Ensuring consistency and reliability across your products
By Youri van Elsland
For any ecommerce business, manufacturing or sourcing products from an overseas entity can have profoundly beneficial effects on your margins. The problem, however, is ensuring the quality of the items you’re receiving.
There are so many ecommerce websites and businesses out there that you have to work hard to differentiate your project from the competition. If you cannot ensure consistency and great products every single time, chances are, your customers will likely start looking for solutions elsewhere.
The popular and easy choice is to manufacture in China, and for good reason, as there are many benefits–cost being one of them. But Chinese manufacturers and wholesalers often have problems with consistent and continuous maintenance of production quality. These problems are even more time-consuming and frustrating when you are on another continent.
Quality control is difficult from a distance, but there are things you can do to ensure proper production characteristics and stable partnerships with the right manufacturers and wholesale suppliers.
Give your supplier as much information as possible
To get what you need from suppliers, you have to be exceptionally precise and descriptive in your communications with them. Be sure to include the following information:
- A brief overview of who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish
- Who the product is for
- The problem that the user faces, which the product can resolve
- What the most important product features are
- Material requirements for the product
- Customization requirements to modify a generic product
- Your need for the product to be tested before it arrives
Remember that you’re communicating with people from another country. Language barriers will always come between you, even in the era of Google Translate. Make your product inquiry unambiguous, but simple. You should also make yourself available for follow-up communication should certain aspects of your product requests be unclear.
Request a sample
Asking for a sample or a prototype is the next important step in supplier quality control. If the product already exists and no customization is required, you can purchase one unit and verify its quality before even contacting the manufacturer. However, this option isn’t always viable or financially sound.
Chinese manufacturers are accustomed to sample requests. It’s a normal part of the process, and most will be willing to work with you. Several kinds of samples exist and can be requested:
- Factory samples for ready-made products. These can be subdivided into:
- Material samples (quality, color, and texture of materials used in production)
- Standardized parts
- Samples manufactured for other companies
- Custom-made product samples created especially for you
- Batch samples: several items from the same batch to test for consistency and functionality
- Digital samples: 3D models, renderings, graphs, sketches, and diagrams
Be very precise in terms of the type of sample you want, and make sure that you’ve discussed the following aspects of the sample request:
- The deadline for having the sample shipped
- The mailing address for the sample
- Whether you need a model and company number tag (to differentiate between the samples you receive)
- Indicate whether you need a functional sample for testing or just a product prototype
It would be best to send this information by email and have a quick video chat soon after to confirm the details. A live conversation with a potential supplier is also an excellent opportunity to get a feel for their work ethic and communication style.
Communicate any product issues in detail
Even if you’re extremely specific, there’s still some risk of the interaction going wrong. Whenever products don’t meet your specifications or are defective, you will have to communicate that information to your suppliers.
The easiest thing to do is to take a picture of the item and describe exactly what’s wrong with it and why the quality isn’t exactly what you’re looking for.
It’s imperative to communicate that information immediately after receiving a sample. If you order a larger batch and all of the items come with the same issue, it’s much harder to contain the problem without suffering losses.
Ensuring consistent product quality
The fact that a sample meets all of your specifications does not mean that all future batches will be treated with the same care. Ecommerce success often depends on every single piece meeting a consistent quality standard. There are several ways to accomplish this task when working with Chinese suppliers.
Alibaba has several useful tools in place to facilitate supplier quality control. When using Alibaba to choose suppliers, opt for those with trade assurance. This service gives buyers payment protection if the items aren’t shipped according to contract specifications, or if they do not meet quality requirements.
It’s also recommended to choose secure payment suppliers. Through this service, Alibaba holds the payment to the supplier while the shipment is being processed and delivered. Once both the supplier and the recipient confirm that the transaction is complete, the payment will be released.
A final option you may want to consider is engaging a sourcing agent. This person is a regional representative who deals with important activities on your behalf, eliminating the need for you to travel overseas. Provided this person is reliable and reputable, you’ll have peace of mind that your requirements are being adhered to during the manufacturing or sourcing processes.
Benefiting from a sourcing agent will be linked to additional expenses, making this a choice for entrepreneurs who are serious about growing an ecommerce business. The good news is that many entities offer such services. Get a couple of quotes and inquire about the fee structure. Sourcing agents may charge in different ways, so it’s essential to find out whether hidden commissions or surcharges exist.
Remember that the relationship between you and your supplier is mutually beneficial. It’s in the best interest of manufacturers to meet your requirements. As long as you communicate your needs and set up checks and balances against quality issues, you will soon establish partnerships with entities that understand your business and your work ethic.
Youri is Jumpstart’s Business Strategy Associate.