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Importers should not rely too much on Chinese suppliers

by Renaud Anjoran

As I wrote before, it is the buyer’s responsibility to pay for independent quality control before shipment.

When this is not the case, the importer is relying totally on his Chinese suppliers… and is taking maximum risks.

In this article I am pasting (with permission) the story of a buyer who did this mistake. His problems would probably have been caught with a standard QC inspection in the factory (provided the factory has a few basic testing instruments) and/or a few laboratory tests.

Early in 2012 I was looking to develop some new signage products to take advantage of LED lighting which didn’t require bulky drivers, allowing me to design a more compact product. I had already been using 12 V LED strip for some time (with drivers), but my 12 V supplier was unable to produce what I was looking for. Samples were obtained from a few other manufacturers which didn’t quite fit the bill, and then I came across Leomay on the Alibaba web site. As a gold member, they looked the part, and to my pleasure, my contact Linda seemed very knowledgeable. After informing her of my technical requirements, she came back with a basic specification which included us paying for a bespoke PCB which would allow them to create a new LED strip which was bright enough for our applications, and operated on mains voltage thus eliminating the need for drivers.

Lesson 1: a “gold member” status on Alibaba means the supplier pays and appears higher up in the search pages. More about this here.

Initial samples were excellent, albeit when in use they were getting warmer than we would have liked. We were confident enough to go ahead and design our aluminium extrusions around the basic spec, thinking that we could iron out any difficulties by the time we wanted to launch the products. Prototypes were made and exhibited at a sign exhibition, advertisements were placed in sign magazines and brochures printed.

Lesson 2: pre-production samples are not indicative of production average quality. Don’t feel confident if samples look good.

Lesson 3: “ironing out any difficulties by the time we wanted to launch the products” is not a good idea. Once the green light is given for production, it is way too late.

Having asked for the specification to be revised to deal with the operating temperature issue, and to have CE and ROHS certification carried out, we were eager to place an order. We were told this would take 10 days. A pro-forma invoice was paid for the first order.

Lesson 4: the certificates handed to you by Chinese suppliers are just pieces of paper. By default, that’s how you should look at them. More about this here.

All went well, the first shipment arrived, and the product seemed well made, so we began to sell the new systems built around the LEDs. One of our main clients then wanted to use this strip on a major contract for a shopping center chain in Europe. We placed an order for a second batch of the LED strip, but this time delivery was late, and our client’s engineers were already on-site waiting, so the LEDs had to be basically sent out as soon as they came in. The client tested the LEDs before fitting, and were soon on the phone to us advising that many of the rectifiers and connectors were incorrectly wired, with the blue cable being live rather than neutral. The rectifiers were supposed to be for outdoor use, but indoor ones had been fitted. We had been told that 100 metres of the LED strip could be run from one rectifier, but when my client complained about rectifiers getting very hot running only 60 metres, Leomay responded that they should run only 50 metres, which was then changed to 15 metres from one rectifier. The LEDs were returned to me, and I had to pay compensation to my client, and also lost any future LED business from them, including that of my 12 V system which had had no issues.

Lesson 5: check your product’s quality and safety before shipment, and ask the factory to re-work if necessary. The very worst is to let products reach the customers without any confirmation that they are acceptable.

It then turned out that there had been a problem with the first batch of strip also, in that the resistors on the strip were suited for 110-220 V operation, when the UK operates at 240 V. The 240 V operation had been made plain all the way through the specification stage. All the jobs fitted with the first batch started to burn out, and had to be replaced with our 12 V LEDs at great expense and trouble to us.

Leomay agreed to take back the LEDs and refund our payment, but this never went ahead, and they soon became impossible to contact.

Lesson 6: at the very least, get production samples and test them in your office before authorizing shipment.

Lesson 7: sending defective products back to China for repair or reimbursement just does not happen. There is no return policy!

Any other lesson applies to this case?

Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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