Many years ago, a number of people (china consultants, in particular) were applying the concept of quality fade to China. The idea was that once a foreign buyer became comfortable with its Chinese manufacturer, it could expect that manufacturer to start skimping on quality to save money. In other words, your product might go from being 10% copper to 5% copper without your Chinese manufacturer telling you of the change. Or your laptop bag handles might go from being strong enough to hold a laptop to not being strong enough to hold a laptop. Nearly everyone, it seemed (including me) bought into the idea of quality fade.
I no longer do.
And not only am I not sure it is a persistent phenomenon, I am also not even sure that the concept is relevant even if it is.
First though, I am going to discuss what it is that has caused me to re-access “quality fade” so many years after I (or it seems anyone else) has used (or even thought of) that term.
The Wall Street Journal ran a story, entitled, Chinese Asbestos in Australia? Blame ‘Quality Fade, in which it talked of how ”two leading Chinese car companies, Great Wall Motor and Chery Automobile, confirmed that they are recalling 23,000 cars and trucks they’ve sold in Australia because asbestos was discovered in their engine and exhaust gaskets.” The article (wrongly I think) describes these mistakes as defying explanation. Greg Anderson, a very thoughtful and knowledgeable China consultant (with a focus on automobiles) asks on his Facebook page whether “Chery and Great Wall are the victims or perpetrators of ‘quality fade.’” [Note that this post was set to run years ago, but has been sitting in the "draft" folder ever since]
Who cares? And is the entire “quality fade” concept simply another way of trying to make China look bad? Is it racist even?
I do not think it racist, but I also have come not to believe it fair either.
Let me explain.
I just got back from speaking at a massive consumer products fair in Las Vegas on sourcing product from China successfully. As you can imagine, I talked a lot about preventing quality problems. I did not bring up a statistic I was once told by a higher up at the US Consumer Protection Agency on how China has product safety/recall problems at a rate of at least six times that of any country every single year. And this is per product made, not overall. I am not going to dispute that China is probably the worst country on earth in terms of making products “right.”
But something one of my audience members told me after my speech has really stuck in my head. After the show and by way of small talk, I asked an audience member what he thought of the products show. I expected him to say something like “it’s huge” and then move on. Instead, he launched into a very sophisticated and thoughtful discussion on how almost everything at the show was junk and on how he had always thought that as we became wealthier and as our technology advanced, product quality would improve. Instead, he said that people just don’t care about quality any more. I told him of how Nordstrom was thriving and his response to that was because they are becoming somewhat of a bastion of quality and so they are getting people from other stores because of this and of how most Americans have become focused on price to the exclusion of quality.
He then went off on how it is America’s fault that China produces “crap” and it is our fault because we buy it. He analogized it to our blaming foreign countries for our own cocaine problem. He then talked of how he had sought to have a product well made by a Chinese company and the Chinese company said that it was making similar products for ten or so other American companies and that none of them were requiring that it make the product at the standards required by this guy and so no matter what the price, “it would be too difficult and they were not interested.” This guy insisted to me that his quality standards were not all that high and that they were pretty much the same as the quality standards at which he made the product in the United States years ago.
Why then is “quality fade” irrelevant. It is irrelevant because in the final analysis you will get the quality you demand and if you don’t get that quality, it is up to you to go elsewhere to attain it.
What do you think?
For more on sourcing product from China, check out the following: