Leveraging the power of customer reviews


Leveraging the power of customer reviews

Consumers have always had the power to vote with their wallets and decide what they do and don’t buy. But in today’s online world, they have the power to not only influence what they buy but what others buy.

Empowered by the connectivity of social networks and the democratization of information, consumers are taking control of where, when, and how they engage with brands. This has effectively given consumers a role in the supply chain as they demand more personalized products and expect brands to adapt to their needs.

Now they have been given a voice, consumers are increasingly willing to share their opinions publicly and seek out what others have to say. In some categories, consumers are reluctant to make purchases without independent recommendations. This has not only disrupted the traditional purchasing process but puts additional pressure on brands, who need to ensure they bring to the market products that live up to their promises.

According to a report from the technology company PowerReviews, customer reviews have become the single most important factor when making purchasing decisions, ranking above other elements such as price and recommendations from family and friends. 

How to make customer reviews work for your brand

One of the key benefits of reviews is that this feedback lets brands know whether a product is relevant to its audience and whether it’s better than its competitors’.

Although positive reviews can naturally benefit brands in enormous ways, negative product reviews can have drastic impacts. They can not only affect the sales of the product but can escalate to the point of harming the brand image as a whole.

That said, bad reviews also provide an opportunity to improve and show customers that the brand is actively listening and willing to bring improved products to the market that aligns with customers’ quality and safety expectations. Customer reviews can also help find niches in the market yet to be explored, based on what customers feel is missing in a product or would be nice to have.

Navigating the masses of online reviews and identifying real issues and their root causes to make valuable improvements is not always easy. It might require support from a third party who can assess and identify issues and establish the appropriate recommendations. 

Turning negative reviews into positive outcomes

At API, we help our customers improve quality and safety at the product development stage to meet consumer expectations through a dedicated program that uses five steps to:

  • help brands and retailers listen to and understand consumer feedback
  • identify the causes of bad ratings
  • establish recommendations for product improvements

What are the benefits for brands?
  • Better and differentiated products
  • Increased quality and safety
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Supplier empowerment
  • Better budget allocation

Interested in finding out how API can help you bring better products to the market? 


How to get your outdoor furniture summer-ready for next season

Blog - How to get your outdoor furniture summer-ready for next season

Summer is just around the corner, and as customers get their gardens, terraces, and balconies ready for the balmy months, outdoor furniture brands and retailers are already preparing their collections for next year’s season. Demand for outdoor furniture has soared as a result of the pandemic, but the industry hasn’t escaped the supply chain crisis that began in 2020. Two years on, the journey from raw materials to the end customer remains challenging and lengthy.


While increased demand is great news for the outdoor furniture industry, this has led to a backlog of orders and tasks that has been difficult to manage. While business is returning to normal in prominent manufacturing countries like China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, manufacturers are still facing delays and the scarcity of raw materials needed to build the furniture. Furthermore, once the product is ready, it still needs to reach the consumer, and shipping times remain long with container shortages and products getting caught in the supply chain traffic jam. With no option to delay the outdoor furniture season, products must arrive on time, or businesses risk losing customers to competitors.


That said, the arrival of products on time isn’t enough to satisfy increasingly demanding consumers. According to the Outdoor Garden Furniture market study by Fact.MR (Feb 2022), consumers desire outdoor furniture that is:

  • Resistant to climate conditions
  • Good quality
  • Durable
  • Insect and mold resistant
  • Crack-proof
  • Sustainable (using eco-friendly materials and processes)


What does this mean for brands and retailers? Businesses need to operate speedily while ensuring the quality and fit-for-use of their products, which means that getting things right the first time and anticipating mistakes has never been more crucial.

How to ensure quality outdoor furniture from the beginning

The best way to get outdoor furniture products right the first time is to detect issues as early as possible in the supply chain. The easiest way to achieve this is to go upstream and anticipate risks from the earliest stages of raw materials and manufacturing.

Key points to look at include:

  • Ensuring you have the right design
  • Ensuring product compliance
  • Ensuring the right production process
  • Defining the right control plan

Utilizing the support of a third party can help brands and retailers address these challenges while relying on an independent expert to secure product quality and fit-for-use. This will reduce issues at the end of the supply chain, avoid delays, and satisfy customers with products that arrive on time and meet their expectations.

