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3 pillars to getting quality goods from China

by Etienne Charlier

I am not the first one to mention that pre-shipment inspections are important to securing quality from China. As they say:

You get what you Inspect, not what you Expect !

But pre-shipment inspections are not enough. The inspector you send to your supplier will stop defective products from being shipped to you, and this is good. But after all, not receiving defective goods is not the same as receiving what you order, according to specification and on the time agreed upon.

In order to secure on time delivery of quality goods from Chinese suppliers, you will need to consider 3 areas or 3 pillars:

  1. Select the right supplier;
  2. Take control of quality control;
  3. Put in place the right inspection plan.


1. Select the right supplier

I like to summarize the importance of supplier selection in three sentences.

You will NEVER get quality from a supplier that is not properly equipped to make it, unless it is by incident. Suppliers need to have the right equipment, skills and experience.

You will OCCASIONALLY get quality from a supplier with the right equipment and skills but which as poor processes in places.

You will get INCREASING quality from a good supplier with equipment, skills and processes and which is also willing to cooperate with you on regular improvements.

Welding Poor Equipment and Practice

2. Take control of quality control

As I said earlier, when an inspector rejects a delivery because products are below standard, the good news is that it prevented defective goods from being sent to you. 

But the bad news is that you do not get any goods at all.

It is better to work upstream to further reduce the risk of getting goods below standards instead of just filtering them at the end of the process.

Most buyers purchasing from Western suppliers will “delegate” all quality control activities and planning to the supplier. But in China, it is dangerous to do so. Quality remains the responsibility of the supplier, without any doubt.

But an experienced China purchasers will dig in the details of what actions the supplier has implemented to fulfill this responsibility.

After you select a good supplier, you will want to review the quality control plan the supplier is using as a routine. The review is used to make sure that all aspects are covered.

When some areas are not covered, it is common practice to ask the supplier to add a few control items to the plan. In most case it is really not a problem to have additional controls and to receive reports on the results.

It also allows you to explicitly highlight quality requirements and expectations. Many misunderstanding will be avoided during this step.

3. Put in place the right pre-shipment inspection plan

Once the two previous pillars are covered, you can think of pre-shipment inspections.

The main purpose here is to avoid that the supplier makes sub-standard products, not only to catch poor products before shipment.

When you focus only on catching poor products, it is like subscribing to a full coverage car insurance policy but continuing driving recklessly which leads to lots of accidents.

Beside catching poorly made products, pre-shipment inspections also can have a strong preventive role. When the supplier knows that it will not get away with it, it would be stupid (but not unheard of) to knowingly present poor products for delivery.

In addition, discussing the inspection plan with the supplier is the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

The role of the inspection should include:

  • Review of the supplier routine QC documentation and reports;
  • Do again a range of tests on a sample of the goods;
  • Possibly performing additional tests (material, destructive tests or non destructive tests).


In our experience, there is no shortcut to these three pillars. The difference between very good suppliers and others is that the process will be faster and more straightforward. But skipping one step leads to problem one day or another. See for instance this post on how inspection had picked problem at a factory whose operations were managed by an American.

Bad example: nanjing co for Ireland

Good example: PV pannels that kept improving

Etienne Charlier is the founder of procurAsia and assists companies in sourcing industrial equipment and parts from China.  He writes about sourcing trends and practical tips on his China Industrial Sourcing Blog. Etienne lives in Shanghai since 1995. You can contact him here.


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