Even with the advent of websites like Alibaba.com and MadeInChina.com, sourcing products from China can be a daunting task. This is a major reason why many buyers forgo sourcing altogether and rely on agents or trading companies to do the legwork.
However these websites and other forms of “remote sourcing” can be used effectively as part of an overall sourcing plan – if buyers know how to spot red flags and avoid scams. So how can buyers protect themselves when taking on their own sourcing projects? Below we’ve listed some of the most common sourcing mistakes and how to avoid them.
Neglecting Quality Expectations
It may be counter-intuitive to address quality control right from the outset of your sourcing project, but don’t be fooled. Setting your expectations for product quality before you start identifying suppliers in China is an important first step.
You can save yourself a lot of time and hassle if you use quality guidelines to narrow your search down during the sourcing search. A great way to do this is to create a “Request For Quote” document or even a QC Checklist that details what kinds of defects will be totally unacceptable in your shipments. An even better way to do this is to request product samples, which we will cover in the next point below.
Not Collecting Samples
While some websites require a modicum of verification for the profiles factories post, its often very easy to find misleading factory profiles online. Do not be swayed by images of state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities! If they look like stock images, they just might be.
The only way to know what a factory’s actual capabilities are is to either visit them in person (see factory audits) or examine production samples. When you’re in the early stages of your sourcing project, the most feasible option is to collect samples and scrutinize them for quality. As things progress, you’ll want to obtain an “Approved Sample” of your product – one that will represent the gold standard that each item in your shipment should match.
Even once you’ve conducted a factory audit, reviewed countless samples, and even got your hands on an approved sample, you still need to keep the factory honest. The sad truth is that despite these assurances, your actual shipment could vary significantly in quality from what you originally agreed on.
Product inspections are the final line of defense against poor quality products. If you’ve placed an order with a supplier, plan on scheduling at least one product inspection before the products leave the factory. This will give you one more chance to address any latent quality issues before the order ships!
No News is NOT Good News
If you’ve already established a dialogue with a factory and things seem to be going smoothly, you should still be hearing from them regularly. An excellent indication of a reliable manufacturing partner is one that is constantly asking you questions, seeking your input or approval, and generally keeping you in the loop.
If there is a lull in communication, it may not be reason to panic, but it should be noted. If the dialogue stalls for longer than you’re comfortable with, try to get in contact with the factory any way you can. While most Chinese suppliers are on the level, it is not unheard of for suppliers to simply vanish once an order is placed and paid for.
Ignoring Your Gut
Like with any important decision in business or in life, you have to trust your gut! You may have noticed a common thread with each item on this list – always seek verification, and never take anything at face value. Sometimes you don’t even need to go that far: if something doesn’t feel right, move on.
Any number of things can just feel “off” about a supplier. Maybe they offer a rock-bottom price that undercuts every competing offer you’ve received. Maybe the products pictured on their website look too perfect – maybe they even show branded products you're sure they can't be supplying. Whatever it is, trust your instincts and walk away if you get the impression things just don’t add up.