Is your China factory’s quality standard too low?

Supplier ManagementDo you work with a factory in China, and wish their quality standard were a bit higher? You are not alone.

Here are six pieces of advice you can follow in this case.

1. Say it, and write it, to your factory

If you don’t communicate your dissatisfaction, nothing will happen. Here is an example of message you can send:

“The customers who shop in our stores expect a relatively high quality (higher than average). We don’t want them to think, ‘Oh, these products are also made in China’. Either we keep our quality standard up, or we will need to stop purchasing from your company.”

2. Give early feedback

it is the whole purpose of inspections during production: give a warning if the average quality is too low, while the manufacturer still has time to do corrections.

If you only perform final inspections (before shipment), you are taking risks. At that stage it might be too late to rework the goods, you might be in a hurry to ship them out, and the supplier might simply wait until you release the batch.

3. Do not accept low quality “exceptionally”

I have seen this mistake over and over again. Quality issues are only caught before shipment. As noted above, no good solution is found. The buyer lets the factory ship the products, even though they are not satisfactory.

What message does it send to the factory? Will they take your quality standard seriously in the future? Of course not.

A very serious discussion needs to follow. And the following order should be watched extremely carefully. If you don’t do this, you will be disappointed again and again.

4. Define what is a major defect, what is a minor defect, and what is not a defect

It is hard to think of every possible defect. But, for most product categories, defining the 10 most frequent types of defects goes a long way.

I actually wrote some advice before on this same subject:

Prepare an easy-to-read manual

Some importers are very organized and write a clear QC checklist. The best practice is to show a lot of photos. For each potential defect, show one photo on the left (photo of the defect), and another one on the right (photo of what is acceptable).

It is quite helpful to inspectors, but make sure they don’t need 1 hour to read this manual! A good target is 5 min.

By the way, this document is also useful to the supplier and the factory technicians. Write “NO” in red or “OK” in green, on the photos.

5. Set the AQL limits (i.e. tolerances for defects) that correspond to your quality standard

Maybe you started with the “standard” AQL limits (full explanation here), and you noticed that too many defects are tolerated? You wish inspectors rejected a batch with a lower proportion of defects?

For example, instead of authorizing 2.5% (for major defects) and 4.0% (for minor defects), you can tolerate only 1.5% and 2.5% respectively. There is no science to this, as I wrote in how to choose an AQL limit.

The drawback is that suppliers generally protest. They argue that 2.5 and 4.0 is the “standard” in China’s export business (which is true), and that tighter limits will be hard to achieve. It is a good excuse for raising prices, and even for excusing delays.

6. Go and find another manufacturer!

That’s the solution of last resort, in case your manufacturer shows no improvement (which, unfortunately, is likely to happen).

What do you think?


Related articles:

Explain your quality standard to quality inspectors

Keep your quality standard up


  1. says

    Point 3 is critical. What is accepted once often becomes a standard later ! Therefore it is important for buyers to be organized as much as they can in order to leave as much buffer as possible in the delivery time. Nothing worth than being caught between the end user screaming for delivery and the supplier trying to convince you to take the goods anyway, “just this time, we promise this will never happen again”.

    The better and the earlier you define a quality plan and review it with the supplier, the more easily you will be able to have and give early warning. Linked with point 5 I guess

  2. Paolo says

    I don’t agree with point 5. Many companies set the AQL very low even for cheap basic products, hoping in some way that a strict AQL will magically solve all problems. The final result is that the inspection is invariably failed and the customer still accepts because he cannot afford the time/cost of refusing the lot.

    In my opinion, the AQL should always match the product type and the audience for which that product is targeted.

    • says

      I see what you mean. I should have made it clear that buyers should be ready to reject a shipment if the AQL they have set is not respected. I agree what what you mean, of course.