Ensure the quality is up to scratch when working with factories in China, with this product inspection primer for ecommerce businesses.
This post is by Blair Quane, Director of Remote Control CEO.
Most consumer goods are now made in China, from plastic toys for dollar stores to the latest iPhones for Apple. Chinese factories make products for brands and retailers of every type.
When you are having products made in China for your own business, how do you know if you are getting iPhone quality or dollar store quality? How can you make sure standards are consistent across different production runs? How do you know that the goods are being handled and packaged properly?
Unfortunately, you can’t really know these things unless you are standing in the factory all day, looking over their shoulder. What you can do is arrange an independent inspection to check that the products are being made to your specification, then take action if the quality is not what it should be.
What is a product inspection?
A product inspection is an assessment of a sample of a product order by an independent company not associated with the manufacturer.
The inspector visits the factory in China and examines a sample of the order looking for:
- Compliance with the product specifications agreed between the factory and the buyer.
- Any defects or damage that have occurred in the production process.
The purpose is mainly to ensure that the buyer receives the goods they ordered, in an acceptable condition for the use they are intended.
The goods could be sold through the Amazon marketplace, without additional packaging or modification, or just used as a component in further manufacturing. Either way, there will be a set of specifications and requirements that they must meet to fulfill their purpose.
Why bother having my products inspected?
Manufacturers do not always follow your wishes in terms of product quality and details. By inspecting the goods before you pay to ship them thousands of miles, you can be sure that you receive what you expected.
It is far easier to negotiate with manufacturers to fix product defects before they leave the factory, and before you have sent them the balance of your payment. Just the understanding that the goods will be inspected can result in the factory taking more care with the product and packaging.
Even a specialist private label manufacturer, making standard products that are printed with your own brand, can vary the design, materials and processes used in their factory. Don’t assume that the final product will exactly match the sample provided beforehand.
What are the different types of product inspection?
There are three main types of product inspection:
- Pre-shipment inspection
- In-production inspection
- Full inspection
A pre-shipment inspection is where product manufacturing has been completed and the goods are ready to be packed into cartons for shipping. This gives a good indication of the products’ final quality.
In-production inspection is where the product is examined part way through the manufacturing process. This is mainly used when the product is mechanical or similar, and there may be a certain internal piece or process which needs to be checked.
Full inspection is where the entire order is inspected instead of a small sample size like the other two types of inspection. This is good if there is a really high specification or quality level required, or if the product has safety implications and total confidence in it is needed.
Which is the most popular inspection type?
Pre-shipment inspections are the most popular, as they provide a good level of certainty over the final quality. The goods have been fully manufactured and are about to be packed, so are as complete as possible.
As only a sample of the finished goods are inspected, the cost can be kept quite low.
Should I get every order inspected?
Sometimes businesses will have their first order from a factory inspected, then do away with inspections on subsequent orders. This saves money, but the assumption that follow-up orders will be of exactly the same quality as the first order can be mistaken.
We suggest getting every order inspected, even if you have received good quality products from the manufacturer before. Factories can often look to cheapen the product on the second or third order to save them money.
The inspection cost is an inexpensive way to ensure you are not left with a costly sub-standard order, whether it’s your first time dealing with the factory or if you have been using them for some time.
What in particular should I ask the inspector to check?
Reputable inspection companies should have a standard list of items they check including:
- Looking for signs of damage
- Checking the product works as it should
- Checking the dimensions of the product
If you have specific requirements which you need checked such as a drop test or waterproof test, then indicate this to the inspector and they will add these to their list. Most of the time there shouldn’t be an extra cost, as it’s a normal part of setting up the inspection.
What does a product inspection report look like?
Inspection reports are usually at least 30 pages long and start with a description of standard items like the date of inspection, location and factory conditions.
They will list the products inspected and the defect types found within the sample set. This will normally include both photos of the product from all angles, as well as zoomed-in photos of any defects.
Normally the report will include a pass or fail recommendation, but buyers should always carefully examine the defects, as sometimes these are not bad enough to fail the order in the inspector’s opinion. At the end of the process it is the buyer who needs to decide whether to accept the products as they are, because they are the only one who knows exactly what quality level they need.
How many products in my order should be inspected?
The number is dependent on a few factors, but in general inspectors look to examine around 10%-20% of the order, which is usually a large enough sample size to show up any issues.
A full inspection includes the entire order, but these take a lot longer and are more expensive. Normally inspecting a sample is enough to show up any areas of concern in the order overall.
Why do an in-production inspection?
Particularly on a first order with a manufacturer, or if the product has an important part within its manufacturing process, it is sometimes desirable to have it inspected part way through production.
That way, any issues can be found earlier and rectified more easily than when manufacturing is complete.
What should I do if the product inspection finds problems?
This depends on the extent of the problem. If it is minor, you may choose to accept the product. If it is significant, then you may need to have the supplier fix or replace the faulty products.
In this case, we always recommend having a second inspection after the issue has been addressed. A second inspection ensures that the supplier does in fact fix the issues found. The buyer should deduct the price of the second inspection from the supplier’s final invoice, as it should be the manufacturer’s cost to cover.
Sometimes inspections find defects at a level where cancellation of the entire order is a valid solution. The key thing is to ensure that the buyer gets what they paid for and that any issues are found before the product is shipped. There is a significant expense, and potential damage to the buyer’s reputation, if defects are only found when Amazon customers start returning the products.
What should I do if the manufacturer won’t fix the problems?
There is a lot of competition for manufacturing, so most factories are very keen to make problems right. They want to keep the buyer happy and get reorders in the future.
Orders can also set up with protection programs like Alibaba’s Trade Assurance, which limits payments to the manufacturer until the product has been accepted by the buyer. These also insure against manufacturers not keeping their end of the agreement. If they don’t fix the problem then the buyer can accept only the non-defective products, or cancel the order entirely.
It should be noted, however, that cancelling an order completely and getting a refund from the supplier is not a simple process, and can be quite difficult to achieve. Therefore it’s important to have a solid agreement with the manufacturer before the order begins, so both parties know what’s expected and the repercussions if not met.
This post was by Blair Quane, Director of Remote Control CEO, a company providing pre-shipment and in-production product inspections and customer service outsourcing for ecommerce businesses. Remote Control CEO includes a recommendation with every inspection and follow-up email support to help guide the buyer through the process.