At API, we provide comprehensive expert solutions for outdoor furniture. With more than 25 years’ experience and a portfolio of international brands and retailers that trust our knowledge, our suite of solutions is dedicated to securing the quality, safety, and performance of outdoor furniture products across the entire supply chain from the earliest stages of development. Some of these include:

  • Help during product development
    Ensure better products from the early stages of development through:

    • Raw material traceability
    • Suggestions on sustainable processes
    • Suggestions on product improvement
    • Validation of control plans, marking, product characteristics, golden sample
    • And more 
  • Design/prototype review at the factory or lab
    This includes expert reviews at the factory, showroom, or at our network of laboratories at the moment of product selection, including conformity criteria, risk and issues anticipation, and recommendations for improvements. 
  • Sample validation
    Validation of a final sample before production will define the model to follow and ensure the rest of the production is manufactured according to the brand specifications. 
  • In-production process assessment and root cause analysis
    This aims at understanding the processes for improved finished products with a high focus on identifying, assessing, and improving the manufacturing methods critical to quality and safety to prevent failures. 
  • Fit-for-use and performance testing
    Evaluate your products’ performance and durability, including:
    • Resistance to aggressive environments
    • Corrosion, UV aging, rain and water resistance, heat resistance, etc.
    • Usage resistance (scratches, stains, washing, tearing, metal finishing adherence, etc.)
    • Product feel and support
    • Textile performance
    • And more
  • Recycled polyester testing
    This scientific method verifies and quantifies the amount of recycled polyester in products to ensure what you bring to the market while supporting your marketing claims. 
  • During production inspection
    Inspection of the finished goods at 5% or 10% of the production completion will identify issues early in the production line.

Interested in finding out more about how API can help your brand with our adapted outdoor furniture solutions?


An empowered supplier is a competitive ace card

Brands and retailers can have relationships with a great number of suppliers, which can reach in the thousands for the bigger players. When the volume is that high, it can be difficult to think of individual suppliers as anything more than a transactional necessity for the manufacturing of hardline goods. But brands and retailers that see their suppliers this way may miss out on what their more reliable and advanced suppliers can offer them.

Increasing numbers of brands and retailers are looking for ways to empower their suppliers, but this is easier said than done. Effective buyer and supplier collaboration is not only about open communication across the entire supply chain, it’s about enabling the suppliers to feel they can share ideas and make recommendations as the true owners of hardline product quality.

While working with empowered suppliers is the ultimate goal, the path to getting there isn’t always straightforward and should be broken down into smaller goals. Some of the most common challenges brands and retailers face when looking to empower their suppliers include:

  • Easy to say, but not to do
  • Time-consuming
  • Empowerment is based on trust but needs a system for monitoring
  • Reluctance from some factories
  • Unclear quality liability

Supplier empowerment: Where to begin
It’s important to keep in mind that empowering your suppliers means being in direct contact with them. Using intermediaries that muddy the waters can complicate the task and make it more difficult. Another question to ask is whether all your suppliers can be empowered. To answer this, you need to have a clear understanding of your supply chain. The factories most likely to align with your expectations will be the more strategic and trusted ones with a long-term approach. These are usually factories with a solid QMS and with whom there’s already fluid communication, a solid investment, and projects demonstrating growth to make this commercial relationship last.

You can start by asking some simple questions:

  • Are you working directly with factories or through vendors?
  • Do you have top factories that you work with?
  • Do you have long-term partners?
  • Do you have a stable sourcing strategy? Or do you shift countries frequently?
  • Do you create partnerships with your manufacturers?
  • What incentives will you bring to the factory? Will you bring more orders?

As essential as it is to understand where you stand before launching an empowerment program, it’s equally important to make factories understand the benefits for them. Among other elements, advantages for empowered suppliers include:

  • Less external control
  • Cost and time savings
  • Improved quality processes and production output
  • Improved partnerships with customers that can result in more orders

Supplier empowerment: Implementing an effective program

Empowering suppliers also offers significant benefits to brands and retailers of hardline goods. It allows for better resource optimization, going further upstream, and doing more quality assurance, ultimately reducing costs and allocating budget to areas of risk. The final objective would be to replace third-party inspections by shifting quality ownership to the suppliers. This would increase efficiency and ensure continuity, even during disruptions like those we saw in the last couple of years.

Brands and retailers with a solid quality management team can put all this in place through their internal teams, allocating time and resources to train and monitor their selected suppliers. That said, this sort of program, while worthwhile, isn’t easy to implement. It’s a time-consuming process that requires constant follow-up and a strong and comprehensive setup. Continuous monitoring is also necessary to ensure that factories are qualified and maintain expected quality standards.

Brands and retailers have the option to bring in additional resources and use a qualified third party to take charge of the program instead of allocating it to an internal team.

A 7-step program: The ‘Factory Certified Auditor Program’

At API, we support our clients’ supplier empowerment strategies as part of our global risk-based approach. We’ve implemented a 7-step program, the ‘Factory Certified Auditor Program,’ designed to empower the best-performing suppliers to perform their own inspections. The 7-step program covers:

  1. Program introduction to vendors
  2. On-site assessment
  3. Validation and training
  4. Examination
  5. Correlation & probation
  6. Certification
  7. Monitoring

Why should brands and retailers follow this program?

  • Expert guidance: Industry experts introduce additional resources and external inputs when developing and implementing the program.
  • Flexible and reliable: Training is prepared by industry experts according to customer needs and what’s already in place with multinational brands.
  • Continuous monitoring: Regular monitoring ensures that factories are well qualified and maintain good quality standards.
  • Increased quality, lower costs: Externalization of training and alignment with vendors aim to shift quality ownership in harmony with brand requirements.
  • Neutral partner: An external, neutral agent can intervene as needed with no conflict of interest.
  • Complete or partial manager participation: Managers can partake in 100% of the program or only the stages requiring reinforcement.

