Is quality control inspection really necessary before shipping? If I have to hire someone else to inspect, what’s a reasonable cost to pay? What value am I actually getting from inspection, and what risks do I take in forgoing it?
Many importers manufacturing good in ask these questions. And if you’re wise, you too will consider what real benefits QC inspection offers and whether these benefits outweigh the costs. Because, ultimately, only you know what product quality your customers demand and the price they’re willing to pay to get it (related: 4 Ways Importers Conduct Product Inspection [eBook]).
Let’s not kid ourselves—inspection isn’t much more than an insurance policy against potential quality problems. As Harold F. Dodge (1893 – 1976), one of the founding fathers of statistical quality control, put it: “Inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product. You cannot inspect quality into a product.” Still, you decide your own appetite for risk when choosing whether to trust that your supplier is meeting your standards.
So what are the real benefits of quality control inspection for you, the importer? Let’s dive right into those that likely matter most to you.
Quality control inspection lowers your costs
Yep. You read that right. You may be thinking, if I have to pay someone to inspect my products, and inspection doesn’t directly improve quality, how can it lower my costs?
Despite the fees you might typically pay someone to visit your supplier’s factory and inspect, product inspection actually tends to lower most importers’ overall costs. Inspection does this mainly by preventing costly rework and limiting defects that result in unsellable goods.
Inspection prevents costly product rework and repairs
Let’s imagine you import household refrigerators from a factory in China. You decide to save costs by forgoing inspection. But when you receive the finished goods you find that 30 percent of the units have loose dry filters and doors that are out of alignment. Given the high quantity of affected units, you need to hire technicians to fix the defects before you can ship the refrigerators to your customers.
If you’re lucky, you won’t lose any customers due to the delay. But your costs are higher because you needed repairs that workers at the factory could’ve conducted—at no added cost—before shipping. Had you inspected the refrigerators before shipping, you could’ve discovered the defects, asked your supplier to fix them and avoided the added repair costs.
Of course, not all product defects can easily be corrected with product rework or repairs. Rework typically requires additional handling that can introduce new defects to a product. But inspection performed early enough limits the need for rework, either by catching defects before they affect more of your order or by catching them in time for your supplier to correct them before shipping. The result is lower costs for you.
Quality control inspection limits unsellable goods
We’ve seen how inspection before shipping can help limit the need for costly product rework or repairs. But what about product defects that can’t be corrected and result in unsellable goods?
Let’s look at another example. This time, imagine you have an order of products that sell for a much lower price than refrigerators—promotional sunglasses. Given the relatively low value of this order, you may be reluctant to set aside a budget for QC inspection.
But ensuring your product has the proper logo is especially important for promotional goods. Even a poorly printed logo can be a major defect resulting in that unit being unsellable (related: 3 Types of Quality Defects in Different Products). So what happens when the wrong logo is printed on a product?
An incorrect logo, if not detected early, will likely affect your entire order. And your customers most likely won’t agree to buy promotional sunglasses that have the wrong logo printed on them. So the result to you would be an entire order of goods you can’t sell.
Compare that massive loss with the relatively low cost of sending someone to the factory to inspect for a day. Even a basic inspection of a small quantity of units would have revealed the logo issue earlier and saved you a tremendous cost.
QC inspection leads to more satisfied customers
If you’re using product inspection to lower your costs, your customers may be delighted to see those savings reflected in a lower price they pay for your products.
But besides more competitive pricing, how else does quality control inspection help you improve your customer satisfaction? Inspection serves your customers by helping you deliver their goods on time and with fewer defects.
Fewer defects and product returns following inspection
Customers often like to know that someone is screening the products they buy to check for and isolate any defects and other issues. Like importers, they may tolerate a certain number of defective units in an order (related: Why QC Professionals Use AQL Sampling for Product Inspection). But when serious issues affect the products they purchase from you, product returns often follow.
The earlier examples of your refrigerators and promotional sunglasses orders are both relevant here. But you can greatly reduce the number of returns of most any type of product with QC inspection. By catching defects before production, you can prevent shipping goods to your customers that don’t meet their expectations.
The result is more customers that are happier with your products and more likely to tell others about their great buying experience!
