The importing business is very profitable but can be costly. People lose millions by sourcing products from unscrupulous suppliers selling substandard products.
What is product compliance?
Product compliance means a product meets the set product requirements, regulations, and standards. These are some of the aspects of product compliance.
1. Safety of the product.
The general rule is to ensure that the product you intend to sell is safe for use. Some specific products have safety restrictions on them, but others don’t. You should determine any legal safety requirements for a product. If there are no specific regulations for your product, you still need to test other aspects, including usage and safety.
2. State Regulations.
Different countries have different standards set for imports. For example, chemicals and some metals face strict restrictions that your product must adhere to. Depending on your market, ensure that your Supplier meets the product requirements. Is your market in the EU? Here is the product compliance process for EU imports.
EU Product Compliance
It is your responsibility to ensure that imported artificial plants are compliant.
EU product compliance checklist. Under the EU regulations, manufacturers must do the following:
· Identify and meet product requirements. Product requirements are EU laws that ensure your product is safe to use and does not deter the users’ health or environment.
Artificial plants EU requirements
EU product requirements cover artificial plant’s composition, production process, or the plant’s performance. Stay alert to the following conditions for your artificial plants:
o Textile Regulation: The regulations require textile products (e.g., fabric plants) to be well labeled. The label should disclose the fabric composition of the artificial plant. The label also needs to be visible, durable, and eligible. Importers can also request textile certifications like the Eco-label.
o Packaging Regulation: The regulation outlines the requirements of the artificial plant’s packaging, composition, and processing. It also deals with re-usability and the possibility of recycling. These are measures to prevent environmental degradation.
o CE Marking: Every importer needs to know the European Conformity (CE) mark. An artificial plant with the CE mark shows that it complies with the EU requirements.
o Labeling Requirements: The information on the external packaging should correspond to your packing list details. The packaging should show the following information:
- The name of the manufacturer and consignee,
- The plant’s material, quantity, volume, size,
- Any caution information. It can also include the manufacturer logo. Importers can demand that the Supplier provides specific labeling requirements.
o The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals). This is a regulation that controls chemical substances. It is especially useful for plastic and fabric artificial plants. It includes the restrictions on chemicals like Flame Retardants. Check the Annex XVII on the European Chemical Agency website for more information on the requirements.
· The EU requires manufacturers to do a conformity assessment through a designated organization.
For more information, head on to the EU Trade Helpdesk database.
When importing into the EU, importers would need some general and specific documents for artificial plants. The general documents include customs clearance documents depending on the means used to ship the product. What about the US market?
US Product Compliance
The US market has different yet almost similar restrictions. Verify the specific regulations through the following;
- CA Prop 65 California,
- ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials),
- CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
The ASTM, now known as ASTM International, is a scientific body for developing standards for a wide range of products. The CPSC develops standards for consumer goods.
- Labeling requirements
The US requires that all products have labels of their country of origin. This means that the artificial plant should have the ‘Made in China’ brand.
The artificial plant should follow the OTEXA (Office of Textiles and Apparels) textiles labeling requirements. The labeling should include highly fabric composition, caution symbols, or instructions, all written in English.
All products must be safe to use. If a product is unsafe in any way, authorities recall it, and the seller refunds the buyers.
- Chemical Regulations
Importers should check the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) standards required for the artificial plants.
To ensure product compliance, importers either use B2B platforms or work independently. We will look at how to do it independently and through a B2B site.
You develop the necessary documentation that describes your artificial plant and third-party documents. Some of the self-developed documents include;
· Risk assessment file
· Applied standards file
· CE label file
· Declaration of Conformity design drawings, and more. The most important document is the Declaration of Conformity. Authorities will use this and other documents to assess your artificial plants. If any required document is missing, you might receive a recall on your product or a fine. Check with the relevant authorities to confirm the necessary documents.
Inspection companies like SGS issue the necessary third-party documents.
4. Product labeling
The external packaging of your artificial plant needs to be well labeled. The label should show;
· The country of origin
· CE and FCC labels
· The product SKU
· The quantity and size of the product and much more.
5. Product testing.
Lab tests help to verify product compliance. Consider doing a lab test on your artificial plant during quality inspection. Or, you may request for the artificial plants’ lab test report from your Supplier. A reputable supplier will deliver it to you. There are things to check on the lab tests to ensure authenticity. More on this later.
How can importers learn about the regulations on their products?
They check through different government authorities. Various government bodies handle different regulations, and their sites can be confusing. It’s advisable to hire a product compliance consultant.
Here is where importers can go look for regulation information:
For EU importers,
· ProductIP: this web-based platform will help you develop your product’s documentation.
· Ce-check.eu also helps in developing documentation.
For US importers,
· CPSC Small Business Ombudsman: A free CPSC online service with information on consumer product regulations.
An alternative is to use the ComplianceGate website, which works for both the EU and US markets. They connect you to product compliance agencies.
Product Compliance Checklist
· Supplier capability. Ask for test reports on the product and their compliance documents.
· Standards. Make sure you provide the supplier upfront with the standard requirements. This could mean providing the label files and regulation details.
· Regulations. If you cannot determine the regulations of your market, hire a specialized consultant. Ensure that the final product meets all the rules.
