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How to do a Quality Control Inspection (and Why You Need One)

For importers and private labelers, there’s only one thing scarier than hearing the words “poor quality products”: It’s finding out that your shipment has been rejected by Amazon because it wasn’t labeled correctly.

This is why if you’re importing anything from China, you should be familiar with quality control inspections. This might sound intimidating and expensive but they’re both reasonably cheap and simple to do.

This article discusses how to do a Quality Control Inspection but more importantly, it also discusses the need for you to setup your own Quality Control Documents and Checklists. I assure you that, for around $300 each shipment, you can drastically improve the quality of your products and in turn, sell more products. You can almost entirely eliminate your likelihood of being scammed.

How It Works and How Much It Costs

A quality control inspection is almost always undertaken by a third party company. By far the most popular company for inspections is AsiaInspection.com. This isn’t simply because they are our podcast sponsor but also because of their price and reliability.  ProQC.com, and QualityInspection.org are two other inspections company but there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of others.  These companies will dispatch an a quality inspector in China to your Supplier’s factory or warehouse and perform an inspection either to your specifications or a default set of specifications. Any of the quality inspection companies can send an inspector to anywhere in China.

Sample inspection report from AsiaInspection.com

Sample inspection report from AsiaInspection.com

It’s shocking how cheap a third party inspection is. A typical inspection with Asia Inspections is roughly $300. It’s billed on what they call  man day, i.e. what an inspector can perform in 8 hours. You will almost ever need more than one man day. This $00 includes all transportation and other expenses. China is a country of bountiful cheap labou and with a lot of factories (meaning there needs to be a lot of inspectors). Competition is fierce, hence the relatively low price. I went years without ever doing any type of third party inspection simply because I had no idea how little it would cost.

What Amazon Sellers Need to Inspect For

You can do very complicated inspections and testing like testing lead content, doing tensile strength tests, etc. However, for me (and probably the vast majority of other private labelers) I simply book what they call a Pre-Shipment Inspection and make the following requests:

  • See and verify that my shipment actually exists and I am paying for what I ordered.
  • Verify items are labeled and bar coded correctly (so they don’t get rejected by Amazon)
  • Count my items to ensure I am getting the exact number of pieces I ordered.
  • Do some very basic product quality verification, i.e. make sure that the blue jeans I ordered are blue and not red

The truth is that most Amazon sellers primarily want to inspects for quantity verification, bar coding and packaging, and to do some very basic visual confirmation that the products they’re ordering look as they would expect. In most cases, you don’t know what else to test for until something goes wrong.

I Completely Trust My Supplier- Do I Still Need an Inspection?

There’s a few reasons to do a third party inspection:

  1. To avoid non-deliberate & careless mistakes from your Supplier
  2. To avoid deliberate mistakes from your Supplier
  3. Verify your shipment before final payment

The vast majority of issues happen because of  non-deliberate mistakes from your Supplier. Such mistakes I’ve experienced are things such as bar coding items incorrectly, putting Amazon carton labels on the inner cartons (i.e. inside) instead of on the outside, putting items in the wrong box, putting multiple items in one inner box to save space, and the list goes on. These aren’t things your Supplier is doing to be malicious – they’re simply careless mistakes which happen for a variety of reasons. A third party inspection removes almost all the risk of these types of things happening.

Deliberate mistakes are harder to test for. You have to know your product inside-out in order to test for it. The most common type of deliberate mistake is substitution for inferior materials. In fact, Suppliers don’t view this as malicious as if you didn’t specify 600D polyester fabric in your Purchase Order then they will think it is perfectly acceptable to substitute you for 300D fabric (a fabric roughly half the quality of 600D Polyester).

The last reason to do a third party inspection is to keep your Supplier on their toes. If they know a third party inspection is coming, or they know that you have a habit of conducting third party inspections, they’ll be less likely to cut corners and take more care with your products. There’s a lot of companies who never do third party inspections. If your Supplier knows that you are a company who does do them, whose order do you think they’re going to be more careful with?

A sample quality inspection report, with photographs.

A sample quality inspection report, with photographs.

Finally, if you’re on 30/70 payment terms (70% due upon shipment completion) having a third party inspector seeing your shipment, live in the flesh, before paying your final payment gives a lot of reassurance that you’re going to get your goods.

How to Do A Pre-Shipment Amazon Inspection – Step by Step Instructions

The following guide is based on the Asia Inspection interface. The principles remain the same no matter if you use them or not.

Step 1: What You Need

You will need just a couple of things to start:

  • Your purchase order with your Supplier (or at least a list of the items on the order)
  • Some way Asia Inspection can contact your Supplier to make an appointment (i.e. the email address and/or phone number of your Supplier)

Step 2: Inform Your Supplier As Soon As Possible That You Will Be Doing a Pre-Shipment Inspection

Once you place your order with your Supplier inform them that you will be performing a pre-shipment inspection. If your order is already in production that is fine too but tell them as soon as possible about the inspection. In either case, ask your Supplier to email you a few days before the order will be complete. Once they inform you that your order is almost complete then book the inspection through Asia Inspection. Asia Inspection should only need a couple of days to arrange the inspection but by giving everyone as much notice as possible you avoid any delays.

