“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” --Steve Jobs
As a consumer, is there anything better than finding a really great product or brand that suits you perfectly? It’s the exact fabric you love, or it’s an incredible value. It’s built like a tank, or it has a compartment for everything. Whatever you love, there’s a reason you love it.
When you break it down, it’s easy to see that all of those reasons come down to quality in one way or another.
After working at Amazon for several years, primarily with vendors and directly with factories, I got into consulting for Amazon sellers. Helping individual sellers and new brands to get things done the way Amazon expects them to be done.
Honestly, I have been totally astounded at the huge swaths of missing procedure and process in most private label businesses that I’ve consulted for, or taken over management of.
I can practically hear the groans already… “Policy? Processes and procedures?? UGH…” I know… really it’s not all that interesting, sexy, or engaging. But it is really, really important.
And if implemented properly, with your target customer in mind, the results where the integrity of your product (and therefore your brand) is concerned will be quite interesting indeed, I guarantee you!
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But right now let’s talk about implementing a quality testing program within your new product development pipeline. The unsexy part.
On our quality testing journey today, we’re going to use three customer avatars and target products as examples:
Cher, a 16 year old with a limited budget and an affinity for shiny silver embellishments.
Bill, an older gentleman who is an audiophile and is trying to find the perfect bluetooth headphones for his daily gym workout.
Ana, a stay at home mom on a budget who frequently cooks for her family.
Step #1: Benchmark the competition
Every time we launch a new research project into a product, we follow a benchmarking methodology that I developed while I was at Amazon.
Essentially, you need to find a product that is already achieving the star rating that you want to achieve (typically around 4 stars on average) and research everything you can about that product. Read every review, pour over every bit of the Q&A section, and most importantly, buy the product and send it to the laboratory for benchmarking testing.
This is a process that I developed for AmazonBasics in particular, but we used it on every brand. This is not a typical process for most laboratories though, so you’ll have to very clearly explain what you’re doing and what you’re looking for.
If we’re developing a long loose tank top with sequins on it for Cher, then we’ll want to buy something from Old Navy or a similar brand. For clothing, unless you know the brand values, it’s best to buy in store, rather than online.
If we’re developing bluetooth earbuds for Bill, we’ll want to buy the correct quality of product, likely Bose or something similar to know the level of quality that Bill aspires to, along with a lower quality bottom end product for the bottom range comparison.
If we’re developing a set of storage bowls and lids for Ana, we’ll want to buy a couple of items in the brand type required, such as Glad storage containers, rather than Pyrex, as Ana is cost/budget conscious.
Step #2: Develop the Protocol
A “testing protocol” is basically all the tests and requirements that you set with your laboratory partners. If you’re looking for a list of potential laboratories to reach out to, I highly suggest the CPSC’s (Consumer Product Safety Commission) list of accredited laboratories, as getting accredited requires meeting rigorous policy and procedural standards… I know, again with the boring stuff… but again, very necessary!
To develop the protocol for our customer avatars, we must first determine the key points of failure for each of our products. This information is gleaned from the customer reviews.
Read them carefully, particularly the 2 and 4 star reviewed items! 4 stars means something wasn’t quite good enough; 2 stars means they really wanted it to be good enough, and something was, but it was a far cry from what they hoped for.
Once you’ve compiled the main issues, sort them into an Excel spreadsheet and tally them up. At the end, you should have the top 5 issues that people are most concerned about with a particular product.
For Cher, research may reveal that the most critical elements for happiness with a product are that it can be washed over and over without losing the sparkles.
For Bill, research may reveal that the most critical elements are clarity of sound, comfort of wear, and distance of bluetooth connectivity.
For Ana, research may reveal that the lid needs to have a thin lip so it won’t grow mold, and needs to be made of a flexible material so that it won’t easily crack.
With this information, you can go to the lab and discuss your key issues with them, and they can suggest testing. If you’re not getting very far with them – as sometimes happens, since their business model is testing, not consulting, you may need to hire an expert to work through this with you. Ultimately, you should end up with a list of tests that you can use to test your “benchmark item” that you bought, and determine the “gold standard/golden sample” characteristics for your product.
