Bad China Products? No, It can be High Quality
If you’re sourcing & importing from China and/or selling private label products online, or in any retail capacity, chances are that you’re having those products manufactured in China.
There is a common perception in the West that China only makes poor quality goods. Till now, most people believed that if a product was made in China, it wasn’t going to last.
And even if you’ve sourced products from China before, one or more bad experiences may have led you to believe this misconception.
Yes, we’ve all heard such rumors – China produces low quality, cheap products. While it’s true that China can produce low-cost and low-performing goods, the focus has shifted to high-quality goods in recent years.
Made in China ≠ Low Cost + Low Quality
Let’s look at why this misconception about Chinese product quality is not true and how you can source high quality Chinese products as an importer.
It’s a long-standing view that products made in China are junk.
A handful of high-profile news stories in earlier years have led to China’s reputation as a manufacturing hub that churns out low-grade, cheap products.
If you read a lot of negative articles that lead to negative concerns and perceptions, the media may provide a certain type of experience for people who don’t have personal or direct experience with a country, so they get the message mainly from the media.
But the press paints a picture that doesn’t always reflect the reality of Chinese manufacturing capability at large.
It is not consistent with the experience of many successful importers that continue sourcing products from China.
Irrespective of what you’ve heard in the past don’t lend your ears out to rumors and negative press. Use the tools you have at your disposal and find people in the industry with an excellent track record.
Do your own research.
Current Status of Made in China
China has come a long way from its modest beginnings as a manufacturing-focused economy. And if history is any indication, the country will likely continue along its current path toward becoming even more competitive.
While goods mass produced in China may have had quality issues up till a few years ago, a large number of factories in China now manufacture goods that match western quality standards and sometimes even exceed them.
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese manufacturers are increasingly focusing on producing valuable products, developing world-renowned brands and using sophisticated technology.
Though not true of every factory in China, the country’s manufacturing industry as a whole has certainly made progressive strides in recent decades.
With currency revaluation, massive competition, tax reform and the end of VAT rebates, huge numbers of Chinese manufacturers are operating at a loss.
China’s manufacturers cannot continue this race to the bottom and continue to survive. At some point, they will need to shift to higher quality goods at a higher margin.
This shift is already happening in the market as a whole and we have seen individual Chinese companies make this shift as well.
We’ve seen this on the QC side as more Chinese suppliers, independent of their customers, request third-party inspection services. These suppliers value independent oversight that reveals how to improve their quality to better meet their customers’ expectations.
And those of us outside the industry can see this growing emphasis on quality apparent in other ways.
Even some manufacturers in traditionally labor-intensive industries like garment manufacturing say they’ve adopted lean manufacturing practices.
These companies and their advanced manufacturing represent a growing desire throughout China to reach beyond making simple, cheap products.
Its manufacturing sector has matured significantly. Factories have improved their processes, quality control, and worker training over time.
The fact is not only low-quality goods coming out of China, also well-known brands making products that are regarded as high quality and that command high prices.
World class products always have and still are being produced in China. In fact, some Chinese consumer brands are now globally recognised: Huawei, Xiaomi, Haier, Lenovo, DJI, Anker, and Shein.
The first thing you should understand is that, like it or not, there is a demand for low-quality products in different countries, even in the developed west.
Many importers realize that they can get more sales of their products by selling them at a lower price. To do this, they very consciously choose to sacrifice quality.
When you’re making products to sell in the marketplace, you have to consider the tradeoffs between price and quality. Sometimes, producing better quality products can lead to paying a higher price for manufacturing.
Price vs. Quality
You get what you pay for!
Buyer demand for low prices yields poor quality products. Most importers want the highest product quality, while simultaneously pushing their supplier for the lowest possible price.
A reduction in price is almost always met with a similar reduction in the quality of the finished goods. When you demand a lower price for your product, this pressure often forces your supplier to make cuts in the face of lower margins, leading to lower quality products.
Raw materials, labor, electricity, and the maintenance of factory infrastructure such as machinery cost money. A manufacturer will therefore have a price floor – the minimum cost it takes to manufacture that product without compromising on quality.
Sometimes large buyers tend to attempt to beat down the supplier’s price even further, and the supplier may give way, perhaps because of the size of the order.
But remember that an unnatural reduction in price will always have repercussions elsewhere – perhaps in the use of cheaper (and lower quality) raw materials, less skilled factory workers or poor conditions of work. All this has implications on quality. In the long run, this can affect the delivery of your product and your reputation.
Importers most often go to the cheapest supplier, so the supplier who quotes low and quietly cuts corners on quality is the one who wins. Honest suppliers who prefer to quote higher and offer a better quality product lose out. The supplier who obfuscates catches orders first and most often.