Inspection helps your customers receive their goods on time
A lesser-known benefit of inspection to your customers is its tendency to prevent production and shipping delays. There are a couple main ways that inspection achieves this:
- Inspectors alert you when your supplier’s factory is behind schedule by reporting on production status
- Inspectors alert you to quality issues earlier, especially with during production inspection and incoming quality control (IQC)
How does this inspection insight help your customers get their goods on time?
Picture this: you import wood molding from a factory in Indonesia. Being the complicated product that it is, wood molding includes more than a dozen different production processes, from receiving the raw lumber to packing and shipping the finished goods. You’re concerned about the longer lead time for your order. So you send inspectors to the factory to report on product quality and order status.
Your product inspection report reveals that production is two weeks behind schedule and the factory is applying gilded coating to the wrong SKUs of molding. Lucky for you and your customers, you caught the issue soon enough to ask your supplier to correct it before it affected too many units. You can also push your supplier to meet the deadlines you agreed to before production, and if needed, re-inspect to confirm production is back on track.
Inspection helps you meet or exceed your obligations to your customers by giving them the products they want when they want them.
QC inspection improves your supplier relationships
At first glance, it’s easy to see how scrutinizing your supplier’s work can cause tensions to flare between you and your supplier. The inspector’s role is to check the goods and report back to you about any issues they find. So why would your supplier want to risk having to spend more time and resources on your order to correct problems before shipping?
The answer is that some suppliers don’t welcome this risk. These are the kind of suppliers you probably want to avoid. And product inspection helps you avoid them.
Inspection helps you screen potential suppliers
The best way to limit defects in your products is to prevent them from occurring in the first place (related: How Experienced Importers Limit Product Defects in 3 Stages [eBook]). And the best way to prevent them is to clarify your expectations upfront during the sourcing process before choosing a supplier.
Similarly, you’re far better off informing potential suppliers of your inspection requirements before placing an order than you would be by telling them close to the exit-factory date. From the view of a third-party inspector, it’s often difficult to get the supplier to cooperate with scheduling an inspection the supplier didn’t expect to face.
But any reluctance from a supplier to accept outside inspection, whether from your own staff or from a contracted third party, is a sign that the supplier may have something to hide. If you state your intention upfront to inspect your goods before shipping and your supplier shows resistance, you’re likely not working with a good supplier. In this way, inspection can help you screen potential suppliers that may not be committed to meeting your expectations.
Inspection encourages greater accountability and transparency from suppliers
There are a lot of ways you may be able to hold your suppliers accountable for meeting your requirements. A great way to set establish accountability is to clearly state your expectations in documents, such as:
- A detailed QC checklist for your product, which outlines your product specifications, packaging requirements, any required on-site testing procedures for QC and more
- Your purchase order (PO), where you’d normally include Incoterms, pricing and a breakdown of unit quantities per SKU
- A vendor guide or “vendor agreement”, where you might formally outline expectations that include any chargebacks or other financial penalties dealt to suppliers that don’t comply
Some of these documents will be more effective than others. For example, if you expect to hold your supplier legally accountable with a “vendor agreement”, taking them to court in a foreign country may be more expensive and difficult than it’s worth. But product inspection gives you the transparency you need to confirm your requirements at the supplier’s facility.
Imagine receiving an order of granite table tops with chips, cracks and other damage. How could you confirm whether the problem occurred during shipping or before the goods left the factory?
Inspectors following your QC checklist can confirm whether there was damage to the finished table tops before or after packaging. They can also report on what percentage of the goods showed damage at the factory so you can compare with the condition of the goods you receive. This helps hold your supplier accountable by making them aware of any problems they can address to improve quality.
The result is a clearer, mutual understanding and a better relationship between you and your supplier.
Importers may find product inspection to be a solution for a number of problems. Your main aim with inspection may be to ensure your supplier is taking steps to correct previous quality issues. Another importer may simply want to ensure they’re meeting shipping deadlines by monitoring production status at the factory.
It’s true that inspection cannot put quality into a product that wasn’t there in the first place. But it can help you lower your costs and improve your supplier relationships, all while making your customers happier to buy from you.
In what ways have you been surprised by the effectiveness of QC inspection? Share your insight in the comments section below!