Step #3: Select the Factory
Once you’ve determined your benchmark and your points of failure, you know what range of quality you’re going for, and can get samples from factories.
The first sample is a test to see if the factory can make a product you like – NOT the product you want to sell, just a product you like.
Then, you select a short list based on the factories that produced items you liked, and determine which one to award business to based on price, interactions, and any certifications you’re looking for, such as ISO 9001 (quality standards), or SA8000 (social responsibility).
Step #4: Test the Prototype
After you’ve awarded the business and generally after you’ve put your 30% deposit down, the factory will work up a sample prototype based on your desired specifications.
Once they have one that passes your visual inspection and personal testing, then you send it to the laboratory. They will then perform the 1-3 tests you determined to be absolutely critical to the commercial success of your product.
For Cher, you can do laundering testing, 52 washes to simulate a year of regular wear.
For Bill, you can do load testing, to see how well the unit does when being charged by an unstable power source, as well as how far the bluetooth connection goes. Make sure that it goes well over your benchmarked standards – for example, if you are aiming for 30 ft, and 3 samples hit 28’, 30’, and 31’, then you should claim 25’ distance, not 30.
For Ana, you can do temperature testing to see how the product performs if boiling hot items are placed into it, or if it’s placed in the freezer, as well as in use testing (putting the lid on and taking it off a prescribed number of times).
It is recommended that in-use testing or time-intensive testing that doesn’t require problem solving skills be done in China, or as physically close to production as possible.
For troubleshooting issues with electronic or electrical items, we have been most successful working with and communicating with laboratories in the US, which may be as simple as language barriers; however, that has been our experience.
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Step #5: Test the Production
You might be surprised to know that the parameters are often quite different between sample production and a full production run for consumer sale. Many factories have machinery solely for the purpose of creating samples. Therefore, your production run may differ from your sample production.
For your first production run, schedule a during production inspection (dupro) at 20% of production run completion, and have the inspectors pull a set of units off the line. We typically have inspectors pull units themselves, as the factory will understandably try to choose samples deemed to be better quality.
These items should also pass all of the quality parameters that you have previously set. We have multiple times worked with clients to retool production due to issues found during this stage. It is better to fix here and now, with the factory, than find out from the end user what went wrong.
Step #6: Test customer complaints
This brings us to the last key point – pay attention to your customers! It can be really tempting to go with the belief that every negative review or experience is due to a customer lacking in the intelligence department, or an evil competitor, but the fact is that is simply not true. More often than not, while you hear more often from disgruntled customers, their complaints are honest and valid.
If Cher is only willing to pay $15 for a sparkly tank top that must remain sparkly, then costs will have be cut in other areas to meet her budget. As long as you market appropriately, customers should be happy with the product they receive. This also speaks to how essential it is to do research at the outset, so you know what they really truly care about in the product.
Bill is willing to pay $60-100 for an excellent pair of earbuds that he can use for a long and sweaty workout. Your quality parameters should be so strict that no Bill is ever disappointed, and if any Bill is, an immediate replacement is provided free of charge.
Ana should be satisfied with the quality of the Glad level storage containers she buys – she knows they’re not Pyrex level, but that’s okay with her given what she can spend.
You can see clearly how creating a Pyrex level quality item is a waste of your time and money if Ana doesn’t want it; or how investing in double seams or high quality fabric may not make sense for Cher, as she’ll lose interest in the garment before it wears out. So spending extra on quality for these customer avatars is a waste of your money.
However, for Bill, no quality expectations are too high to meet him where he’s at. He’s willing to pay for the product that he wants to receive, and will be disappointed not to receive it.
Ultimately, Amazon will continue to make it more difficult and expensive to get legitimate product reviews, and keep it difficult to remove the ones where customers aren’t happy. And of course, annoyed and unhappy customers talk more than the happy ones.
So you want really happy, loyal customers, who know exactly what to expect from you every time.
Carefully select your product’s key features to meet the desires of your customer avatar. You are here to solve a problem for them, and you can achieve long term success and that loyal following by being loyal to them yourself.
Make 100% sure your products are tested in a laboratory prior to launch, and 100% sure you’re happy with the level of quality you’re putting out there.
Do everything with the satisfaction of your target customer in mind, and you’ll have them flocking to you in droves.