The Basics of China Quality Control for Importers

Ensuring that the products you receive are of good quality is one of your biggest hassles as an importer receiving products from China. China is without a doubt the world’s leading export hub, with the country exporting a staggering amount of exports worth over $1.99 trillion worth of goods in 2016- the highest value recorded all over the globe. However, for many importers in business with Chinese companies, the transaction may be nothing short of an extremely complex and tedious task, especially when it comes to managing their quality expectations while being thousands of miles away from the actual site of production.

China quality control basics for importers

Fig: China quality control basics for importers

Although most Chinese suppliers offer their own QC inspection staff to verify quality, is it a good idea to rely solely on the reports drafted by these teams?

Before we answer this question, let’s look at some of the reasons why quality concerns might arise in products made in China, and why it is direly important for you to conduct China quality inspection before receiving the products.

Cultural Barriers May Cause Misunderstandings:

Although there can be numerous reasons why things might not turn out close to perfect in the manufacturing side of your business, there are certain elements that appear to stand out amongst the Chinese suppliers that cause misunderstandings and quality issues when dealing with offshore clients such as yourself.

These elements have their roots embedded in the very vastly different culture and values that China quality as compared to countries in the West. Although several companies in china have years of experience dealing with their clients in the West, their predominant culture still causes them several issues when it comes to meeting the client’s expectations.

The Culture of ‘Yes’ in China:

One of the most integral issues that importers face with Chinese suppliers is that they are not always able to fulfill their commitments properly. For example, you might ask your supplier repeatedly before finalizing an order about whether or not he would be able to deliver the required shipment to you on time- the answer, as you may have noticed, will always be a ‘yes’.

What about when you explain your product requirements to him and ask if he can replicate these requirements exactly? The answer here, yet again, will almost always be a ‘yes’. But when the time comes for you to receive these products, you might find that the supplier is unable to do so. Why is that?

Chinese suppliers will sometimes delay informing you about any disruption in the production process just because they wish to solve the problem by themselves first before announcing it to you. This way, they can narrate it as a problem that they’ve overcome rather than some sort of failure on their part to do their job properly.

However, this might cause more problems than it solves because this way if the supplier is unable to solve the issue by the time he informs you, chances are that you would have very little time on your hand to solve the problem too. Perhaps if he had informed you about the issue well beforehand, you might have helped him mitigate the problem.

The Dire Need to ‘Save Face’:

In the Western culture, it is fairly common to end any business conversation, especially on emails, with phrases like “do let me know if there are any questions”, or “please let me know if you require any clarification regarding something”, and the most common reply that you will receive from your Chinese supplier might be something along the lines of “no questions, thank you.”

This might cause you to think that you’ve conveyed your requirements across perfectly, and when the shipment arrives there would be no disparity between the actual product and what you asked for. However, this isn’t sadly the case.

To put very bluntly, they’re saving face: their self-respect, self-esteem, and dignity. They do not wish to come across as incompetent by asking questions, they wish to appear as confident in what they’re doing rather than to “lose face” by admitting that there is some confusion in their mind. You might be wondering why they feel this way. Why is there shame in clarifying something integral in making sure that they produce what their customer requires of them?

It might come as a surprise to many Western importers who have attended schools in the west when they see the schooling culture in China. Here, students are not encouraged to voice out and ask questions openly- unlike in the West there asking questions is always encouraged to stimulate understanding. Instead, asking questions is a sign that the pupil was not paying attention, and is often scolded by the teacher as a result. This is why Chinese suppliers have developed a tendency to stay quiet even if they have certain confusions in their minds about customer requirements because they do not wish to appear as impolite and incompetent.

Apart from the cultural barriers that may hinder the optimal performance of your Chinese supplier and China quality control team, many other factors can account for the inadequate inspection standards of your Chinese supplier’s QC inspection team.

Conflict of Interest Issues:

the first issue is of the very prominent conflict of interest issues arise when the factory’s own QC staff inspects your products. The problem is very apparent: any QC issues that they point out will have to be fixed upon the supplier’s account and expense, meaning that it comes as an unwanted cost to them. The staff would wish to minimize these costs as much as they can, and therefore the quality standards that they hold for the factory will not be as strict as what an unbiased party would hold. The QC staff is also likely to not be fully autonomous in its workings, and so is very likely to be influenced by the managerial staff in charge of producing your goods who do not wish to face any penalties because of producing sub-standard products.

Factory QC Staff May Not Be Adequately Trained Or Have Proper Testing Equipment:

Another reason might be the inadequate training of the QC staff, coupled with the potential lack of proper testing equipment required to carry out certain product tests and inspection. This is because the staff is likely to draft a quick report giving you an “all-good” status without putting in the effort or expertise required to truly inspect the products thoroughly. The factory is also unlikely to spend a large amount of money on the training of these QC inspectors, so it is likely that even if the inspection team is unbiased they just might not have the required expertise to conduct adequate inspections- especially if the product that you are producing requires some sort of advanced knowledge.

How Pre-shipment Inspection Can Help You Improve The Quality of Products From Your Chinese Supplier:

After years of working with a supplier who has produced goods of adequate quality, you may be inclined to think that there is no longer any need of carrying out frequent quality inspections. However, the experience of hundreds of importers who have gleefully had this thought proves that this is not a good idea. Because the interest of you and your supplier are not likely to be the same- he would want as low cost as possible incurred so that his profits go up, however, this means the quality decreases- this would mean that the moment you stop regularly inspecting the goods, he is likely to slack in quality.

