Inspectors that work in third-party QC firms are checking the shipments of many different importers. A constant challenge is adapting to the quality standard of each client.
By default, they are trained on generally-accepted standards in the third-party QC industry. And these standards are suitable for their biggest customers, the large retail and supermarket chains.
Naturally, these standards are also perfectly fine for the importers who end up selling to these retail chains.
However, not all importers are in this case. Here are a few examples.
Example 1: you sell in a specific distribution channel
Not everything is sold in supermarkets. If you sell funeral urns, you probably want a defect rate that is lower than what a supermarket would find acceptable on, say, shoes.
Similarly, if you sell by mail-order or online, you should have specific requirements about packaging.
Example 2: you are expert in one product category
Let’s say you purchase only ceramic products. You negotiate with a manufacturer and you specify that their shipment should be of “AB” grade. But the third-party QC firm you work with doesn’t have inspectors who are very familiar with ceramic.
So they simply count defects according to their usual rules of thumb, and you have to look closely at their photos to draw your own conclusion.
Example 3: you sell outside of “Western developed” countries
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a buyer who sells products in Southeast Asia. He was telling me, “who cares about a piece of hair that comes with a product?” But in the US, a piece of hair might be considered a critical defect!
Chinese inspectors have a tendency to look for mistakes in the details, rather than first looking at the general outlook of the product when it gets unpacked. I noticed it drives many importers crazy. But the solution is simple: create a checkpoint about this general outlook.
Example 4: you repackage the goods
If you need to deliver the goods to distribution centers of large retailers, you’d better watch out for the chargebacks they will deduct from your payment. They will note every packaging mistake they find.
However, if you repackage the products in your own warehouse before shipping them to stores/individuals, you don’t really care about packing issues — as long as the products and their retail package are protected.
The 3 solutions for frustrated importers
1. 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.
2. Hire your own inspectors and train them to your standard
If the factories you work with are in the same area, and if your production is not very seasonal, this can be a good idea. You will be certain the same inspectors will check your products, and you can take time to show them what is acceptable.
Here are a few risks to avoid:
- Hiring an inspector without supervision — it means you are taking maximum risks.
- Hiring a veteran from the industry and thinking you are safe — that guy knows all the shortcuts, and will not be supervised either.
- Hiring a manager to hire and supervise your inspectors. Make sure you are really hiring someone who can be a quality manager (see my past article about Chinese-style quality assurance).
If you have no legal structure in China, don’t hire illegally. You can work with a local company who will hire a dedicated inspector.
3. Work with a smaller QC firm
The 3 or 4 very large QC firms have special teams for their large clients. But they won’t do this for importers with less than 200 containers a month to inspect.
On the other hand, human-size inspection firms will be happy to train their inspectors to your requirements if you represent a steady volume of work. You can require them to use the same 2-3 employees for your shipments. From my observations, some of our clients greatly appreciate this service.
What do you think? Does it make sense?