Interested in learning how API can help your supplier empowerment strategy?


Ensure your recycled polyester claims are genuine

According to Precedence Research, the recycled polyester (rPET) market is expected to hit US$14.23 billion by 2030, driven by soaring demand for sustainable products from consumers, governments, and NGOs. The use of rPET in consumer goods is no longer a trend but a reality in many categories, including toys and furniture. What started with soft toys containing stuffing made from rPET is fast-evolving into other uses. Danish toy giant Lego has announced its first prototype bricks made of rPET from discarded bottles, and IKEA has launched a range of kitchen furniture with plastic films made out of recycled bottles. Many other furniture brands are producing products made from rPET, including chairs and stools, storage boxes, bathroom accessories, and more.

Amid this rise in environmentally conscious consumerism, sustainability has become a powerful marketing tool in a crowded marketplace. But as green consumers become more informed and critical, brands and retailers must be able to back up the use of rPET in their products with proof to avoid risks of reputational damage and noncompliance. Until now, the primary way to verify the inclusion of rPET in products was to rely on declarations and documents from suppliers and third parties. By betting solely on someone else’s information, however, brands risk greenwashing (claiming something as sustainable when it isn’t) and breaching regulations (the EU and GRS-V3 impose a minimum recycled polyester content of 20%).

What is recycled polyester, and why is it so popular?

To create virgin polyester (PET) –the world’s most common plastic—crude oil and natural gas are extracted from the earth and heated to form a molten liquid. The liquid is spun into fibers to create polyester fabric or molded into plastic containers. These products aren’t biodegradable and will persist in the environment, even as they eventually break down. Recycled polyester (rPET) originates mostly from post-consumer PET bottles that are melted down and re-spun into new polyester fibers. One tonne of rPET saves 11,100kWh of energy—the equivalent of two years of energy consumption for an average household. Each kilogram of mechanically recycled polyester also represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70% compared with virgin polyester.

A scientific solution to verify recycled polyester

The only way to be 100% sure that the amount of rPET in your products matches what your brand claims is through reliable scientific testing. As part of a continuing commitment to helping brands achieve growth through sustainability innovations, API and Worms Safety Laboratories have pioneered an innovative solution that detects and quantifies rPET in products and materials to prove its existence and avoid greenwashing. The accurate testing method is based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology, which is highly sensitive, robust, precise, auto-calibrated, and not affected by additional chemical substances such as dyes, viscose, or others. In simple terms, the process targets the presence of isophthalic acid (IPA), which is added to PET to give specific properties to the raw material. This superior testing method uses NMR technology to compare the IPA content in each sample to the average IPA content derived from a reference database of bottles collected in Europe, China, and India. More information about the rPET testing can be found here.

More accurate than any other method

Other methods are available to measure IPA content, including Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, Raman, Liquid Chromatography, and Gas Chromatography. However, common disadvantages of these processes include the generally higher uncertainty of the testing equipment and the sensitivity to other substances present in the sample. The solution developed by API and Worms Safety Laboratories is highly sensitive and specific, with low detection limits and greater certainty. The PET bottle reference library is continually monitored and updated, and any changes in PET quality on the market is reflected in the test results.

Interested in learning more about how this solution can benefit your brand?


The drive toward sustainable packaging

We live in an era in which sustainability has never been more important in every step of the supply chain. Today’s consumers increasingly demand products that have a reduced impact on the environment, which includes eco-friendly packaging. In the toy industry, this has driven major manufacturers like Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, and MGA Entertainment to make pledges to reduce their packaging and make the switch to recycled or eco-friendly materials.

We’re seeing the same pattern in other industries, such as furniture. Swedish giant IKEA is aiming to eliminate plastic packaging from most of its products by 2025. Players such as Amazon have also joined the movement, with its ‘Frustration-Free Packaging’ that helps brands produce less waste than traditional packaging by redesigning their packaging, eliminating waste throughout the supply chain, and ensuring that products arrive undamaged on customers’ doorsteps.

The goal of these initiatives is to tackle the harmful impacts of plastic packaging on the environment in favor of alternative solutions with less impact.

The problem with plastic

Each year, around eight million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans. Forbes has reported that plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90% of the world’s sea birds, in the stomachs of more than half of the world’s sea turtles, and is contributing to the deaths of whales. It’s predicted that, by 2050, the mass of plastic in the world’s oceans will exceed the mass of all the fish that live there. Plastic packaging can take thousands of years to decompose in the environment and also takes a great deal of energy, water, and other natural resources to produce.

These sobering figures have made many consumers deeply concerned about plastic packaging finding its way into the environment, and eco-conscious consumers will choose brands that are working to address this impact over those that aren’t.

