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The Quality Issue

Welcome to the launch of Sell-Bent, your gateway to building a better consumer goods company. Every edition, we’ll share stories, insights, and expertise on a topic critical to the industry. This issue: the importance of quality assurance and making sure the products you deliver truly deliver.

 

By Maxwell McKenna

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Your customers expect the best. Here are 5 steps to build a strong quality assurance program and become more effective at preventing the defective.

Everyone’s been there. You buy a product that you’re excited to use, and then, when you need it, it fails to live up to its claims. Total headache. But for a business owner, one defective item can potentially set off a torrent of torment: a batch that has to be recalled, poor reviews that affect customer acquisition and loyalty, and even additional rounds of production. Fortunately, a strong quality assurance program can save the day, catching defective products before they ever ship to your customers.

 

If you don’t have a program in place, fear not: Axel Gonzalez has your back. Thrasio’s senior director of quality assurance and sustainability shares 5 steps to get you started.

Mixology cocktail shaker setStep 1: Know what makes your products fly off the shelves

Form, fit, and function are the key components that make your products valuable in your customers’ eyes, and a defect in any one of those areas can derail your hopes of sparking customer glee. Quality assurance is all about protecting and preserving these traits. At Thrasio, we define them as:

  • Form: Your product’s aesthetics, or the combination of its unique physical characteristics
  • Fit: Your product’s mechanics, or how the components interconnect and work together
  • Function: Your product’s ability to deliver value as promised, or how well it does what it’s supposed to do

Take, for example, the premium 10-piece bartender set Thrasio sells through our Mixology & Craft brand. It’s a showpiece with a premium price point. As such, its form can’t have scratches, dirty marks, or any flaws in its shape. Its strainer has to snugly fit inside the shaker so that no liquid leaks, while each piece must also fit in the display stand. And in order to meet Mixology & Craft’s goal of creating delicious cocktails, the shakers need to function as closed vessels that allow you to quickly mix ingredients together while simultaneously chilling the drink. This bartender set needs to bring your dreams of perfect libations to life.

Take some time to think about how form, fit, and function apply to your products. Literally make a list. This is the start of your quality assurance program, how you’ll begin to understand which attributes need to be assessed and tested. Depending on the complexity of your product, it could be a long list. But by clearly identifying what really matters to your products early on, you’ll set yourself up for a smooth operation and strong defense against trouble down the road.

"Product defects can cause rejections at Amazon" quote

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mixology & craft cocktail shaker being usedStep 2: Call the shots with a quality playbook

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to test for, you need a resource to guide you through the process. Enter the quality acceptance document.

“The quality acceptance document is essentially the playbook that you will use to carry out your product inspections,” Gonzalez notes.

Read more

Picture a playbook for an NFL team. At its most basic, you’ll have your coaching staff and players (or, who’s leading and conducting the testing process), your schedule (how often you test), and your gameplan (how you’ll conduct tests). Instead of using Xs and Os and other visual aids to run your plays, however, you’ll use pictures that help you tell which products will pass a quality check, which will fail, and why. The playbook will also outline the sample sizes you’ll test and define what percentage of defective products will signal the need to reject a whole batch.

Use your written explanation of ideal form, fit, and function to identify what imperfections to test for. These will fall into 1 of 3 categories: minor defect, major defect, or critical defect. For example, a scratch on a cocktail shaker might be considered a minor defect, while a warped shaker that doesn’t fit inside the other shaker could be deemed a critical defect. The amount of defects you find in your sample size will give you an idea about whether you can ship your products, need to do additional testing, or have to – sigh – reject the batch outright.

You can then come up with your own sample sizes and rejection thresholds, but the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also has a standardized acceptance quality limit (AQL) sampling system for inspection by attributes. The AQL chart can be used to provide information and guidance on inspection levels, rejection thresholds, and sample sizes for individual shipments.

Step 3: Circle up with your supplier

If this seems like a lot, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t want to go it alone when creating a quality acceptance document. Incorporate your supplier into the process.

“It only makes sense that your supplier agrees to everything in the document so that both parties are on the same page in terms of what is and is not acceptable,” Gonzalez says.

By having quality standards clearly laid out and agreed upon ahead of time, you reduce the risk of having a drawn-out dispute with your supplier over an unsatisfactory batch of product.

Striking the right balance on quality assurance can also be tricky. You have to take a bit of a Goldilocks approach with it. Too strict and you run the risk of rejecting too much product, which can lead to delays and stockouts. Too lax and defective products can end up making their way to customers, paving the way for negative reviews. Knowing early on what is realistic for your supplier to achieve from a quality standpoint can save you a lot of time and money down the road.

Oh … and if you’ve never built a quality acceptance document before, no problem.
Templates to help structure your document are available online.

Step 4: Find a first-class inspection company to work with

Gonzalez strongly advises against relying on your manufacturer to carry out product inspections on your behalf. “You want an impartial inspector,” he says. “You need to insist on it. Otherwise, you can be left with a supplier who cuts corners when it comes to quality assurance in the hopes of avoiding rejects.” But, Gonzalez adds, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a solid third-party inspection company to partner with.

Availability

Third-party inspection companies need to be available on short notice. Our partner promises to have an agent on site and ready to conduct an inspection, anywhere in continental Asia, within 24 hours. This kind of flexibility is invaluable, as it minimizes delays across our vast network of suppliers. But even if you only have a few suppliers, if the past 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that unexpected delays and last-minute changes are a fact of life. Knowing that your third-party inspection company has the flexibility to swiftly react to these changes is a huge value-add.

Access to Sophisticated Online Portals

Find an inspection company with top-notch technology platforms that allow you to quickly and easily access all of your inspection reports across your suppliers in real time. That’s especially helpful if you’ve got a lot of suppliers (and thus a lot of inspection reports).

Strong Reporting Capabilities

Your third-party inspection company should be aligned with the material in your quality acceptance document. After all, they’ll be the ones carrying out the inspections. In their reports, data should be presented clearly and succinctly, allowing you to make quick, informed decisions on which products are ready to ship. A good inspection report will begin with a summary of the main findings, followed by detailed information to support those assessments. When vetting third-party inspection companies, it’s not a bad idea to ask them for sample reports to get a feel for how they present data.

Step 5: Don’t rest until you schedule tests

Schedule inspections as soon as your products come off the line – the sooner the better. Why? That gives you time to course correct if there’s a problem. You don’t want to be caught with insufficient inventory because of extended retesting time frames or full-batch rejections.

 

It’s important to remember

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to quality assurance. Every product is unique. Even 2 sellers who sell a similar product may have different ideas about what quality testing should look like. And that’s OK. You’re taking steps that give your products the best chance to arrive on the doorsteps of your customers – exactly how they expect them to be.

Mixology & Craft Black Metal and Bamboo Cocktail Set
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