Rieva Lesonsky Jul 10, 2014
When you are sourcing products for your small business overseas, ascertaining product quality is an important part of the process. Here are some steps to follow to make sure you get the best possible quality for your money.
Choose the right country to source from. Selecting the right country to buy from can help you get better quality for a lower price. For example, if you’re looking to source metal patio furniture, consider China. Other countries might have to import metal, adding to their costs (and yours), but China has copious metal supplies. Export.gov has country-specific market reports that can help you uncover the best countries for doing business.
Know what to watch out for. Just because you see a product for sale doesn’t mean that an overseas supplier or factory is experienced with this product. Sometimes overseas companies post products for sale to see if anyone will “bite,” then make the product (for the first time) after they get an order. The items could be products another buyer has rejected due to quality concerns and the supplier is trying to cut its losses. That’s why working through a site like AliExpress, which offers “buyer protection” is so important.
Visit the overseas supplier in person. Visiting an overseas supplier in person can help cement your relationship and allow you to inspect quality, but it can be cost-prohibitive for a small business, especially if you’re only seeking to buy products on a short-term basis. If you are having a product manufactured to your specifications, however, this is an important step. If you’re not having a product manufactured but just seeking a wholesale source overseas, taking the steps below will ensure product quality nearly as well.
Obtain product samples. It’s important to actually touch, see and inspect a product before you sell it (and put your business’s reputation behind it). Photos or even videos can’t do justice to the details, and having the product in hand will help you identify issues that may not come through in photos. For example, suppose you’re looking to source purses and you find one that shows an outside pocket with a clasp. When you get the sample in hand, you see that both the pocket and clasp are purely decorative and the pocket doesn’t open. Now, you can go back to the overseas supplier to see if they have something more suitable, or ask that the purse be manufactured differently. (Bonus: Once you’re satisfied with the product sample, you can also use it as a sales tool to show to potential customers.)
Shop around. There are literally thousands of overseas suppliers out there for almost every product you can imagine, so take some time to do a thorough search and compare your options.
Get referrals and talk to them. Talking to other customers of an overseas source is a good way to find out about potential problems with product quality. Companies will typically give you referrals, but keep in mind that these may be carefully selected to be positive. Network, use social media and visit online industry forums to search for other business owners who have used overseas suppliers you’re considering. Check the feedback and ratings from other entrepreneurs who’ve dealt with them.
Put it in writing. Your contract should be very detailed as to the quality level and the elements of the product. Never sign an agreement with a supplier that doesn’t include this information.
Stay vigilant. Just because the initial sample meets your standards, and you have put those in writing in your agreement, don’t let your guard down. Sometimes, overseas suppliers seeking to save money will cut material quality, make small or incremental changes to a product that they think you won’t notice, or substitute a lower-quality product for what you originally agreed on. To protect yourself and your business’s reputation, it’s important to regularly inspect products to ensure consistency.
Don’t rely on an overseas source’s in-house quality control. Having products inspected for quality before they leave the manufacturer or wholesaler is a smart move. After all, if a shipment doesn’t meet your standards, wouldn’t you rather find out about it before you’ve paid shipping costs Some factories will offer to have products inspected before they are shipped, but this can be a risky move. Instead, look for an impartial third-party provider that can inspect products for you and provide guarantees.