How to Fix Quality Issues with Mass Production of Ecommerce Products

Quality improvement

In a recent blog, we talked about the different components of mass production when it comes to developing your own product. While knowing the process of developing a new product or customizing an existing product is helpful, actually producing products is far more challenging. In particular, what course of action do you take when you run into a quality issue during production?

EcommOps has found that many of the DTC brand owners in our network aren’t sure how to address quality issues, while many others aren’t entirely convinced that certain quality issues need to be addressed. We’ve helped dozens of businesses manage factory relationships, which has included making sure quality control procedures are followed (and addressing unexpected issues as they arise). 

Improve quality

In this article, we’ll talk about why improving product quality is important (even if it’s small, incremental improvements). We’ll also talk about why quality control is a common problem in ecommerce (especially for selling existing problems), common quality problems to look out for, and how to work with your fulfillment partner to improve overall product quality.

Why Improving Product Quality Is Important

Improving product quality is crucial, especially if you’re addressing known issues that you know can be fixed. The effort or resources needed to improve a product may dissuade you from pursuing solutions, but there are several, core reasons that your business should remain focused on improving product quality:

Improving Product Quality Reduces Refunds

Every refund requested by customers means a direct loss to your gross revenue, and product quality is a huge reason why customers decide that their purchase isn’t worth the price. If a customer initiates a refund, there’s not really a way to recoup the total cost associated with having sold the product. 

Your supplier could offer you a refund, but it only refunds the direct cost of what you paid them for it. It doesn’t cover shipping, and it certainly doesn’t refund you on the ad costs associated with pushing a low-quality product. In fact, getting a lot of customer buzz for a defective product can punish you through high rates of negative customer feedback. 

You need to reduce your refund rate as much as possible, and improving quality issues is a great way to make sure customers don’t want to return your product. Even incremental improvements (like a 0.5% reduction in your refund rate), can add up to a huge amount over the long run.

increase ecommerce product quality to reduce refunds

For example, let’s say you sell 50,000 units of a $25 product with a 3% refund rate. That works out to:

(50,000 x .03) x 25 = $37,500 in lost gross revenue. 

If you run the same numbers again, but this time with a reduced refund rate of 2.5% return rate, you get:

(50,000 x .025) x 25 = $31,250 in lost gross revenue. 

And if you end up selling your product long term, that incremental improvement ends up netting you tens of thousands of dollars over the long run. 

High-Quality Products Reduce Operational Costs

As the old adage goes, time is money, and having a high-quality product saves you time (which is saving you money!). Frequent customer complaints means you have to invest more into customer service, and even if you convince a customer to not initiate a refund (or you convince your supplier to resend the product for free), the time required to do so still adds considerable cost to your operations. 

Investing in a high-quality product means you have to spend less time trying to pacify unhappy customers, which reduces your overall operational costs. 

A Product with a Reputation for High Quality Can Drive Sales

Sales improve with product quality improvements

The numbers we provided above showed even small improvements can help your business make tens of thousands of dollars more, but it didn’t consider how improved quality improves the reputation of your product. Having a high-quality product (especially one that is notably better than generic competitors) can boost your sales and revenues. 

Big brands really start to bring in high revenue through repeat purchases and recommendations of their products (or their overall brand). This only happens with good products, which is why it’s so important to make sure that what you’re selling is as high quality as possible.

Why Product Quality Is a Common Problem in Ecommerce

So, if product quality is so important, then why is quality such a common problem in ecommerce? New brands know that it’s common for generic products (like those found on AliExpress) to have quality issues. This is especially true if the products are newer to the market. 

Let’s take a look at why product quality is a common problem with ecommerce:

Low Cost Product Driven by Customer Pressure for Cheap Products

A lot of ecommerce products are low-cost because customers love cheap products. That means there’s a lot of pressure on factories to make products as cheap as possible (but factories still need to be able to make money on what they make!). 

Sometimes, because of this pressure, factories end up taking regular versions of products and downgrading them, which they often do by using cheaper and cheaper materials, cutting corners on processes, and anything else that can reduce cost. The result is an increasingly low-quality product that’s prone to substantial problems. 

Lack of Pressure to Improve and Product Feedback Problems

Aliexpress products

AliExpress or platforms using AliExpress to sell generic products don’t tend to work with specific clients very long or handle large amounts of fulfillment volume, and factories are keenly aware of this. If they know they’re only going to make a small batch of products and then be done with a client, they aren’t really incentivized to invest in product improvements like they would be with a long-term business partner. 

In fact, it’s rare for factories to be managed directly at all outside of a formal partnership. Instead, the factories are making products as-is, selling them to platforms or other trade companies, which are then sold directly to ecommerce brands. There’s no pipeline for feedback, which makes addressing quality issues challenging. 

Common Quality Issues in Ecommerce (and How to Catch Problems)

You may know that quality issues can be common, but you may not be aware of specifically what to be on the lookout for (especially if you plan on going through an exhaustive product development phase). There’s a lot of quality issues you’ll come across, but here are some of the most common we see for ecommerce brands:

  • Cheap quality materials: For example, using a fabric that looks great in pictures but is cheap and low-quality when customers get their hands on it.
  • Shoddy construction: Maybe you have great materials, but the pieces aren’t put together well (or fabric isn’t sewn together), which causes the product to quickly break apart. 
  • Poor tolerance tooling: Your tools don’t make good components. For example, plastic pieces that don’t fit together perfectly. 
  • Low-quality electronic components: For example, cutting corners with a cheaper battery

As you can imagine, these issues can ruin a product run for your business, so it’s crucial that these common problems (and others) are caught before major production issues. The best way to catch quality issues before they become major challenges is by implementing and enforcing quality control protocols. 