The role of legislation

Alongside pressure from consumers and NGOs, multiple laws and regulations are being introduced to find a solution to the plastic problem.

Many governments have formulated systems that support a circular economy and reduce their national waste. The extent of these requirements varies among countries, but overall, we’re seeing increasing numbers of regulations aimed at reducing the use of packaging and promoting more sustainable packaging materials.

In Europe, the Waste Framework Directive establishes measures for dealing with waste, while the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive intends to harmonize the management of packaging waste and prevent or reduce the impacts of packaging and packaging waste, including by setting recovery and recycling targets.

There are also regulations specific to certain nations, such as the UK’s plastic packaging tax that came into force on April 1, 2022. The UK Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) affects businesses that manufacture or import plastic packaging, including packaging that already contains goods (such as plastic bottles containing beverages). The tax aims to encourage the use of recycled rather than virgin plastic in packaging (when permitted) and stimulate the increase in recycling and collection of plastic waste. You can learn more about it here.

In March 2020, France adopted Law No. 2020-105 Regarding a Circular Economy and the Fight Against Waste. This law aims at minimizing waste and promoting resources to be reused as much as possible. The economic model targets low consumption of nonrenewable resources, the reuse of waste as a resource, products that have a longer useful life, the recycling of 100% of plastics, and less wastefulness. The law also sets the goal of recycling 100% of plastics by 2025 and the end of single-use plastic packaging by 2040.

In the US, there are also initiatives to reduce plastic consumption and packaging, such as the California plastic waste and labeling bills. These propose several laws that make labeling less misleading and shine a light on the responsibility of packaging producers to find alternatives to single-use, non-recyclable plastics.

The packaging landscape is complex, with growing numbers of regulations and standards to keep in mind that collectively aim to achieve a more sustainable future. With adequate guidance and clear visibility of targets and requirements, brands can prepare to adjust their processes as appropriate and ensure a smooth transition.

At API, we can help you comply with these and other packaging requirements while supporting you in bringing better products to the market. Interested in finding out more?



4 Supply Chain Solutions For Global Brands

Supply chain managers often read supply chain news and yearly trends in order to remain competitive and to determine how they can implement best practices. As we analyze these trends we often look towards global brands and to the way in which they manage their supply chains to achieve their goals. It can be hard and expensive for larger companies and organizations to quickly implement new strategies and adopt new processes in order to stay on top. To remain globally competitive there are particular strategies that are implemented to achieve those successes. In this blog post, we look at what supply chain solutions can be used to create more transparency, collaboration, and efficiency.

Supply Chain Management Challenges

Supply chain managers face a host of challenges and pressures to constantly keep up with all the moving and evolving parts. Here we list three of the biggest challenges that brands currently face that without being able to manage these effectively can have detrimental effects for you and your brand.
  • Managing Suppliers – As a supply chain manager you are responsible for knowing all there is to know about your suppliers, from how many suppliers you have to how many are needed specific to your brand. As with any supplier-related problems you need to be able to handle delays, this goes with the territory. Every interaction you have with the supplier needs to be effectively planned thought out in order to create consistency and a smooth running procedure.Supply Chain Solutions Supply Management .jpg
This can be done through clear communication, a set of agreed upon objectives to work towards, ensure that regular meetings are held in order to address any complications and progresses that are being made. Following these steps may seem obvious, but this can also be a time consuming until you are able to integrate this effectively into your strategy. This helps to build a stronger supplier relationship and will have long-term benefits for all involved.

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about implementing a global quality assurance system.

  • Risk Mitigation – Adopting a supply chain risk mitigation strategy may be the way to go to avoid the risks that arise. Risk mitigation strategies can include anything from supply chain flexibility to requesting internal supplier related processes to ensure all systems, procedures, and potential risks may be flagged with ample time to rectify if needs are.

Supply Chain Solutions Risk Mitigation .jpgIf we take a look at Targets mistake of launching the toddler sized Barbie SUV country-wide, the problem they faced was that their distribution centers were receiving inventory faster than they were distributing it to stores across the country. This meant that there were Target stores that had empty shelves with none of the promised items in store. They attributed this to inconsistencies between actual inventory and the computer records. A mistake like this will have cost millions in revenue loss, but also detrimental to both Target and Barbie. As a supply chain manager, it is up to you to ensure you suppliers and distribution centers operate on the same system to mitigate risks like this occurring.

