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eCommerce, Quality assurance

Are your suppliers giving you their best? QA tips to ensure they do

BY Crystal Gilliam 7 Jan, "16

Your products are the backbone of your eCommerce business - without them, you wouldn’t be much of a retailer! So, once you’ve got your product line set, it’s time to choose your supplier. When doing so, one of your biggest standards has to be: will they give me the quality I expect and need for my products?

While your quality standards will vary, the importance of quality, especially in eCommerce is a universal requirement. Customers need to be able to trust your brand. To gain that trust, you need to be able to supply them with the quality products they’re paying for. And to do that, you need to get quality products from your supplier in the first place. Here are some tips on how to get the quality that you and your customers are depending on.

Decide on your own standards first.

First and foremost, establish exactly the quality you’re looking for. Have a list of materials and standards you’re willing to compromise on, and those you’re not. Is price more important to you, or super-high quality? Establishing all your expectations first will give you a good base to start researching. Also, it will help you eliminate, right away, suppliers that simply can’t meet your standards for any number of reasons.

For example, if you’re an apparel company, you may have very intricate pieces. If a supplier can’t produce the level of handiwork that you require, you can immediately move on to find one that can.

Also, think about your production needs. Do you require a dedicated production facility for more control? Or are you willing to go with a shared supplier for a most cost-effective approach? Which is the most efficient for your business models? These are all questions to answer before you think about quality assurance from a supplier or manufacturer.

Be ready to research. A lot.

Be ready to put a lot of time into researching the quality and standards of plenty of suppliers before even getting close to making a decision. You can visit websites, look at company profiles, look for references, and see what other customers the supplier has. If you’re looking overseas to move your production or hire a supplier overseas, don’t hesitate to hire someone to help you find the best match. An agent who knows both the industry, location and your quality standards can help you narrow down your search in a potentially new part of the world.

Make sure you “fit” together.

Once you’ve narrowed it down a bit, think about the nature of your company, business model, and supply chain and make sure it fits with the supplier. If they’re prepared for quick production and you want unique products that take longer to produce, you most likely won’t be getting the quality you demand from this supplier. Work with someone who, from the beginning has the same standards as you do.

Another aspect of fitting together to think about: location. Would you like to go international for cheaper production and higher quantity? If so, that’s great, but you’ll lose some of the accessibility. On the other hand, you could think about going local if you want more control over the quality - but may have to be willing to pay a higher price.

Compliance is compulsory.

Once you’ve narrowed the field down a bit, see what established quality and safety standards for your industry the supplier or manufacturer already complies with. This will be a good indication of what they value and how much they value quality and standards. Also, having that base set of standards eliminates a lot of quality control issues from the beginning.

Ask for samples.

Satisfied with this initial research into a supplier? Now, ask for samples to see how they produce according to your standards. Write down some specifications and get to work. If needed, ask for a second, or third round of samples. Especially for industries like accessories and apparel, getting a sample before agreeing to anything else is essential. Have them produce a sample according to your specifications: for apparel this includes design drafts, elements, dimensions, fabric types, fabric weights, screenprint or embroidery, buttons, seams, textile labeling and compliance requirements.

One emerging fashion designer we spoke to emphasized the importance of samples from the beginning. “We always start with a sample piece that we use as the standard for quality. Then, as production goes forward, we always have that physical sample to compare it to, which is especially helpful when there are variations in quality.”

Lay it out on paper.

Sign a sales agreement that lays out quality standards. This prevents future disputes and ensures your expectations are clearly laid out and clearly understood. Developing a concrete contract will keep the discrepancies to an minimum.

Get up close and in-personal

Especially in the first round of production and supply, arrange a quality inspection before entire shipment is shipped to whatever your location is. Make a physical visit, either in person yourself, or arrange someone you trust to go to the factory in person. In this physical visit, aside from seeing the products in person, you can see and evaluate the conditions of their facilities. Look for quality control measure that are already in place. After the initial visit, get ready to continue making personal visits to conduct quality control checks.

Arrange regular visits, especially in the beginning to make sure that everything is in order, exactly as you want it. Even in this digital age, nothing can beat touching and feeling the product in person. Stopping by in person also helps you develop the working relationship with your suppliers. A quality relationship can also translate into more quality products in the long run.

Straight from Pomelo’s mouth

We spoke with Pun Suriyalaksh, Senior Product Developer at international eCommerce fashion brand Pomelo, and she let us in on the process of making sure that all of their manufactured fashion pieces meet high quality standards.

For Pomelo, assuring quality starts in selecting high-quality materials and making sure that the fabric is tested for shrinkage and other quality problems before even starting with production. Then, they start on the samples, and make sure detailed techniques and specifics are put into the sample. Every single technique is written out - for example, even the number of stitches per square inch that a certain style needs.

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Once the sample meets Pomelo’s standards, then it goes to the manufacturers, who are specifically selected by the ability to delivery the quality they need. How do they find these manufacturers? In person visits to the factories, which help them ensure the quality of products and manufacturing facilities from the very beginning. Then, before the next round of production, they take quality feedback from customers to see what they need to alter or change before the next round. 

Get the quality that you want!

In the end, it’s all about working with the supplier to get what you want from the beginning, rather than jumping in and worry about quality control later. When the standards are set, it’s just a matter of choosing the right supplier or manufacturer and holding everyone, including yourself to those standards. Quality assurance can be a time consuming activity, but it is a worthy investment to get the quality worthy of your brand!

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See Also: 

Why you should grow your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia: an eBook

Business management for fashion brands: tips to stay ahead of the competition

How to make your pop-up shop unforgettable: a 5-point checklist

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