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Spec sheets: Defining quality as an industry outsider

by Fredrik Grönkvist 

 

Spec Sheet

China has evolved into an increasingly sophisticated production hub. While MNCs in certain industries might consider other manufacturing bases, China (and Guangdong province in particular) has never been more attractive to e-commerce companies and hardware Startups. On the other end of the supply chain, Amazon.com and Shopify are making it easier and faster than ever to gain market access.

‘Who is an Industry outsider?’

In this ‘gold rush’, the doors are essentially open to anyone, including the industry outsider – a company or individuals without any previous experience in the industry. Think bankers going sportswear designers. The industry outsider is largely unaware of how ‘quality’ is defined for their product. Meanwhile, they tend to assume that the supplier is responsible for ensuring a certain, perhaps imaginary and undefined, quality standard.

This could not be more wrong. Knowing what defines the quality of your product is the key to prevent quality issues in the first place. In my experience, a lack of clear specifications is, by far, the most common reason for severe quality issues. As compared to, say, deliberate usage of substandard components and intentional quality fade.

To help you prevent this from happening, we explain how you can identify all relevant technical specifications for your product, using spec sheets on Alibaba.com and Amazon. We also explain how you, in turn, can use the spec sheet to identify various quality and product customization options. But first, let’s recap on why a spec sheet is where every product begins and ends.

Why is it important to identify product specifications and quality options?

In contract manufacturing, it’s not the supplier’s responsibility to define and ensure quality. To anyone with an engineering or industry background, this is fairly obvious. However, industry outsiders often lack technical understanding of the product they intend to develop, and must therefore learn how product quality is defined, from scratch. Quality is, in turn, defined by the specification sheet.

Hence, the first step is to identify all relevant specifications, and then let the manufacturer respond to each one. Don’t assume that the supplier communicates all relevant specifications. They might have their own reasons for not communicating certain aspects, or simply be unaware. By letting the supplier ‘fill in the gaps’, you expose your business to the risk of severe quality issues due to misunderstandings, or due to usage of low quality components.

1. Research specification sheets on GlobalSources and Alibaba

alibaba spec sheet

Suppliers on Alibaba.com and GlobalSources.com tend to publish very extensive specification sheets. However, the detail varies, and some suppliers leave certain specs out. Review specification sheets from as many suppliers as possible, preferably fifteen to twenty, to draft a full list. Supplier spec sheets can also reveal various quality options (i.e., materials or components), and give a hint about applicable product standards and regulations (i.e., RoHS).

2. Research specification sheets on Amazon.com, Ebay and Online stores

Amazon

As a complement to Alibaba.com, detailed specification sheets can often be found on Amazon.com, Ebay and smaller Online stores. For natural reasons, spec sheets on Amazon.com and other B2C sites are not as detailed as those presented on B2B directories. However, they may still reveal certain technical details and regulatory requirements.

3. Request spec sheets and quotations from selected manufacturers

Once you have drafted a list reference specification sheet, you must research the various options (one or more) available for each specification. Request the suppliers to quote what they consider as ‘low, medium and high quality’ – which in turn is reflected by the quoted price. Provide a full list of specifications to which the supplier must respond. Below follows a simple (and far from complete) spec sheet for an E27 LED bulb light:

SpecificationsSKU A: Low QualitySKU B: Medium QualitySKU C: High Quality
Base TypeE27E27E27
Light SourceSMD 2835SMD 2835SMD 2835
Power5W7W9W
Lifetime30000 h40000 h50000 h
Lumens600 lm600 lm800 lm
RoHSNoYesYes
EMCNoYesYes
LVDNoNoYes
Price$2.7$3.25$3.85

Request quotations from at least five to six different suppliers. Also remember to communicate your compliance requirements, as this has a major impact on the unit price.


Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on www.chinaimportal.com, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on www.chinaimportal.com/contact-us/.

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