  • Supplier relationship management– (SRM) works on a set of processes that drive consistent, clear interactions between the supplier and buyer, SRM programs build new capabilities that enable strategic sourcing and procurement to make the most of the supplier relationships. Effectively applying SRM as a part of your strategy can help achieve greater quality in your product, faster time to market and results for your bottom line, this owing to the successful implementation of an SRM system.
  • Management Inventory – Managing inventory is all about balance, always ensuring you have enough inventory on hand to be able to account for any unforeseen delays so that you do not go “out of stock”. On the other hand, you also do not want to have too much inventory, whether your product is perishable or your product goes out of style, a mismanaged inventory can have vast implications for both brand and supplier. Therefore an efficient inventory control system is crucial.Supply Chain Solutions managing inventory .jpg
If we take a look at Walmart, despite the precision and technologically advanced supply chain management system, they are continuously failing to restock popular products creating a disruption between the customer and their brand, also resulting in revenue loss. They have attributed this to a shortage of staff within their distribution centers, with not enough people to manage the vast amounts of inventory coming and needing to go. Implementing these supply chain solutions effectively will assist in alleviating some of the challenges and pressures that are experienced on a daily basis. These solutions should enable you to keep up with global trends and remain a strong competitor within the industry. Do you have any thoughts or experience on specific supply chain solutions that have had impact on your supplier relationships?

Need more help?

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about implementing a global quality assurance system. Simply click on the image below to download your FREE copy.


5 Top Tips to Motivating Your Quality Control Team

Building cohesion with your buying office and quality team may seem overly obvious or a task that may not even seem absolutely necessary in achieving your supply chain goals, but the benefits of this task are often under-estimated. Working within a team is an inevitable part of the tasks you are involved in. The supply chain key performance indicators will be what your quality control team is measured against, and this will outline whether you and your team have achieved your objectives effectively and efficiently. The intended objectives are to achieve high-quality outcomes owing to the effective and innovative functionality of the team. There are various attributes of high-performance teams and in this blog post we will take a deeper look into what the essentials are in effectively managing this team, through instilling a productive ethos within your supply chain. Learn how to cultivate a well-functioning and highly motivated quality control team by following these 5 top tips!

1. Lead from the front

quality control team needs strong leadershipA team that is led by someone who has a strong sense of leadership can drive the team towards the finish line in a successful manner and ensure that they are achieving the supply chain goals. A strong leader needs to be able to ensure that everyone is on track to achieving the goals as set out. They need to build confidence within the team. The leader is also responsible for managing all relationships and removing any issues that may hinder the effective functioning of the team. Lastly, the team needs to see you in the trenches, alongside them, digging deep. This creates a sense of solidarity and unity with your team. “Which business leaders do you look up to? Let me know in the comments below…”

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about implementing a global quality assurance system.

2. Create a list of goals and objectives that need to be achieved

This is something that comes up regularly, and something that can not be stressed enough. Defining clear objectives and goals that are expressed and communicated from the top on down can have significant effects on building cohesion between you and your buying office. Clear objectives and guidance will help to manage your team’s expectations and will give your team a united way of working towards achieving those goals. This will also assist as a way of measuring their success or understanding where they may be failing and where to begin fixing it. This also provides a solid grounding of why and how they should be working together in order to ultimately achieve that.  

3. Use reporting as a form of accountability

A quality control team for accountability Regular, daily reports are important for tracking team progress. The data collected and presented in your weekly meetings should align with your quality control plan and should make recommendations and adjustments where necessary. This will help you and your team understand what goals are on track to being achieved, what problems may need to be addressed and what things need a more strategic focus. The more accurate and concise your reporting is, the more focused your quality team can be in fixing potential problems and even avoiding potential risks. If your supply chain key performance indicators are not aligned with all departments of your supply chain, failure may be inevitable as each department is working to achieve fundamentally different things. One misaligned objective has far-reaching implications for the success or failure of the entire supply chain operation.  

4. Internal Conflicts should always be resolved quickly

Any team will at some point hit a spot of conflict when there is a misunderstanding or your goals aren’t aligned. As the team leader, you need to be able to manage this and resolve any conflict that may arise in a timely manner, so they do not become lingering problems that begin to infiltrate into the ethos of your team and quality of the work that is produced.  

5. trust your team

Quality Control team Creating a sense of trust and motivation within your team may sound too emotive for you, but everyone has a desire to be motivated. This creates a sense of ownership and a deeper sense of responsibility and control over their work. Improved team trust leads to an energized team, an energized team can lead to procedural innovation within your buying office which is exactly what you envision as a Quality Assurance director. Following these 5 tips will help you to nurture a highly motivated quality control team that are aligned with your supply chain strategy, guaranteeing increased operational efficiency for your brand! “Have you been able to implement any of these tips within your supply chain?” “How have they helped you?”  “What else is important for team building and motivation in your organization?” Get in touch with our API quality experts!

Build Stronger Supplier Relationships 

As a quality assurance professional, you are likely to have noted some of the major changes in the industry and how they have related to your job specifically. The move from a simple transactional approach that did not require any amount of fostering to a more supplier-oriented relationship that requires commitment, buy-in, and collaboration between you and your buying office. It also can not go unnoted that there are also much more stringent guidelines and compliance criteria to adhere to.  With this in mind, it is important to note these changes and make adjustments where necessary. As this will keep you at the forefront of global trends and keep you competing in a global market. In this blog post, we will explore some of the historic global sourcing trends and what the changes in these trends can mean for you and your supplier relationships. Through the years the technological revolution has optimized every sector on the planet, the shift from a transactional approach to procurement to a more strategic, holistic approach to the entire supply chain, with an emphasis on stronger supplier relationships to fully optimize the entire supply chain.  

