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How to define your quality standard before buying from China (Checklist)

Posted: September 13, 2013

Download a free and ready-to-use product specifications sheet (Word document).

Created by QA firm Sofeast, this template can be used to describe your quality standard to your China supplier. Sofeast uses this very template to help its buyers, especially those that are highly quality-conscious and detail-oriented.

by Renaud Anjoran

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

In China, less than 1 percent of exporters take the pain to define the specifications of their products in great detail. So, who should do it? I believe this is the buyer’s responsibility.

Most importers commit the mistake of giving too much freedom to their suppliers. For example, the product’s functionality gets a lot of details, but the packaging is forgotten and the severity of potential defects is not defined.

Why should buyers define their requirements?

Not defining their requirements in detail is a mistake because the manufacturer, in most cases, will not say “we are still missing this information.” And there are three reasons for this:

  1. Fewer specifications mean fewer arguments in the buyer’s favor in case something goes wrong. “There was a misunderstanding” is one of Chinese suppliers’ favorite excuses.
  2. Salespeople are busy. Managers are busy. Decisions regarding missing specifications will be taken by purchasers and production technicians, who are far removed from the sales office. These people do not know your company and your market!
  3. As I wrote in No. 2, decisions are made by purchasers and production technicians, who are single-mindedly focused on cost control. They will "guess" in a way that saves them money. Not in your best interest.

How can buyers define their expectations?

You might not know where to start. The above-mentioned template will provide a structure that you can follow. I suggest following a few principles:

  1. Focus first on the most important points: The few most common defects that might appear, the few most important measurements, and so on. Do not try to be perfect with the first version. As you re-order the same products, you will have plenty of data to add based on the problems you will notice.
  2. Be detailed and specific: “7-ply corrugated cardboard, min. B/C grade, kept dry at all time” is better than “strong cartons”. Think of the discussions you might have with your supplier after receiving a shipment of broken cartons -- you do not want any subjectivity in the interpretation of your requirements.
  3. When testing equipment is required, try to specify the equipment. If tests need to be performed in a laboratory, mention the standard to apply.

SEE ALSO: 5 on-site tests that can be done on any product [Slideshow]

How to take full advantage of this specifications sheet?

Here is my advice to improve communication and reduce risks:

  1. Get quality assurance professionals to review the document and comment on ways to improve it.
  2. Translate it, and send someone in the factory to collect feedback from production technicians (not just the salesperson). If they say they cannot meet your standard, this is a good thing to know before they launch production.
  3. Have a manager from the supplier sign and chop it.
  4. Make it a part of your contract.

Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006.In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on

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