What is a Golden Sample and Why Do Importers Need One?

by | Oct 30, 2019 | Product Inspections, Quality Control

Imagine you are importing ceramic mugs from a supplier in a low-cost country like China or Vietnam.

You receive your shipment and begin to examine one of the mugs. As you hold the mug in your hand, you immediately notice that the exterior is a candy red color, when you were actually expecting more of a deep crimson red.

Before you placed the order with the factory, you had viewed one of their samples in crimson red and told them you wanted a color that matched it.

Even after having done so, you did not get the color you expected and you are, needless to say, disappointed.

There are a number of steps you could have taken to avoid getting to this point, one of these steps being the development of a golden sample.

The golden sample is an important aspect of quality control for your product. It’s development, along with other QC measures, helps you get the highest quality possible from your factory.

Let’s talk about what a golden sample is and go over some tips to help you prevent quality blunders.

What is a Golden Sample?

A golden sample (also called an approval sample) is a sample that you receive from your supplier before mass production.

It represents a perfectly-made product that is in full alignment with your product quality standards.

Woman assembling mirror at a factory

Your golden sample should be approved before production

This sample is the result of an approval process and is essentially the “go-ahead” signal for production. The sample approval process works as follows:

  1. The supplier sends you a pre-production sample.
  2. You check the sample and either approve or reject it.
  3. Only after the sample is approved will the supplier start producing the goods.

Once it is completed and approved, it can be compared against all future mass-produced products to determine if they are up to standard.

And if you don’t have one, it becomes harder to actually hold your factory accountable because you don’t have anything to compare your “incorrect” products with.

To ensure quality, you need more than just this sample. An approval sample should be used in conjunction with

  • Clear product specifications
  • Third-party quality inspections

Let’s talk about your specifications and why they are important.

Product Specifications: You Need More Than Just a Golden Sample

When it comes to dealing with your manufacturers, specificity is key.

Many low-cost country manufacturers are notorious for underdelivering if you don’t hold them accountable, as they can sometimes be more focused on short-term gains than they are on long-term customer relationships.

This leads to the phenomenon of quality fade, which is a gradual degradation in the quality of a product over time.

Perhaps everything in your first shipment is fine.

But over time, cheaper materials are substituted in and you don’t notice until, one day, a larger problem manifests itself like a product recall or a rash of customer returns.

Product specifications help you to combat this problem.

By defining every detail about your product in an official document, no excuses can be made when a shipment doesn’t meet your standards.

Specifications tend to cover things such as:

  • Volume
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Measurements
  • Components
  • Materials
  • Colors
  • Printing Details

Once all aspects of your product are specified and you have an approval sample, you now have two important tools that can be used during third-party inspections.

So, what are these inspections, why are they important, and how do they work?

Third-Party Quality Inspections: What You Need to Know

Say that you have your golden sample and you have detailed specifications, and then you receive a shipment that doesn’t meet your standards.

Now, what do you do?

Man using calipers to measure jewelry

Pre-shipment inspections allow you to verify product quality

Well, it’s not feasible to just send it back across the ocean, ask your factory to remake your order or ask for a refund.

In reality, there is little to no chance that any of these things will happen, so you need a way to check your order before it ships.

This is where a Pre-Shipment Inspection, also called a Final Random Inspection (FRI), comes in.

A Pre-Shipment Inspection is a type of third-party quality inspection that is very common in low-cost countries.

Once your order has been produced, you hire a neutral, third-party inspector to travel to the factory to check on the condition of the goods.

They will use an inspection checklist, which you have worked with them to prepare in advance of placing your order.

They will essentially compare the items in your order to your product specifications and golden sample to ensure that the goods produced are in line with your requirements.

That way, if there is a problem, you can discuss solutions with the supplier, or if there is no problem, you can accept the order and it will be shipped to you.

There are other types of product inspections as well, and these can be conducted at various stages of the manufacturing process. But the pre-shipment/final random inspection is the most common type.

In addition to inspections, you should also consider conducting lab tests, as these can help you catch some things that inspections can’t.

Now that we’ve introduced these ideas, let’s recap.

Your Golden Sample Plays Helps Ensure Product Quality

A golden sample is made by your factory and represents a perfect example, quality-wise, of your product.

It needs to be approved by you prior to the start of the production process. Together with your product specifications, it gives you something to hold your factory accountable to.

Your approval sample can be used during third-party quality inspections to verify the condition of an individual order. If you’d like to learn more about third-party inspections, we recommend reading the following white paper.

Free Guide to Third-Party Product Inspections

When hiring manufacturers in developing countries, it is much more difficult to manage product quality.

Working with a third-party inspection company helps you to ensure the safety of consumers, minimize returns, and maintain your good brand image. In this guide, you will learn 7 things all importers need to know about these inspections.

*Note: This article was originally published in January of 2017 and has since been updated

Thanks for reading! Do you have any questions about the article? Is there something else you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

Andy Church

Founder & CEO, Insight Quality Services


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