Product samples are always an important aspect of planning bulk orders or setting up production. Due to the recent trend of outsourcing production, more companies than ever are looking internationally for suppliers, which makes this simple procedure more decisive. Truly understanding the quality of your product and manufacturer can only be judged when the final product sample is available.
Risks related to international transactions force purchasers to minimize their exposure to fraud by requesting a product sample before making an order. Fraud happens worldwide–not only in China.
Simply put, one main purpose of product sample requests from a supplier is to avoid doing business with the mentioned dubious kind of suppliers. These often enthusiastically claim to provide the ideal solution, but when they have taken your money, they are not actually able to provide what was requested. Especially if you have a more sophisticated product you want to be manufactured, requesting a product sample is a good way to find out if the supplier has the capabilities they claim. It can be, depending on the circumstances, an alternative or complement to other monitoring and inspection measures.
Another main purpose is connected to quality control (QC). Often times, suppliers pick the best one of a small batch; therefore, it is better to purchase a small batch. This might make it more difficult for a supplier to trick you with respect to the expected quality; however, a better solution for this problem is to visit and inspect the factory inspections or other methods of monitoring and inspection.
Furthermore, while quality control is an important aspect, you should not overlook the purpose of quality assurance (QA). The difference between the two terms is that quality control focuses on the ability of detecting faulty goods post production, whereas quality assurance aims to detect it throughout production and to improve the overall process itself to reduce faults. Requesting product samples might be suitable for judging both of these aspects and can help you identify any potential problems beforehand. In an extreme case, a high share of defective products is most likely connected to a bad quality assurance in general even if they can fix a concrete product problem.
The most common type of product sample is known as a factory sample, which is manufactured by the supplier and aims to show the capabilities and standards with which it can produce. Generally, the costs of these are cheap, and occasionally free (or just shipping costs). These are generally not made to your specifications, but as a result of a previous batch. Although your product might be slightly different for instance with respect to colour, this sample might be sufficient.
If you require a customized product sample, for example within the scope of OEM production (this term is explained in its respective article) then the process may be more difficult. For OEM produced goods, there are usually many suppliers involved in the production process and results in getting a product sample. However, since OEM products are generally quite technical and specialized, it is especially important to receive a sample prior to making a large order. The sample cost itself can be very expensive, depending on what it is you require, since e.g. the moulds for plastic have to be set up just for you.
If you do not require something quite as technical as an OEM produced good, but still want it to be adapted to minor changes to differentiate your company, then you would require an ODM sample (read more about ODM production). This falls between a factory sample and an OEM sample. Generally, this will also cost more, but again it shows more appropriately whether the company has the skills to make what you require.
A golden sample refers to a sample produced with explicit intent of perfectly matching the customer’s request. The quality will be great, and it will meet all your prior expectations when you are about to make a large order.
You should proceed with caution: certain suppliers participate in a bait and switch scheme. It can be more reassuring to actually encounter problems with product samples, and communicate them back to the supplier to be worked on than to receive a truly “golden sample”.
The bait and switch works as the following: You receive an extremely high quality product sample that has surpassed expectations. When you make the order for the full batch, they end up producing low quality goods instead. The supplier can reduce its cost by just providing perfect golden samples and not actually working on your requirements and quality expectations for the full batch.
Other issues connected to receiving a golden sample are related to the previously mentioned quality assurance. While a golden sample might make you believe that the factory does have the ability to produce the goods up to the required standard, you will not be able to observe the true failure rate. It could be that half of the produced products are not up to the required quality, but the golden sample received would make you believe all of them are.
This is not to say just because you received a golden sample you are about to be scammed. Often suppliers will send a golden sample because it is more convenient for them and they are actually working on the issues. However, you have to be careful in any case. Third party consulting agencies can help with their services to mitigate the risk.