How to Conduct Quality Control When Sourcing From China

December 18th, 2018

What is quality and quality control when sourcing from China? And how can Amazon sellers importing products from China ensure they receive consistent quality? Read on below to find out. 

What is quality?

When sourcing from China, there’s no universal definition of “good quality”. This is because quality means different things to different people. What the production manager of a Chinese manufacturer considers to be high quality, may be very different from what an importer in the US has in mind. 

In manufacturing, “good quality” is defined as conformance to requirements. 

Chinese suppliers deal with customers from different countries around the world, and different buyers have their own quality standards. Not only do quality standards vary, but safety regulations, and testing and certification requirements also vary by country. Manufacturers cannot be expected to know the regulations for each country. 

It is therefore the importer’s responsibility to clearly define their requirements and product specifications. 

Quality Control or QC is a set of procedures intended to ensure that a manufactured product adheres to a defined set of quality criteria or meets the requirements of the client or customer.

In other words, QC is a means to ensure the product meets the specifications that an importer defined when placing the order with the supplier. 

How to conduct quality control 

Improve communication 

There are a couple of ways to improve communication with suppliers. 

First, all product specifications, technical details and other instructions should only be communicated via product & QC checklist documents. Avoid scattering instructions and product specifications in multiple emails. Sales representatives are often dealing with multiple clients at the same time, and it’s easy to miss an email or two. 

It’s also important to keep communication clear and simple. Whether you’re sending an RFQ or asking for pricing information, keep your language simple and sentences short. Avoid using slang or technical jargon that might not be understood. 

You can also follow up emails with a phone or Skype call. Chinese people who can speak English tend to be more comfortable with written, rather than spoken, English. But it doesn’t hurt to call your supplier after you’ve sent a critical email to confirm their understanding.

The representative might also be more open to asking any questions they might have when you’re talking to them on the phone. 

If you haven’t already done so, you should download the WeChat app in case you need to contact your supplier quickly. This is a free app just like WhatsApp and is very commonly used in China. 

However, WeChat and email should not be used to communicate product specs and instructions with your supplier. These channels can be used to ask questions or clarify doubts. But there should be one document that lists all product requirements and specifications, and this is the only document that the supplier will need to reference during mass production.

Give detailed product specifications

Importers should work directly with the supplier to create this a product specifications document, which will help ensure the supplier clearly understands expectations.

Never let the supplier fill in the gaps. A product specification list must be extremely comprehensive and it should include everything related to product design, functions, materials to be used, tests that need to be conducted, certifications that need to be met, labeling requirements, and packaging details. Nothing is too small and unimportant to be left out. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t assume that the “supplier should know”.

A detailed product specs document will minimize the chances of the supplier cutting corners because of unclear instructions. 

Avoid using the word “It” because it can potentially cause confusion. When describing your expectations, it is better to clearly specify what you are referring to in the text even at the risk of repeating yourself.

The specific conditions under which the item must meet a specific standard or pass a specific test should be specified. For e.g. if you want your product to work in extreme temperatures, specify the minimum temperature, and don’t just say it should work in a cold climate. 

Once the product specs document has been created, importers should go over each item with the supplier to make sure they understand everything clearly. 

It is not uncommon to get a manager to sign and stamp the document. 

Creating a detailed product specs sheet is especially important if you’re developing your own product, requesting significant changes to an existing product the supplier has, or your product is technical with a lot of moving parts, or there are strict safety requirements that need to be met. 

Product inspections

Informing suppliers early on in the process that a pre-shipment inspection will be done minimizes problems later on. 

If possible, payments should be tied to inspections, which usually means 30% of the payment is done in advance and the remaining is done after the pre-shipment inspection is done.

The final payment should be done after an inspection is passed and the goods are shipped out. This is standard in the industry, and importers should not hesitate to require it from suppliers.

Golden sample

Give the factory and QC inspectors an approved sample for comparison. These are also called golden samples and are usually produced pre-production. One sample should be sent to the inspection company, one kept with the factory for their reference, and another is kept with the client. 

Encourage suppliers to ask questions

Ask suppliers along each step if they have any questions or concerns. Talking to them over Skype after sending an email can help encourage them to ask questions. 

Summary

Ensuring consistent quality is one of the biggest challenges importers face when sourcing from China. There are a number of steps buyers can take to minimize quality issues. Improving communication and providing detailed product specifications alone will help eliminate most quality issues.

Meghla Bhardwaj

Meghla has been working with manufacturers and importers for more than 15 years. More recently, this includes Amazon Private Label sellers.


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