asking of them, they will respond by cutting down on the quality of products and raw materials that they use- eventually lowering the quality of the entire final good. Your supplier will cut corners to provide you with products at the price that you have offered, which may include measures such as:
- Using, lower-cost alternative components for your product – e.g. substituting a locally sourced watch movement for a more expensive Swiss watch movement
- Using lower-grade materials for production – e.g. substituting a cheaper leather hide for a one that’s higher grade
- Eliminating certain production processes that require more time or other resources – e.g. forgoing galvanization for steel conduits
Factory owners will happily agree to a low price to win you over as a client, what they won’t tell you are how they’ll achieve that low price- by compromising on quality.
Don’t give unrealistic quality requirements to your supplier
Do not confuse setting unrealistic prices with unreasonable quality expectations. As an example, if you keep in your mind that you expect to receive the entire finished shipment with zero defects that are probably close to impossible. Virtually all the shipments that you receive, no matter what country they’re being produced in or how high you set the price, are bound to have defects of some sort in them. The more labor-intensive a product is, the higher the likelihood of defects given the factor of human error involved.
What you can do to place reasonable quality expectations, however, is that you fully evaluate your supplier’s quality capabilities before placing an order. This way you would have a fairly good idea regarding what you should realistically expect from your supplier. Most importers would rely on an audit of the factory’s quality management systems (QMS) in order to evaluate the supplier’s performance. These audits will commonly follow internationally-recognized ISO 9001 standards, as well as examining a number of integral areas related to the factory such as:
- Machine calibration and maintenance
- Internal quality control team
- Research & development capabilities
- Production capacity
A thorough report on each of these areas will give you a good indication regarding the sort of results your supplier will produce. The results that you receive may perhaps even indicate that it is better for you to find a new supplier; though it may be a bit troublesome, it is much better than to switch suppliers while you have the time than to get a faulty shipment that is unsellable and bear losses amounting to thousands of dollars.
Make the supplier accountable for pre-shipment inspection results at the time of negotiation
A huge mistake that many suppliers tend to make is that they do not announce their intentions of carrying out a pre-shipment inspection prior to finalizing their order. They inform the supplier later in the production stage that they wish to carry out a pre-shipment inspection; however, you can never be sure if this is a good idea because at this point the supplier may outright reject such a request because you never made it a part of the contract. The supplier is more likely to show resistance to a pre-shipment inspection when you are hiring an independent third party to perform the inspection.
When you make you intentions regarding a pre-shipment inspection clear at the beginning, it works in the benefit of both you and your supplier. You do not have to face any resistance in this regard from the supplier later on, and the supplier has ample time to make preparations for the inspection so that the visit does not take him by surprise and he has no reason to make excuses to avoid it.
The same argument also holds true when it comes to making your supplier financially accountable in the form of any penalties that you wish to impose for failing to meet the inspection requirements or by producing substandard goods for you. If you wish to make the supplier more vigilant in this regard so that such a situation does not arise in the first place, you will need to have this discussion in the beginning of the deal when you have more bargaining power.
Once the deal is sealed, you lose a considerable amount of power because the supplier no longer fears losing you to his competitors. It is thereby your responsibility as a customer to make sure that all such matters are clarified at the beginning of the transaction, as well as reporting any other quality requirements that you might have.
3. Giving the supplier a heads-up for mass production before approving a golden sample first
Allowing the supplier to begin mass-production without first reviewing and approving a golden sample is a grave mistake. No matter how well your supplier ensures you that he has successfully understood all your requirements and the products that you receive will be in-line with all of your specifications, you must never believe these assertions completely until you actually have a physical sample in your hand as a proof. Many importers have learned the hard way that what they finally receive might differ considerably than what was pledged by the supplier in the beginning.
Obviously, it is not feasible for you as an importer to inspect thousands of unit by hand; however, the benefits of thoroughly examining the golden sample to see whether or not they mark up to your requirements are immense. You can provide the supplier with valuable feedback regarding any changes or improvements that they need to make in the products before mass production begins. Once it has begun, it is very difficult and costly to apply changes.
Identifying quality defects in product samples prior to production
As mentioned above, one of the key reasons why you should put emphasis on a golden sample is to identify any defects or potential defects in the products. Because the supplier has put all of his energy into producing a small batch of products to be reviewed by you, they should ideally be a near-perfect representation of what you have asked for.
Because the products that would be produced afterwards in mass-production will exhibit a typically lower quality with slightly higher defects, and the so the golden sample will act as a reference point for the supplier to compare the products with and see if they conform to your requirements (while staying in your set tolerances for different defects.)
You ideally want to address all quality-related issues prior to starting mass production. In case you do not, you can encounter several problems such as having to:
Production is finished can lead to consequences such as having to:
- Accept substandard goods and hope your customers can accept them too
- Ask your supplier to rework defective units and risk the possibility of new defects being created from this added handling
- Repeat production from scratch and possibly arrange product destruction for the entire first order
You may also request samples from several suppliers and then choose the supplier that has gone the nearest to producing the perfect product for you. This way, you can select the best of the lot available for you to choose from. Hence, always make sure to review and approve a sample before allowing your supplier to begin production.
Avoid any misunderstandings in the product requirements by asking for a product sample
If you think that a thorough production order or any other quality documents are enough to convey your ideas regarding the product to your supplier one hundred percent, you may be (sadly) mistaken. Keeping in mind the massive language or cultural barrier that most probably exists between you and your supplier, the only way to be certain that the supplier has fully understood your requirements is through asking for a product sample prior to production.
Remember that the first sample that you receive may not always conform to your requirements entirely; sometimes you’ll have to go between several batches to choose the right one. But this process makes sure that the final shipment you receive is closest to your expectations.
4. Failure to use updated QC documents as a guide for production and inspection
One of the main reasons why you might be encountering repeated quality issues that might even slip through inspection is because the factory staff and the inspection team are using outdated QC documents. This where you can seek help of professional third-party inspection companies who can help you draft thorough quality control inspection criteria based on common checks and tests depending upon your product.
Some of the information that you may need to repeatedly updates from time to time in order to ensure that your inspection staff is well acquainted with your expectations includes:
- New known quality issues with your product
- Changes to your desired inspection scope and standards
- Adjustments to product dimensions, components or materials
- New on-site testing requirements, including required testing equipment, the proper testing procedure and who should provide the equipment
How do updated QC documents improve the efficiency of your inspection staff while inspecting and reporting?
- More quickly review inspection results
- Limit the need to ask for clarification on any points of confusion after receiving the report; and
- Issue approval to the factory to ship or get started on rework immediately, helping to eliminate delays
An updated set of QC documents ensures that there is no gap between what is being produced and inspected for, and what you wish to receive.
The above given guide provides you with comprehensive advice that you must adapt in order to avoid quality control problems that may cost you your customers. With ever increasing competition, you do not have the leverage to produce poor quality products and still remain profitable in your business. It is essential for you to set an inspection mechanism that helps you spot and remedy any defects before the shipment reaches you. Remember to ensure the following steps for a successful business:
· Include quality expectations in your discussion when negotiating with the supplier prior to discussion
· Always ask for a golden sample and approve it before starting mass production
· Never forgo quality control inspection prior to shipping
· Keep your QC documents up to date