Thus it is a very good idea to have your quality inspection team perform timely inspections to make sure that your supplier does not slack off and makes sure to meet with your requirements. To ensure this, a third-party inspection team like ATIHongKong can help you by:

  • Maintain a detailed and updated checklist for quality control
  • Verify that the supplier is maintaining an acceptable level of quality in between subsequent production runs
  • Allowing you enough time to address any potential issues and defects

A good china quality control team will ideally include ample details regarding the products and the production process so that you can adequately be aware of any issues or defects. The report will include detailed remarks, photos, measurements, on-site testing results, and more.

These details will help you form decisions regarding whether or not you wish to receive the shipment as it is or call in some rework from the supplier; thus it makes sense that the earlier you receive this report, the more informed decision you can make. If you need to rush into any decision, the chances of making a mistake are much higher than if you have ample time to think about the procedure you need to undergo. A rushed decision will usually occur when you have to meet a strict deadline.

Not only do you need time to make an informed decision, on some occasions you might want to have enough time on hand that you can physically inspect the defected goods yourself. If you wish to do this, the inspector will send you a sealed sample at your office for review. This is most common in the case of very delicate or highly-priced goods.

Avoiding Shipping Delays By Timely Addressing Any Issues Caught in the Earlier Production:

There are certain issues that, if caught during the inspection, cannot be addressed through product repair or rework: these include holes found in the garment or a shade variation due to the wrong kind of fabric shade being used. These issues can only be resolved by producing new items that meet the requirements of the importer.

If you feel that the defects found in your products are too many, or too severe, you may ask the manufacturer to repair or rework the products. This also requires ample time so a timely inspection report before receiving the shipment will allow the manufacturer to fix any defects without delaying the whole shipment significantly.

What Other Options Do You Have?

Once you decide not to rely completely on the supplier’s QC team and have some representatives of your own present on-site to ensure quality, there are many options at hand:

Personally Traveling to China to Conduct Product QC:

The most obvious approach would be to travel to China to conduct QC inspections. After all, who would better understand your quality requirements and expectations than you? However, there are many drawbacks in this approach:

  • The cost of traveling to and from China very frequently can be substantial.
  • In the while when you are away from your own country to inspect products in China, your operations might suffer. You will have to leave behind all of your other business activities to travel to China to inspect products.
  • You may not have the required expertise to conduct product tests, such as several on-site tests for products that require knowledge of different machines and technology.
  • You may have a language barrier that may prevent you from fully interacting with the Chinese staff.

Hiring a Team of Full-time Inspectors to Conduct Product QC:

The next option prevalent would be to hire a full-time inspection team. However, this approach is only suitable when the inspection is required on a very frequent basis. Otherwise, you’ll have to bear the cost of paying the inspectors wages throughout the year, even if they are required on a seasonal basis. You would also have to bear the cost of transportation and other facilities that the inspectors require.

There is also the risk of compromised integrity when dealing with permanent QC inspectors; as the staff becomes familiar with a few constant inspectors, the chances of bribery or compromised reporting increases. There will be the possibility that your inspectors might become biased in the favor of the factory staff, for many reasons, and end up misreporting the inspection results to favor the factory.

Hiring a Third-party Inspection Firm to Conduct Product QC:

When it comes to China quality control inspections, most importers around the world use a third-party inspection team for many reasons:

Cost: third-party inspection teams are located locally very close to your supplier, so it reduces time and the money required to commute to and from the site.

A local inspection team will also be fully familiar with the culture and ethics of the local workforce, so that they may be able to perform their job with more efficiency and ease.

Maintain high integrity: a third-party inspection team is likely to put your interests above that of the supplier by maintaining high integrity practices.

 They are less likely to collide with the suppliers or accept bribes because of the nature of a third-party set-up: the inspection management teams make sure that no particular person becomes too familiar with the manufacturing staff as to be in a position to accept bribes or any other sort of favors.

Third-party inspection teams in china also have strict regulations in place against receiving any kind of benefit, including meals and transportation, from the production staff.

A third-party inspection company like ATIHongKong can conduct product inspection services in china at any time that you require, including:

Pre-production inspection: verifying raw materials and other components required in the production of goods

During production (DUPRO) inspection: inspecting the product when about 60% of it is finished

Final inspection: conducted when at least 80 percent of goods are finished and packed

A third-party inspection team keeps your suppliers accountable to you: Not only does quality inspection help to spot any defects in the products on time, but the process will also inevitably help to reduce these defects altogether. The fear of being inspected at any possible time by the third-party inspection team, which will make suppliers, be more vigilant about the production processes, avoiding any acts that may cause defects in the process. They will also be more attentive to the requirements asked by the importer so that the chances of products being rejected on the basis that they do not meet requirements are minimized.

What is the Importer’s Role in Ensuring China Quality Control?

The instances of businesses losing thousands of dollars worth of products because they do not meet with the requirements are not unheard of. Even today some businesses rely on word of mouth or communication through email to inform the supplier of their demands and specific product features that they require them to build. This form of communication is extremely prone to misunderstandings, on either end of the transaction, which can result in faulty products that do not pass quality inspections and thus need to be discarded. The most effective step that you should take to avoid this problem is to draft a thorough and clear product specification sheet.

One of the foremost benefits of a clear product specification sheet is that both the buyer and the supplier are on the same page regarding what needs to be done and how it would be done. This would leave no room for ambiguities which might result in defected products; in case you do find defects in the products even after you’ve provided the supplier with a clear product specification sheet, you would have a document in hand as proof of your demands which you can use in case any legality arises. This document also acts as a reference point for your supplier to check up on and make sure that the products are being manufactured according to specifications.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, most importers around the world seek the expertise of a third-party inspection firm when verifying the quality of products made in Chinese factories through pre-shipment inspection. This saves them enormous costs of product rework, lost customers, and lost brand integrity- all of which will be a result of receiving defected products.

Therefore, it is never wise to rely solely on the word of the factory’s QC staff. You must have your independent experts report the quality of the products to you before you sign off to receive them.

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