Quality Control Is Crucial for Mass  Production

Quality control process for mass production

Lack of solid quality control processes are common with lower cost factories or when factories are too rushed to make a product. Any legitimate production must have a quality control cycle at the end of production. Legitimate productions also need quality control staff to enforce standards before you even think about fulfilling customer orders (or pushing sales for new products). 

Any 3PL you partner with should have some kind of quality control process. For example, EcommOps’s process involves making sure a product matches the specifications provided by our clients. We may even take photos or videos and send those to clients to make sure that the products match expectations. 

Some Product Issues Can Only Be Caught Through Customer Use

Regardless of how strict your quality control processes are, some product issues can and will slip through. Some quality problems can only be caught through customer use (for example, a product is perfect except for a major battery issue that only presents after a few uses). A pipeline for customer feedback is crucial in resolving these kinds of issues. 

It’s good practice to track customer feedback (like in a spreadsheet) so you can document everything customers say. It makes it easier to see the difference between random, one-off defects in a single unit and a pattern of problems that indicates a design or quality problem. When you find patterns, you can pinpoint production issues and resolve them. 

Remember, Defective Products Will Persist

Pattern of issues

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can find and address all possible issues. It simply isn’t feasible. Sometimes products just break and it has nothing to do with your production process (maybe a particular shipment got jostled extra hard during shipping). Even Walmart allows for a 2% defect rate over rolling 90 days. 

The key is to make sure you have a system set up where you can distinguish intermittent product defects and a pattern of issues. A pattern of issues can be easily identified and resolved while providing the return on investment you expect when tackling production issues.

How to Enhance Product Quality

Resolved issues

Even though quality problems can be common, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. There are several steps you can take to avoid problems in the first place, as well as more thoroughly addressing production issues as they arise:

Avoid Issues at the Start of the Sourcing Process

One of the easiest ways to avoid production issues is to make the right decisions at the very beginning of the sourcing process (when you are choosing a factory). Whether you are choosing yourself, or you’re working with a sourcing specialist to help, you should make sure to:

  • Source from established, large factories (when possible).
  • Choose factories that already have good quality control processes in place.
  • Always request samples (this is especially true if you are developing your own product, but you should always request samples as part of betting a factory).

If you plan on partnering with a 3rd party for help finding a factory, we recommend choosing a partner that:

  • Is relatively big scale (they are accustomed to negotiating high order volumes from factories).
  • Has established relationships with high-quality factories. 

For EcommOps clients, we have existing factory relationships that may be a great match for the kinds of products our clients need.

Problem solving

Don’t Assume Problems Can’t Be Resolved

The last thing you should do is assume a specific production problem can’t be resolved. Almost any identified issue can be fixed, it’s just a matter of the cost and/or effort needed. Whether you’re working directly with your factory or using a sourcing specialist or fulfillment partner to help manage the factory, you should feel confident to bring up production issues. 

First, you need to pinpoint exactly what the issues are. This makes fixing problems more efficient, which means they are cheaper to fix. Be prepared to:

  • Provide customer descriptions of product problems (if applicable)
  • Pictures or photos of the problems in question (if applicable)
  • Be as exact and precise as possible in communications regarding the issues. 

Factories Want to Retain Good Clients

Don’t feel shy about presenting your problems to factories. Factories like good, long-term clients, and if you present direct requests for reasonable improvements, factories are often happy to address them. There might be an MOQ or additional cost, depending on the specific quality issue, but this isn’t always the case, and this shouldn’t prevent you from asking for production improvements. 

Sourcing Specialists and Fulfillment Partners May Need Managed

Once you identify specific issues and how to address them in your quality control processes, your sourcing or fulfillment partner may need coaching. Tell them exactly what they should be looking for (especially if the issue isn’t visibly obvious). Don’t say to check for quality, tell them you’ve had specific issues with X or Y and to specifically look for those problems. 

Track Problem Batches to Ensure Issues Have Been Fixed

Fixing production issues isn’t always as simple as identifying a problem and implementing a solution. Sometimes, solutions don’t work the way you think they might, and other times, the solution wasn’t appropriately implemented. You need to keep track of batches of products that were “fixed” to see if the issues have improved or have been resolved. 

If Sourcing Specialist or Fulfillment Partners Don’t Help, Find Someone New

If a sourcing specialist or a fulfillment partner advertises that they manage factories but aren’t helping resolve factory issues, don’t be afraid to look for a new partner. Remember, not all problems can be fixed, but your 3rd party partner should at least be making an effort to improve product quality and providing logical reasons why a fix may or may not be feasible (for example, it may require improvements that are too costly). 

EcommOps: Leveraging China Fulfillment for Product Improvement

As a 3PL specializing in China fulfillment, EcommOps is uniquely positioned to help clients make faster product improvements because of the turnaround speed that China fulfillment provides. Lead times between factories and our fulfillment center are just a few days, and fulfillment times to customers from China are, on average, 5-8 business days. 

We leverage that speed for rapid product improvements, and our process is outlined below:

If you’d like to see how China fulfillment can be leveraged for your business, we’d love to connect. Fill out our online form and our team will review your business. We pride ourselves in helping DTC ecommerce businesses add flexibility to their supply chains, and will also provide you with options to help improve product quality, if needed.

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