The Evolution of Global Sourcing

how to build long term supplier relationships .jpgLet’s take a dive into some of the historical trends with regards to global sourcing. A brief overview will provide us with why we keep up with these trends and what these trends mean for today. They underpin the way in which we currently view and conduct sourcing, so it is important to understand how sourcing has evolved. In the early 60’s there was a great focus on purchasing although this was still a clerical based position, as we moved through to the 70’s there was an acknowledgement of the enormity of the task so it became its own department, a department solely focused on purchasing and all the procedures that go into that. As history goes, politics, the environment, and government affect every element of the economy and the manner in which it functions, shifts and changes. The oil embargo in the late 70’s pushed the agenda of purchasing into the hands of businesses, this made purchasing in the 80’s take a more strategic look into quality, quantity, timing, reliability, and strategy. As I am sure you are aware, the 90’s was all about reducing costs, sometimes at the expense of quality. Although there was also a greater emphasis on developing long-term supplier relationships, with long-term contracts. This era also birthed good supplier relationship management. The progression of technology felt its way through each decade making the systems of sourcing that much easier and a more efficient procedure, not to say that the complexities of sourcing did not grow alongside that. Today we see technology at the forefront of our sourcing strategies, allowing room for efficiency, transparency, accountability in order to work towards a more unified,  productive and strategic approach to sourcing.

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about implementing a global quality assurance system.

What do these changes in sourcing mean for you?

Global Sourcing Long term supplier relationship.jpgGlobal sourcing as a whole has made it essential for companies to improve their internal processes in order to continue being successful and at the forefront of global trends. This is not always possible with the speed at which technology evolves. You might find that it may be beneficial for you to adopt specific strategies to become more adaptable and dedicate time to continuously research changes that occur in order to keep on top of this ever-changing industry. Below is a list of sourcing strategy patterns that may resonate with you:
  • Technology oriented sourcing: Technology can have a transformational impact on your supply chain and your management systems, allowing for technical innovations to your sourcing strategy, will assist in keeping you ahead of global trends.
  • Cost oriented global sourcing: The goal here is to save costs. This strategy can be useful for standardized products with easily accessible suppliers.
  • Competition oriented global sourcing: A strategic competitive strategy with the goal being to gain new product ideas by looking for a broad range of good suppliers to increase competition.
  • Partnership oriented global sourcing: This approach highlights the collaborative approach of engaging suppliers in long-term partnerships allowing room for information sharing, there is also investment in the end product or outcome this ensures full client satisfaction. This, in turn, leads to constant improvements along your supply chain.
The above-mentioned strategy patterns to global sourcing assist in defining a clear vision for you and your sourcing strategies. IKEA faced a local supplier ban, which meant that local suppliers were unable to supply to them which forced them to source product outside of their country of origin, Sweden. The key thing to note here is how they fostered and took advantage of creating long term, strong supplier relationships during this time which allowed them to sustain their low-cost home furnishing position in the market. There is now more of a collaborative approach between suppliers and buying offices, there are mutual benefits, thus the emphasis on creating long-term sustainable and stronger supplier relationships to increase productivity and alleviate some of the supplier related pressures. How have these changes affected you specifically? How have you adjusted the way in which you operate to adopt these kinds of strategies?  

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about implementing a global quality assurance system.

Simply click here to download your FREE copy.


Supply Chain Management Best Practices To Implement

Quality practices are essential to the success of your entire supply chain operation, knowing exactly what these practices are will help inform the steps you need to take in order to ensure success in your buying office. There are a number of factors that affect the successful implementation of quality practices in buying offices. In this blog post, we list seven supply chain management best practices that are critical success factors in ensuring successful operational efficiency.

1. A committed organization, from the board down

Organizations that actively encourage the involvement of buying offices in decision making and welcomes input from suppliers to identify areas for potential productivity improvements have the best chance of successful implementation. IKEA as a world renown furniture retailer is a great example of involving buying offices in the decision-making process. They have tried to create an integrated system where there is clear communication through the entire operation. We know that this method of organizational commitment has had incredible amounts of success and to always keep this in mind as you conduct your organizational operations. Supply Chain Management Decision Making.jpg There is evidence that supply chains are often managed functionally with metrics, systems, and behaviors geared to managing the performance of a specific area. Whilst detailed functional knowledge and understanding are essential to delivering a quality product, a narrow view can lead to a potential misalignment of the different elements of the chain towards the end goal. Senior management needs to ensure that decisions which are taken at the top are not sub-optimised in the operational execution. In practical terms, this means a real transformation in how measurement systems are designed and implemented to ensure that there is a full understanding of how the business interlinks. Individual incentives and success need to be aligned for the achievement of overarching goals, not purely functional excellence.

