Quality control is a necessity for most shipments. The constant search for cheaper suppliers, the bad habit of subcontracting to lower-grade factories, and the high risk of communication mistakes, all make a strong case for systematic inspections.

1) Establish clear expectations

Some buyers choose a sample, negotiate a price, and then wait for delivery. This might work for off-the-shelf items with basic requirements, but not for most made-to-order products. 

You should try to get golden samples (i.e. representative of what you expect to get out of bulk production), but this is usually not enough. You also have to confirm if your supplier accepts written specifications, which will become the checkpoints for the QC inspector. 

2) Don’t only rely on final inspections

Final random inspections are good for approving major aspects of production, but they tend to put a lot of pressure onto the supplier: what happens if serious non-conformities are found at that time? It is too late. 

Instead of doing inspection at the end, try to do inspection when the goods are in process. Issues can get caught and corrected early: this is not only an extra safety for the buyer, but also a helping hand for the factory. 

Early inspections (during production) have several positive side effects. They are a way to ensure that production is taking place in the right factory. Samples can be picked up randomly for lab testing. And it can prevent long shipment delays if the factory corrects course immediately after quality issues are noticed.

3) Inspection is a must

You should write “Quality inspection required prior to shipment” on your purchase order.

If you pay by letter of credit, you can require a passed inspection report from your nominated QC provider. Inspection is a must, not an option.

4) Find the right balance between helping and arm-twisting

A buyer can play it “tough”, be “easy” on his suppliers, or find the right balance in between.

The “tough” way: a focus on final inspections performed rigidly.

Suppliers have no choice: either they comply with the rules, or they are charged penalties and/or re-inspection fees. 

It works well for large buyers who are adequately organized and who have the power to charge penalties systematically. But small-and-medium-sized importers can seldom play this game.

The “easy” way: in-line inspections and/or tailored final inspections.

As noted above, inspections during production don’t create much adversarial tension, and there is less timing pressure.

Once production quality has been secured, final inspections can be a little less formal. Why? Because it is less risky to loosen requirements about the proportion of presented products.

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