Ensuring quality control is a critical issue when sourcing from China and other developing countries. There is no simple solution to this problem and addressing it takes multiple strategies.
The quality of Chinese and other Asian goods has improved in recent years as these firms gain more experience and move up the manufacturing food chain to higher value products. However, serious differences remain in how quality is perceived. Developing countries, many of which have a legacy of planned, isolated economies, generally do not have the same ideas about quality that are taken for granted in richer nations.
Therefore, it is critical not to assume an Asian manufacturer shares the same views on what comprises good quality and it is advisable to take steps to assure quality control.
Any strategy to avoid quality problems begins when selecting a factory. When choosing a manufacturer, consider the following questions:
1. How much experience does the factory have in exporting overseas? Examine their product lines and ask for references.
2. Does the factory have representatives with a good command of English? While it is not reasonable to expect fluent speakers, a very low level of English proficiency is a sign the manufacturer is inexperienced in overseas markets.
3. Where is the factory headquartered? A factory operating from a more developed country such as Hong Kong or Taiwan, with more exposure to western markets, is much more likely to produce quality goods even if their manufacturing takes place in less developed countries such as China.
4. Where is the factory located? For example, different areas of China tend to specialize in different products. Producing the product in an area that specializes in that product is best. Check the address and avoid areas known for cheap products such as Yiwi in Zhejian province in China.
5. Did one quote come in much lower than the others? The old “buyer beware” adage should be kept in mind. If the quote sounds too good to be true, there is a high likelihood the manufacturer produces inferior goods.
Once a factory has been selected, insist on an exact sample before going into production (see sampling).
Be sure the order confirmation and any other contracts clearly state that products not made to specifications will be replaced and shipped at the manufacturer’s expense within an explicit time frame.
No matter how competent the factory may seem, it is advisable to inspect the goods before shipment, especially the initial order. This can be done in different ways.
The most obvious way is a direct visit to the factory by the purchaser. If the travel and other costs of sending someone are manageable, this is the best method of ensuring the goods have been made to the required specifications.
There are also a number of companies that will inspect goods on the importer’s behalf before they leave the country of manufacture. The costs of using these services are much lower than a direct visit. However, one needs to keep in mind that the person doing the inspections for these companies is almost always from the country that manufactured the product, and therefore might not understand the quality requirements.
Some factories may try to deny they are responsible for defective goods if they were missed by a pre-shipment inspection. Therefore, be sure the contract clearly states inspections by the purchaser or third parties do not release the manufacturer from either their responsibility to ensure quality or their responsibility to replace defective goods.
Once the goods are received, inspect them as carefully as possible for quality. Any defective goods should be reported immediately. In this case, it may be necessary to return the goods, or the factory may agree to replace them without the need to return them.
Before placing an order, factor in that a 3%-5% rejection rate is common.
While ensuring quality control is a challenge, major problems can be avoided with careful factory selection, taking steps to verify quality, and making sure contracts clearly state the manufacturer must replace goods not made to standards.