2. Effective program management

In order to successfully implement a quality management system there are three key lessons to keep in mind:
  1. Do not be too ambitious with the timing and expectations of rapid results. New process and systems need time to mature and the flexibility to adapt and change in order to achieve the required results.
  2. It becomes easy to set lofty targets but in order to see results, it is important to align the strategic requirements with the quality system functionality.
  3. Data accuracy is critically important. It is impossible to improve what isn’t measured so understanding which measures are helping improve quality and which aren’t are essential to helping buying office achieve the standards required.
Let’s take a look at LEGO, they underwent a full restructuring of their supply chain in order to begin optimizing their functions to remain a strong global competitor. They experienced excessive supply chain challenges that resulted in millions in revenue loss. They were aware that something needed to be done. With rapid globalization, adopting a flexible and integrated supply chain and network is essential to remain a strong competitor.

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3. Consistent, pre-emptive communications.

We have already discussed the importance of data and effectively communicating it with buying offices. Below are factors to consider:
  • Supply Chain Management .jpgBe clear – This may sound like an obvious basic principle, but it’s vital to make sure the ‘narrative’ of the information comes across so that it is understood easier and its relevance and context are clear. Use a brief headline, to sum up, the information being communicated and focus on the key aspects of the data as well as why it is important and how it can be used.
  • Tailor it – When getting across the key benefits of the project, don’t just focus on general benefits and costs. Consider the context of the buying office you are addressing and tailor it to show how to address their concerns.
  • Be personal and pragmatic – It’s often more beneficial to convey information or communicate through direct channels, either in person or via the phone as opposed to less direct communication such as emails. A personal and pragmatic approach will get faster and better results when aiming to implement change.
The above factors create transparency throughout the supply chain, more and more retailers are are beginning to harness the true power of effective and strong communication throughout the entire supply chain, from communication with material suppliers to actual manufacturers. Transparency and effective, clear communication creates a sense of trust through the supply chain which will essentially have effects throughout the entire operation.

4. Take positive action to identify and manage key risks before they become issues.

Supply chain risk management .jpgRetailers can protect themselves from potential supply chain interruptions or delays associated with suppliers’ human rights, labor, environmental, and governance practices by ensuring buying offices have effective compliance programs and robust management systems. Here are steps to manage risk:
  • Align the buying office – Ensure that there is visibility and alignment of the value chain towards the ultimate goal of supplying the customer;
  • Creating ownership beyond silos – There needs to be ownership of the whole chain, not just the buying office, in such a way which allows the risks along the chain to be tackled;
  • Skills and capabilities to execute – The skills and competencies in each buying office must be secured. This starts with the functional skills in each area to provide the depth of executing a process.
Supply chains have become increasingly stretched not leaving much room for fault, therefore a successful risk management strategy can increase the effectiveness of your operation and minimize any identified or perceived risks.

5. Develop a framework with baseline targets, adapted as necessary.

Supply Chain Management in Buying Office.jpgInaccurate data, existing systems infrastructure, and entrenched business practices are common barriers to the implementation of quality management systems. The importance of getting existing processes in line with new technologies and methodologies serves to highlight the role of planning, as well as supporting the use of standardized frameworks for implementation. SCOR – The supply chain operations reference model, is a management tool that is used to address, improve, and communicate supply chain management decisions within a company and with suppliers and customers of a company. This model also helps to explain the processes along the entire supply chain and provides a basis for how to improve those processes. Let’s look at an example from Apple: The technology producer developed a set of standards which is implemented across its supply chain. The result was a supply chain more in tune with its organizational goals to reduce waste and create more sustainable products which in turn create value for its customers. In the end, they diverted more than 73,000 metric tons of waste from landfills, saved more than 3.8 billion gallons of freshwater and prevented more than 13,800 metric tons of carbon emissions.

6. Create a succession of manageable delivery milestones to maintain momentum and build confidence.

Realistic expectations are important to ensure the successful implementation of quality initiatives. Overreaching in time or scope could mean failing to implement measures that otherwise would have worked. It is important to be SMART:
  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Realistic,
  • Timely.
Well defined goals, with consistent and measurable outputs, that are agreed to and attainable, that have the required resources to be successfully completed, and have specified timelines are a way to ensure the implementation plan has manageable deliverables. This process ensures that expectations are managed and that buying offices have a clear understanding of how to achieve success. Every individual needs to be made aware of the overall goals, but also the goals that relate specifically to his/her involvement in the process.

7. An actionable, owned, manageable and measurable set of business benefits

Before the WHAT comes to the WHY. It is important for buying offices to understand WHY the quality initiatives are being put in place. Getting their buy-in helps to ensure that everyone is “pulling the cart in the same direction”.  Working for a specific cause creates a banner under which the value chain can unite. Once buying offices know WHY they are doing something they are more likely to support WHAT needs to be done. It is also important to ensure that the benefits are tangible. Buying offices should be able to quantify the benefits so that they stay motivated and focused on the initiatives they are implementing. These quality practices are essential to the success of your entire supply chain operation, begin by analyzing whether any of these are currently being implemented. Analyze to what extent they are being integrated and begin optimizing these practices to ensure successful implementation of best practices. Have you implemented any of these? How have the been of benefit to you?

