There was an article in the Shanghai English Language paper recently about defective products being sold in Shanghai stores. Apparently about 40% of the apparel sold in Shanghai area dept stores reveals defects, everything from excessive formaldehyde to misleading labels. A sweater, for example, was described as 100% wool but it turned out to have only about 20% wool content. The same old China song and dance in other words. Still I was a bit surprised to read this kind of story because over the years the quality of product made in China has gotten much better as overseas importers have imposed stricter requirements on their Chinese suppliers and as a growing and more affluent Chinese middle class has come to demand higher quality from domestic vendors. The story illustrates however that the Made in China brand is still plagued by the quality problems that have been associated with Chinese products over the last 30 years. In other words you can never take your guard down when you manufacture in China. You still have to test your products at regular intervals and make sure your vendor knows your standards and is maintaining quality and safety standards. Here is the link to the article
I had an inquiry today from someone who wants to move their CPG ( Consumer Packaged Good) production from the US to China. They want to ship CIF which stands for Cost Insurance and Freight. In a CIF transaction the supplier/exporter is responsible for assigning a carrier/vessel and insuring the cargo. Once the vessel lands at the destination port the buyer/importer takes possession. The main advantage to doing a China order CIF, as opposed to FOB ( Free on Board) is that the supplier handles all the shipping arrangements for you. You simply have to pick up the cargo when it arrives and arrange for transportation to your warehouse. In theory CIF reduces the work load on the importer and may seem like the ideal arrangement for a first time importer who has no experience with international shipping, which can be quite complicated. The downside to CIF however is considerable. Your product will cost more because you are asking your supplier to bear more responsibility and not surprisingly most suppliers will look at a CIF proposal as an opportunity to pad their margins. In addition, you lose transparency on the real cost of your product. The real cost of your product is what it costs to make and package your product. Not what it costs to ship your product ( which is landed cost and which varies depending on a number of factors). You will also have no control over shipping. If yours is not a time-sensitive order then CIF might be OK. But if you need your product shipped on a timely basis, to fulfill orders, you will be taking a big risk because you will have no control over transit times and carriers. In fact, your supplier may not choose the best carrier but the carrier who offers them the most preferential terms. Your supplier will act in their best interests, not yours.
With an FOB order, on the other hand, the importer, working with a Logistics company, has complete control over shipping. If problems arise you can work quickly with the carrier directly to resolve them. The downside to FOB is that, yes, you need a Shipping or Logistics Company to help you arrange shipping. This is of course another cost, one of the hidden costs to overseas sourcing. But you have to look at it as one of the necessary costs and you should be prepared to bear it.
In the end your expenditure will probably be the same, whether you allow your supplier to arrange shipping, resulting in a higher unit cost for your product, or whether you enlist the help of a Logistics company to help you arrange shipping and handle documentation. It is when problems arise that you are far better off with your own shipping agent as opposed to trying to resolve problems with an anonymous shipping company that has been selected by your supplier.
I have had a lot of requests lately from people asking me to help them source in China, everything from kids clothing to electronic toys. I do not take on just any product and usually if I am not interested in a project then I just point the person to a sourcing company in China who might be able to help them. And the other day this was the case with a person who came to me asking me to help them source some smoking paraphernalia in China. Not only am I opposed to smoking but I know nothing about it and for this reason I was not interested in accepting the project. But the guy seemed nice enough and judging by the drawings he sent to me he is far along in his product development and is very serious about taking his product to market. So I gave him the name of my contact in China but I also gave him some parting advice. That advice was simply to inspect his orders BEFORE they left China. This is the advice I give everyone but it occurred to me in that instant, when I was just thinking about one piece of useful advice I could offer someone who was about to start sourcing in China, that, yes, checking your orders before they ship from China is the only way you can guarantee that your vendor is delivering to you what you have paid for. If you inspect an order in China and you don’t like what you see you can ask the vendor to redo the order or you can just walk away. The most you stand to lose is your 30% deposit. The analogy I always use when explaining this to people is the shoe analogy. When you buy a pair of shoes the last thing you do at the register, before the sale is rung up and you take the shoes home, is to open the box to make sure the two shoes in the box are the same size, and that you have one left shoe and one right shoe. And this is exactly what you have to do when you have an order shipping from China: Verify.
The one caveat is that small companies or start ups operating on a budget do not have 5K to spend on a one week trip to China to inspect an order. Or they may not see it as good business sense to spend 5K to go inspect an order, the value of which may be less than the cost of the trip to China itself. This is understandable until you figure that if that order goes badly then you will not only lose your investment but may lose customers and your business as well, assuming you have taken orders that you will not be able to fulfill. I have one on and off client who got a bad order from China and four years later he is still selling off the defective product after repairing everything himself, piece by piece. I imagine it has also cost him a little money to warehouse the product, one container’s worth, in that time. And this is what I mean when I tell people to take the broad view and to always see China sourcing as a long term strategy. You may operate on razor thin margins at first or may even lose money but if this helps you get quality product to your customers and build your business it is probably worth it.