Is the Quality of Products Made in China Really That Bad?

by | Aug 19, 2019 | Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, Quality Control

There is a common perception in the West that China only makes poor quality goods.

This is evidenced by the fact that there is no shortage of Internet memes like the one you see below.

Car Crashes into Bicycle and Only Car Gets Damaged

Internet Meme

Sure, there are poor-quality goods made in China and other low-cost countries like Vietnam, India, or Bangladesh.

But memes like this one don’t necessarily reflect the level of nuance needed to understand the situation.

While there are low-quality goods coming out of China, there are also well-known brands like Apple, Coach, and Armani making products that are regarded as high quality and that command high prices.

If you design a widget and want to have it manufactured in China, you can make low-quality widgets or high-quality widgets. The choice is really up to you.

The manufacturing sector in China has changed significantly over time.

Chinese Manufacturing Has Evolved Over Time: This Is How

China has often been referred to as the world’s factory.

That’s because, over the last 30+ years, the country has gone from an agricultural economy to the world’s leading manufacturer.

According to The Economist, as of 2015, “China produces about 80% of the world’s air-conditioners, 70% of its mobile phones and 60% of its shoes.”

Its manufacturing sector has matured significantly. Factories have improved their processes, quality control, and worker training over time.

When labor was cheaper, a plastics factory could afford to quickly push out high volumes of plastic parts from their injection molding machines with a high rate of defects. Then they would have workers manually trim and rework them as needed.

As Chinese labor costs have risen, that same factory has had to adapt by operating more efficiently. By focusing on producing better quality from the beginning, they can skip the manual rework that used to be required.

The factory owners and managers also might have realized at some point that they could reorganize the layout of their factory to ensure more lean and efficient operations.

They also would have become more aware of the quality standards and typical requirements of working with companies in the countries they export to.

The reality is that, as an importer, if you want to produce very high-quality products in China like Apple does, there is nothing standing in your way.

So Why Do So Many Low-Quality Products Still Come Out of China?

The first thing you should understand is that, like it or not, there is a demand for low-quality products in Western countries.

Many Western retail brands 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.

Gloved hands holding calipers to measure jewelry

A quality inspector using calipers to inspect jewelry

As a buyer going to China, you will find factories that 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.

If you come to the factory and say, “I want you to make the highest-quality products for me and I want you to produce them at rock-bottom, below-market costs,” you are starting things off on the wrong foot.

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.

You get what you pay for.

Therefore, it is better to have reasonable expectations and not focus on price as the sole factor guiding all your sourcing decisions.

Another thing to consider is that, when dealing with Chinese factories, it is vital that you communicate exactly what you want to them.

Not Communicating Everything Can Be Your Downfall as an Importer

There are many factories in China that can and will make things exactly to your specifications.

The problem comes in when you don’t take the time to properly specify every detail of the project.

We have a saying in the quality industry that “quality begins with the buy.”

This essentially means that an importer needs to proactively take steps to ensure quality by providing a detailed bill of materials (BOM) and specification sheet. It also means you need to have an approval sample.

Setting the proper expectations is key to getting the results you want.

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.

The phenomena of quality fade is a real concern in low-cost countries. 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.

Another thing to communicate to a supplier is that you will conduct third-party inspections.

Rather than strictly relying on the factory’s internal QC processes, having your own QC processes in place helps hold them accountable. Conducting third-party product inspections at the factory from time to time keeps a supplier on their toes.

Brands that don’t apply this kind of light pressure are more likely to see issues than those that do.

It Falls on the Brand to Ensure Product Quality

Each brand has a responsibility to decide how important product quality is 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.

Finally, brands should consider holding factories accountable with third-party quality control.

Brands that don’t do these things should not be surprised when consumers don’t view their products as high quality.

Price vs. Quality: What You Need to Know

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.

Download our free white paper, Price vs. Quality, to learn how to produce great quality while keeping your costs low.

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