Keeping your defect rates low requires to move involvement from the buyer than booking a quality inspection a few days before the production end date. An effective quality inspection program should not only identify quality issues - but also prevent them from occurring in the first place.
A well planned QC program can make all the difference between success or failure as an importer. Especially for Amazon sellers, who must keep the defect rate below 1%.
Further, a QC program is critical regardless of whether you’re a first-time importer or an experienced buyer. I have implemented multiple quality control programs in recent years for buyers experiencing severe and ongoing quality assurance - in most cases with immediate and dramatic quality improvements.
1. Make your supplier aware of upcoming inspections
Some importers think they gain an advantage by sending surprise inspections to their suppliers. While this can indeed catch the supplier off-guard and expose quality issues - it doesn’t actually solve anything.
The purpose of quality inspections is not only to identify quality issues but prevent them from occurring in the first place. As such, you should make your supplier aware of upcoming inspections as early as possible.
That way you put pressure on the supplier to actually follow your quality and design requirements.
You should also inform your supplier of the quality control checklist the inspector will follow on-site.
Your supplier must be well informed of the payment terms. They should only receive the remaining balance payment once (and if) they pass the quality check. Let them know that you will never, under any condition, wire the remaining balance until they’ve passed the inspection.
The supplier must also be aware that they will be subject to repeat inspections in case the first QC fails.
2. Determine the number of quality inspections
At a minimum, you need to book a pre-shipment inspection, which normally takes place after the production is completed - but before the shipment and balance payment. That said, you can also arrange quality inspections taking place at the various production stages.
Here’s an example of a quality inspection timeline:
1. Production QC A (Materials)
An early-stage quality inspection can help you catch quality issues or misunderstandings between you and the supplier while there’s still time to do something about it. Here are a few examples:
- Check material quality
- Test subassemblies and components
- Color and dimensions
Remember that you must coordinate these inspections with your supplier so that you book quality inspections on the right dates. Too early and there’s nothing to check. Too late and you’ll delay your own production.
I recommend that you book at least one production quality inspection when placing the first order from a supplier, or if they manufacture a new product for the first time.
2. Production QC B (Packaging Check)
You can book additional quality inspections during production. This is necessary as different materials, components and packaging arrive in the production facility at various stages.
For example, you can send an inspector to the factory when they receive the packaging to check the following:
- Print quality
3. Pre-Shipment Inspection (100% Complete)
The final inspection, which is also referred to as the pre-shipment inspection, is the most important of them all. If you can only budget for one inspection per order, then this is the inspection you need to prioritize. This quality inspection must cover all aspects of the product.
4. Follow up inspections
You also need to prepare for re-inspection, in case the final pre-shipment inspection reveals severe quality issues. My recommendation is that follow-up inspections only focus on the quality issues found during the previous pre-shipment inspection - rather than following the same ‘broad’ checklist.
1. A quality inspection can take place
3. Create a quality inspection checklist
Quality inspection agents don’t improvise on the factory floor. Instead, they strictly follow the quality control checklist they’ve been given. Most quality inspection companies offer a standardized quality control checklist. That said, you’re the product expert and always have the final say.
- Product photos
- Visual inspection
- Functionality testing
- Dimensions check
- Drop test
- Water-resistance test
- Package check
- EAN code scan
Note: You must also include quality issues you’ve experienced on previous production runs, or during the product sampling stage. It’s crucial that your quality inspection agency is made aware of any previous complications as this must be given extra attention during the quality inspection.
Follow-up inspections: As mentioned, follow-up quality inspections should primarily focus on the issues discovered during the QC.
You should also provide detailed instructions on how to perform each checkpoint. For example, you must provide step-by-step instructions on how to take product photos and perform functional testing.
Images and video
Adding detailed images and instructions videos can also help your quality inspection agent prepare.
You can also send physical reference samples to the QC company. This can either be complete products, or material samples. As such, the QC agent can compare the samples to the products in the factory.
1. You must also submit the invoice. Otherwise, the QC company cannot calculate the number of samples to include in each checkpoint.
2. Keep in mind that a quality inspection agent cannot inspect every single unit during a one man-day inspection.
4. Book quality inspections
I recommend that you plan your QC dates at the same time as you place the order. While you can book quality inspections as late as 24 hours in advance, I strongly recommend that you do so a week before at the latest. That way you have enough time to instruct the QC company properly.
You must also follow up with the supplier continuously during the production process, as QC dates tend to be changed.