· Documentation. Have all your necessary documents; the self-developed and third-party documents. Each of these should be up to date.
· Labeling Requirements. The labels should show the product details, CE and FCC labels, and country of origin in English.
· Testing Requirements. Have the product tested by a certified laboratory.
Should you go through a B2B site or contact a supplier?
B2B sites like Alibaba lock scammers from their site using specific regulations. Let’s take, for instance, Alibaba.
How Alibaba ensures product compliance
Alibaba is the largest B2B (business to business) market. With so many suppliers on the platform, it is easier to get any product at competitive prices. Importers need to take extra caution when dealing with Alibaba suppliers.
Alibaba has put in place measures to help importers determine reliable suppliers. This is how importers can vet their suppliers.
Trade Assurance Policy
The Trade Assurance Policy is a free service for buyers that protects them against;
· Late shipping
· Compromised product standards.
Suppliers pay a small transaction fee for every processed order. In exchange, they get better exposure and customer trust.
How to use the Trade Assurance Policy
An importer buys from Trade Assurance Suppliers and pays through the Alibaba website.
The Trade Assurance icon appears on the Supplier’s profile when you search for a product. The easiest way to locate such suppliers is to use the search filter. For example, when searching for artificial plants, apply the ‘Trade Assurance’ filter by checking off the Trade Assurance button. Follow this method for this and other quality control regulations on Alibaba.
Conditions when using Trade Assurance
· If you pay for your order directly to the Supplier or through PayPal, you will not be eligible for a refund.
· You should apply for a refund through the Alibaba website within 30 days of delivery.
The Gold Supplier status is a premium subscription. It costs suppliers over $10,000 annually. To get a gold status;
· A third-party agency inspection is to determine the legality of the supplier’s business.
· Suppliers from China need to pass Alibaba’s Onsite Check
· Foreign suppliers need to pass the AV&V (Assets verification and valuation) Check
Gold Suppliers have the ‘Gold Supplier’ icon on their profile. You will also see how long the Supplier has had a Gold Supplier status. It is best if you chose a Gold Supplier with over 2 years of membership.
Alibaba products should pass a quality control test. Companies involved in the inspection include the SGS and Bureau Veritas.
Assessed suppliers are the best suppliers when it comes to product compliance. The inspections made are rigorous to verify the product and company.
The inspection companies will look into details such as;
· The Supplier’s company overview: including its legal status, address information, and human resources.
· The production capacity, methods, and machinery.
· The company’s trade capacity: including its export revenue, major clients, and market distribution.
· Quality assurance: including certifications on the product and the quality management system.
This information is available to any of the Alibaba users.
Apply the Assessed Suppliers filter while searching for targeted results. Go ahead to view all the assessed details on the Supplier’s profile. To do that, select ‘Any view.’ This shows the assessment report, including actual photos of the Supplier’s company and the production process.
How Importers Can Ensure Product Compliance
1. Quality inspection
Quality inspection is the only sure way to ensure product compliance. Before the product is packed for shipping, you or your company’s representative can visit the manufacturer to inspect their work quality.
Or hire a Quality Control firm to conduct inspection based on the requirements. If the inspecting firm finds fault in the artificial plant, you may choose to decline the product. Keep in mind that as you submit your requirements, you also need to state the defect rate. The defect rate is how many defects you can accept in your artificial plant. The inspector will categorize any weaknesses in their degree of severity, then assign a pass or fail. The inspection firm must follow strict inspection standards and integrity guidelines.
Can you trust the reports from an inspection firm? It is not uncommon for third-party inspectors to liaise with manufacturers to approve low-quality products. That is why you should hire the services of a reputable inspection agency like SGS. Reputable inspection agencies have strict ethical and integrity guidelines to control their staff.
Another alternative is to have your inspectors on your call. For such an inspection, you will have to start offices in the country you intend to import from. You then hire local staff to be inspecting your products. This method works if you intend to do long-term and frequent importing. It costs more because you have to pay monthly salaries to your employees and office rent.
How To Conduct Quality Inspection?
A quality inspection happens before the Supplier is through with processing your order. The late assessment brings inconvenience, especially if a product does not meet set requirements. The Supplier will have to redo your order, which will take even more time. There is a way to avoid this. Product inspection can be done during different production stages.
Lab Test Report
So, you asked for a lab test report, and the Supplier delivered it? Don’t end your scrutiny yet. Read through the report to ensure that it is reliable. Do the following to verify a test report.
· Ensure the test report’s date is up to date, at least less than 2 years old.
· Ensure that the name on the report matches the Supplier’s name.
· Ensure that the SKU (stock-keeping unit) of the product and packaging corresponds to that on the report. The SKU of a product is useful for tracking a product. It uniquely identifies a product.
· Check that the testing company is accredited.
· Ensure that the report is compliant with your market’s standards. For instance, if your market is the US, request a test report based on US standards and regulations.
Importers need to stay vigilant when it comes to product compliance. Problems that arise after receiving the product will fall on your shoulders. Selling defective products means a bad reputation and losing customers. Knowledge of current government regulations does not cut it. You need to stay updated on any standards developments. At FEELREAL, quality assurance is our mantra; you will never have to worry about defective products when sourcing from us.