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5 Reasons Why Your QA Procedures Are Not Implemented- Part 2

Acknowledging that quality assurance is an integrated process; here we endevour to delve into some more best practices to help empower you and your company with the ability to achieve its goals and objectives.

3. There is often no accountability

Quality assurance best practicesOnce you have done your best to involve all relevant parties in the quality assurance procedures, your next task is to keep your finger on the pulse. Management needs to make sure that the QA staff are accountable for success and failure. The deeds of the QA staff need to be monitored and made known. A report of the activities and outcomes of the QA staff’s work is a good way to make sure that they are made responsible for poor performance, or given the due credit for functioning well. With that said, do not fall into the trap of merely documenting success and failure. With accountability there need to be consequences for whatever results the QA team produces. Be sure to actively intervene if QA is consistently not meeting desired standards, and reward good performance to highlight the value of QA to the company. If QA staff are doing their job properly that might go unnoticed, do not make the mistake of undervaluing their role! Once again, it is important to maintain open transfer of information, so that the effectiveness of QA practices can be monitored, and adjustments made as they are needed. On that note, do not be too quick to blame personnel. When people are blamed they may become more likely to conceal problems, rather than attend to them by bringing them to light. First be sure that the details of the procedure are not at fault, and that clear communication channels are open to rectify mistakes. Only with constant feedback can future mistakes be mitigated. This is an area where assumptions are dangerous. Don’t assume that processes are being followed, or that the current way of doing things is always fine. Check in.

4. Not looking around you

Quality_Assurance_Management.jpgEven if your quality assurance procedures seem to be working fine, and you have integrated QA and open channels of communication, you may still be falling behind. Best practices are called that for a reason. They are tried and tested and shown to improve the success of companies. However, they are always progressing, and so should you. Do get complacent with what you have, or let hubris stand in the way of taking note of what works for others. Seeing what works for those in a similar field may greatly improve your business, through incorporating useful ideas, tools, or technologies they have that you would not necessarily have come up with. This is particularly pertinent in terms of technological advances and environmentally friendly practices, both of which are seeing rapid, astonishing developments around the world. Naturally, success is contextual – no best practice will fit perfectly for everyone. This creates space for molding best practices to suit your specific objectives. However, be wary that excessive experimentation, and both blindly following and completely ignoring outside advice, may be detrimental. Stay competitive by making sure that you have at least what your competitors have, and then add more and improve on existing ideas to give yourself the edge. To remain competitive you must remain vigilant of opportunities for innovation.

5. How often do we fail to pick our battles wisely? 

Team_Effort.jpgAll along I have emphasized that QA procedures are a team effort. You do not have the time to meet with everyone, answer all emails, and be everywhere at once. You also desire time off. The good news… You do not need to do everything on your own! You can pick your battles to optimize expenditure of time and money. When you do not have the requisite expertise, hiring a 3rd party company may be the way to go. This could free up time and some responsibility, allowing you to focus more on what you can manage. This will allow for all-round improvement in QA, generated by including more hands and minds to focus on doing and assessing the quality of specialized work. For QA, picking your battles may also mean critically assessing the whole process and deciding what most needs attention and monetary investment. This brings us back to those important trade-offs… Determining the priority level of each part of the quality assurance process will allow the optimum allocation of time and resources. This will rely on clear objectives for QA, and the standards set for each step of the process;
  • Carefully consider which parts of the QA process are the most vital, and label them.
  • Generate feedback from the differential investment, and tweak the investment as needed.
  • Be flexible, and cut your losses.
  • Meet acceptable, achievable standards – you do not need to be perfect in every minor detail if the product is still successful.

Closing Tips

shutterstock_590654183-2.jpgWith these five (See part one) potential shortcomings of your buying office’s approach to QA in mind, you will hopefully be able to improve your quality assurance procedures to meet higher standards. As a final note; Remember that QA is not quality control. QA is a multi-tier concept, which needs involvement from the beginning: from management defining the desired outcomes of the product to the production team streamlining the production process, to assessing the final product is acceptable and distributed efficiently. QA is not just testing the product works, which would be the objective of quality control. Buying offices need to be concerned with more than just the final product. Build quality into the product up front by involving representatives from all vital levels of the product (design teams, funding agencies, production managers, and consumers), so that QA is preventative, not an afterthought. Do not make QA about putting out fires, make it a process that means that you can focus on solving problems before they arise. This is not only easier but more cost and time effective. We have spent some time delving into some of the basic quality assurance procedures and how applying these to your operations will help alleviate some of the internal challenges that you currently experience. What do you think? Have you applied any of these QA steps? Are there any more that we should add to this, if so what are they?

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