Quality is directly proportional to manufacturing cost, while this is the deliberate and secret habit of widening profit margins through a reduction in the quality of materials.
Vague product requirements can be your downfall as an importer
There are many factories in China that can and will make things exactly to your specifications, that’s what they’re meant to do. The problem comes in when you don’t take the time to properly specify every detail of the project.
If you’re like most of us, trying to complete a task without clear direction typically leads to different results than intended. Similarly, importers who don’t adequately clarify product requirements often receive goods that don’t meet their expectations.
Never assume your Chinese supplier understands your product requirements.
It is of the utmost importance that you communicate clearly and provide all your product specifications early on in the process, EVEN if you feel it’s irrelevant. Include all the details such as materials, approved components, dimensions, color, finish, logo artwork, etc. anything and everything.
The more information you provide (and keep a record of) the better your results will be and with it your overall satisfaction in the manufacturing process.
If not, you’ll often receive a product made with the wrong parts or materials or with quality defects or other nonconformities as a consequence.
You might be under the impression that a factory will request additional information on anything they deem unclear, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, most of the time if you don’t explicitly specify, they won’t ask.
If you don’t specify the quality or production standard you want the manufacturing to adhere to it won’t magically happen.
If you insist on low-cost, sub-par materials you’ll get exactly that, it’s as simple as that. This is where China’s bad reputation for substandard quality stems from. Chances are the problem doesn’t lie with the factories’ inability to produce quality products, but rather the result of poor specifications execution.
Without detailed product specifications, you are essentially giving the supplier free rein to switch up materials from one production run to another or modify their manufacturing processes as they see fit.
You create uncertainty about your requirements when you omit details from a purchase order, CAD design or other specification. Your Chinese supplier may take it upon themselves to “fill in the gaps” in response, guessing at what you want, rather than directly asking you to clarify.
As long as you account for it and communicate everything clearly, you put yourself in a good position to get the quality you are looking for.
Other steps that can help you clarify requirements are:
- Communicate with the factory’s QC staff or production manager, rather than relying on a salesperson at a trading company or vendor to relay your requirements.
- Develop a QC checklist with input from your supplier and any QC staff to ensure everyone understands your requirements. A QC checklist not only serves as a guide for your supplier manufacturing your product. It’s also a standard for any inspection staff checking your product at the factory.
- Encouraging your supplier to ask questions if they don’t understand your requirements. Cultural differences might otherwise make your supplier reluctant to ask for clarification when they need it.
How to Ensure Your Product Quality from China?
As with any great plan, the initial set-up stage is the most important. You really want to set a firm foundation so that your processes can run as smooth as clockwork. Skimming over this step could cost you in the long run, so be sure to take every measure possible to ensure a quality product.
It’s not uncommon to find hundreds of factories that have the capabilities to manufacture your product; and all of them will do practically anything to try and win your business.
A good supplier will be someone who produces high-quality products and can deliver your orders on time.
Manufacturers in China can produce your products to a wide range of different quality standards. Essentially, it comes down to the demands you place on them and how willing you are to spend more on better materials and quality control.
It would be better instead to recognize that while you can produce your products in China at a lower cost than in the West and still get good quality, trying to push your costs down too far is going to be counterproductive.
Therefore, it is better to have reasonable expectations and not focus on price as the sole factor guiding all your sourcing decisions.
The successful businesses spend significant time and effort finding and vetting suppliers to ensure their quality standards are met. Another thing to consider is that, when dealing with Chinese factories, it is vital that you communicate exactly what you want to them.
Producing a high-quality product in China requires working with the right suppliers on a basis of mutual respect and not pushing them too much on price.
There is a range of suppliers in China with varying capabilities. To get good quality, importers should provide clear specifications so that they get the exact output they are looking for.
It is essential to go into minute details and to be as clear as possible to make sure that the specifications are correct. Take your time to avoid any mishaps or misunderstandings
Be sure to ask your manufacturer for a sample before the production run begins to be sure of the quality and specifications.
The choice is really up to you
Factories in China sometimes churn out cheap, poor quality products. But many are indeed capable of manufacturing products that are both high tech and high quality. In fact, many importers continue to find success sourcing products from China, even as manufacturing wages continue to climb there.
The next time you’re considering working with a supplier in China, think about how the price you’re asking for might affect quality. If you push for a very low price with a relatively low order quantity, you may be disappointed with poor quality products.
Be clear about your expectations from the beginning and before placing an order. Work with your supplier and QC team to develop a detailed checklist for your product that leaves no questions left unanswered.
And remember, high quality goods are made in China every day – you only have to be willing to pay for them. Hope it’s clear now why these rumors are unfounded, and what you should look out for.
You can check our ebook to learn the whole process of importing, from the very beginning to the end.
CFC News - Jan. 1, 2024
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