Step 3: Sign Up for An Asia Inspection Account

Go to AsiaInspection and click “Create New Account”. Use one of the links on this webpage. By using this link your inspection will follow the best inspection practices for Amazon and ecommerce sellers and you will be given a dedicated account rep who works with us at EcomCrew (either Dory Lanenter or Tracy Balatbat) and who understand the requirements of Amazon/ecommerce sellers.  You can make other specifications as well but this will ensure your order conforms to best practices for individuals selling on Amazon. This inspection will result in the following (along with other default inspection procedures)

  • Verify items are labeled and bar coded correctly (including Amazon Carton Labels if applicable)
  • Count your items to ensure they match your Purchase Order quantity
  • Do some very basic product quality verification, i.e. make sure that the blue jeans I ordered are blue and not red
  • Ensure only one may is used and you are not billed for multiple days without your approval

You’ll just need to fill in your name, email, and a couple of other details (no payment is required until you book your inspection).

Step 4: Book A Pre-Shipment Inspection

Once you’re in your account you want to book a Pre-Shipment Inspection. There are many types of testing but this is the one that is most relevant to Amazon  and  ecommerce sellers.

Step 5; Fill in Your Supplier Details & Inspection Date

In the next step fill in the estimated time of your inspection and your Supplier details. As long as you provide a working email and/or phone number for your Supplier it is acceptable if the inspection date and/or contact information is incomplete. The inspector and the Supplier will arrange a meetup time and directions privately.

Step 6

 

Why You Have Crappy Quality Products – You (and your Supplier) Have No Criteria

An inspection company can test products according to their specifications. However, you’ll get the most value out of your inspection if you have your own internal checklist of things you want checked. A checklist like this isn’t just useful for an inspection company, it’s also useful to both you, “Oh yeah- we should mention our bags need suffocation labels!”, and for your Supplier so they know things to monitor, “We had no idea Dave didn’t want every single product placed in one single box”.  Chinese Suppliers are notorious for lack of judgment (or just plain negligence) unless instructions and orders are explicitly stated. A checklist helps prevent this.

One my sample Supplier Checklists

One of my sample Supplier Checklists

Here are some things I commonly have on my checklists:

  • Each item contains an inner box
  • Each inner box contains our bar code
  • Each inner box contains our label or sticker
  • Each inner box contains our instructions/documentation (if applicable)
  • Each Master Carton contains xxx inner cartons
  • Each bag contains a suffocation label (if applicable)
  • Each Master Carton has our shipping marks
  • Each item is the specified color
  • Each item is the specified weight/length/width/etc.
  • Each item contains a “Made in China” label

In addition to this, I include several other product-unique requirements. Things like “Does item include a fabric repair patch kit?”.

I consider my Supplier Quality Control checklists as part of our company’s competitive advantage. Most importers don’t have Quality Control Checklists. Our checklists help avoid and rectify problems before they get to the consumer resulting in better quality products and overall better customer experience.

What Happens if Problems Are Found in the Inspection?

I’ve never had any serious problems found during an inspection for things that I explicitly asked the inspector to look for.  The most common problems tend to be labeling problems, such as putting the wrong SKU on a master carton or an incorrect bar code. In these cases, the Supplier always simply fixes the problems. I suspect you’ll encounter similar results with your inspections.

However, this isn’t to say I never have any serious issues with shipments that are inspected. Lots of problems arise, but they’re the ones I never even thought to have the inspector look for. That’s where your “Quality Control Checklist” should always be evolving. Every time you find a problem with a product, it should be added to your Quality Control Checklist. For example, we sell a particular rope product. Over the course of a year, I noticed the thickness of the rope was slowly getting smaller and smaller. A classic example of quality fade. This is now one of the things the inspector explicitly looks for now. To be honest, I sometimes feel guilty “complaining” about small imperfections in our products (it must be the Canadian in me!). However, if an item is on the checklist and the Supplier knows full well it’s criteria I am looking for, I will feel no remorse or guilt in demanding our Supplier fix the problem.

Conclusion

By this point, you’re probably beginning to see that a Quality Control Inspection is really the last part of the quality equation. The very first part is ensuring you have a Quality Control Checklist. Once you have one, the chances are that your Supplier will adhere to the requirements. The Quality Control Inspection is the last piece of the puzzle that keeps your Supplier on their toes and helps to catch any problems that fall through the cracks. By spending the time to compile Quality Control Checklists and spending the $300 or so for Quality Control Inspections, you can import products of much higher quality than most other importers.

What has your experience been with quality control? Do you use checklists and/or third party inspections? Or do you have some other technique you use to ensure your products are of good quality?

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Chris
    February 7, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Have you had to submit an Alibaba Trade Assurance claim yet? If so, what was your experience?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      February 9, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      Never. Are you having to file a claim or are you asking for curiosity’s sake?

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