Once you’ve placed an order and wired the upfront deposit payment you’ve got two choices. You can either sit back and hope that the supplier will get your product right, or you can actively manage the process to defect early-stage quality issues – before it’s too late.
Doing so doesn’t require that you spend 2 months in a sleeping bag on the factory floor. In fact, you can manage order follow-ups from your phone or computer.
In this article, Gaël Tauvel, co-founder of Asiaction in Guangzhou, explains how to manage order follow-ups to ensure that the number of defective units is kept to a minimum.
This is covered
- How often should importers follow up with their supplier?
- What kind of information (e.g. photos and videos) should the supplier provide?
- Order follow-ups when buying custom-designed VS private label products
- How to resolve early-stage quality issues and defects
1. How often should I follow up with suppliers during the production process?
Once you get all the production steps from the manufacturer, you should schedule emails or phone calls at key moments (i.e.: once they receive the money, when they receive the raw material when they start production when they finish the first products before they finish production).
Nevertheless, the frequency of communication depends on the type of order (recurring order or a new order and/or OEM product), and the factory relationship (new, known).
Check the following table for our advice:
|SUPPLIER TYPE||ORDER TYPE||FOLLOW-UP|
|New Supplier||OEM (Custom Design)||Twice per week|
|New Supplier||ODM (Private Label)||Every 10 days|
|Known Supplier||New OEM Product||Once a week|
|Known Supplier||Regular Order||Once or twice during Production|
You can adapt this schedule to the quality of previous orders. In other words, follow your orders closer if you had problems in previous occurrences.
2. What questions should I ask in order follow up calls or emails?
All orders are different but we will try to clear up the process and give you some tips linked to important production steps.
2.1. Order Requirements
Not all Chinese factories are well organized and disorganization potentially leads to delays, defects, and additional cost.
In order to avoid wrong turns, you must ask the factory to confirm your requirements a few times (when they receive your deposit, when they receive the raw material, when they start the production, during the production). Send them the agreed upon the technical sheet and ask them:
- Did you receive the technical data sheet?
- Can you (still) make it exactly as I ordered?
- Send me some pictures of the raw material/first production samples
Production in China generally lasts around 35 days (in fact, between a few days and two months according to your product type/requirements/quantity).
Chinese factories can actually manufacture any product within a few days. However, it takes 2 to 3 weeks to order and receive the raw materials. With this in mind, here are the questions you should ask the factory:
A. When do you receive the raw material?
Ask this question to check that they received the right material, prepare inspection (IPC) and subsequently to confirm the production schedule.
B. When do you start production/assembly?
Ask this question to check that they follow the schedule and to prepare inspections made during the production (DUPRO).
C. When will the mass production be finished?
Ask this question to check that they follow the schedule and to prepare the final inspection (FRI) and the shipping process (Container Loading, Shipment Booking, etc.).
3. Should I request images and video from the production?
Yes, you should request photos and video recordings from the production. However, just like the communication frequency, the moment you ask depends on the order type.
For OEM orders, you might want to check that the factory received the right material (shape, patterns, colors, etc.).
For orders from the catalog, depending on whether you order for the first time or if it’s a follow-up order, you will ask photos at different moments.
Check our table for a more detailed view of what we advise:
|SUPPLIER TYPE||PRODUCT TYPE||PHOTOS/VIDEOS|
|New Supplier||OEM (Custom Design)||Before, during and the end of production|
|New Supplier||ODM (Private Label)||During and at the end of production|
|Known Supplier||All||During and at the end of production|
*Optional, or if a problem appears during the production.
Recommendation: Avoid wasting money on multiple inspections, ask for pictures and videos before you send an inspector. You might be able to detect critical problems and negotiate repairs with the factory. Let the inspectors work on the hidden defects at once.
Caution: Some factories aren’t really inclined to sending pictures and videos. Take this as a warning sign regarding the quality they offer. On the other hand, some factories agree to send pictures but “forget” to mention or show the problems. It’s all a question of trust.
Conclusion: Having pictures and videos is a good thing, but it is not a guarantee for the production quality.
4. What’s the best strategy to verify that my supplier gets my product right (e.g. materials, colors, and dimensions)?
The best approach is to build a relationship with your supplier in which they understand how important the product is to you.
You do that by preparing everything as detailed and precise as possible in the purchasing documents, by keeping constant communication with your contact at the factory and by planning product inspections at key production steps.
1. With your Chinese factory, always work on each and every product detail. Make sure everything is understood and then, set up a purchasing agreement (additionally to the supplier PI) which lists precisely all the order details and product specifications. If the product is sensitive, ask the factory to produce a pre-production sample to be approved by you and that will be used as a reference sample for the mass production.
2. Regularly ask the factory to update you about the timing and quality of your order. Enquire often about the raw material and the mass production (see #2 and #3).
3. Visit the factory during and at the end of the production. By doing so, you create a bond with your contact at the factory, and probably the boss. It is very important to meet your Chinese partners, this is how you build a strong relationship anywhere, even more so in China. Subordinately, you can have a look at your order production, assess its quality and solve problems easily (if any).
4. Organize inspections before (IPC), during (DUPRO) and/or at the end (FRI) of the production. These inspections made by professional third-party companies give you a clear status of your order, to ensure that the factory follows your requirements and the standards of your market.
5. Let’s say that I find out that they got a color or material wrong halfway through production. How do you suggest that I deal with that?
Well done for identifying defects during the production, it’s much better than detecting them when the product is ready to ship, or worse when you receive them.
However, once you have uncovered defects, you might wonder what to do, especially if you’re far away.
First of all, you must assess the situation carefully and accurately. Contact the factory to have as many details as possible about those defects (explanations, pictures, and videos).
Send a third party inspector (if not already done). If possible, visit the factory yourself.
Once you get a clear picture of the problems, assist the factory in finding a solution. Basically, you have three choices: replace with another model, fix the defects, reproduce.
Do not yield in the negotiations, it is their responsibility to find a fix swiftly to their mistake. Keep insisting until you both agree on a fair solution. Ask to be contacted by a manager or the boss, if they speak English.
If no suitable solution is found, you can cancel a part of the order (with a matching value discount to be negotiated), cancel the whole order, and hopefully get your deposit back. Or, accept the order as it is, but with a substantial discount.
If no solution can be found, blacklist the factory and contact a backup manufacturer.
Get help by contacting a sourcing agency located in China able to visit the factories, to prepare orders and to provide solutions.
6. Can I trust that the supplier will report quality issues, or do I need an independent production inspection to be sure?
All suppliers have different ways of dealing with quality issues. Some will report them, others will never mention any.
However, it is not in the interest of any of them to report a quality issue. Indeed, admitting and correcting defects costs money (buy more material, possible fine for a delay) and uses time of workers (that they don’t spend on new orders).
Besides, it is interesting to note that most of the Chinese suppliers don’t realize the harm order defects have on long-term relationships. Most of the sales only see the short term income opportunity.
Therefore, we would not advise you to trust the suppliers regarding the quality of their production.
The best practice is to send an independent inspector from a third party company who will provide a clear and impartial report. As mentioned earlier, you should consider sending inspectors at different steps of the production.
Asiaction is a sourcing agency in Guangzhou, China that creates a bridge between Chinese factories and foreign buyers. We make it easy to buy from any Chinese factory. Asiaction was founded by Gael Tauvel and Aurelien Hivonnet in 2008 and includes a team of dynamic and dedicated purchasers and project managers.
Asiaction purchasers and project managers have helped hundreds of clients precisely follow thousands of orders using our custom-made ERP system.