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Target is Improving its Product Quality—But it’s Not Doing it Alone

With its wide-ranging implications for brand integrity, return rates and consumer loyalty, reliable product quality processes are not a nice to have. They’re a must.

But as beneficial as the quality inspection process can be, it’s also time and resource intensive. Today, brands and retailers are often heavily involved in the inspection and remediation process when what they’d rather do is leave production to their factory partners so they can focus on product development and sales.

Achieving that ideal however is hampered in part by the manual nature of the quality control process. With issues tracked via pen and paper, it’s difficult for stakeholders to analyze them and uncover their underlying causes—let alone affect changes that might resolve them once and for all.

The reality is most factories lack the tools needed to diagnose systemic problems. Instead they apply Band-Aids to issues as they occur—and re-occur, as is often the case.

“The problem with quality inspections is the activities are taking place but they are isolated,” said Carlos Moncayo, CEO of inspection platform Inspectorio. “There’s no full action plan that allows buyers and sellers to collaborate and ensure that the key issues identified in every inspection are treated more as symptoms than the root cause. Retailers are continuously addressing or firefighting the problems but they’re not able to address them in a sustainable way.”

It’s apparel’s version of whack-a-mole, an exhausting and futile game.

Inspectorio hopes to change the rules with its digitized inspection platform. By centralizing all inspection and error reports, the software makes it easier for retailers to share data across the supply chain in real time and identify patterns in their findings. In addition to tracking issues, it creates a corrective action plan that must be addressed. “Through the follow up, you ensure that the issues that are identified in one inspection don’t appear in the next one, and you can monitor how the problem was been resolved over time,” Moncayo said.

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Not only does Inspectorio provide a big-picture view of what’s happening for a particular brand or retailer, it also pools data across suppliers and predicts potential problem areas. This attribute is of particular interest to Target, which recently teamed up with Inspectorio to use its quality control and supplier compliance verification platform in 100 factories in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

“So much of the industry is focused on remediation which tends to be reactive. The platform allows us to be predictive and more proactive,” said Irene Quarshie, vice president of product quality and responsible sourcing at Target. “It gets smarter as more data gets input so whether it’s Target or another retailer, as more data gets included in the platform, connections are able to be made in a very anonymous way between retailer A and B to give us greater insight and allows us to be more proactive, which is always a good thing.”

Armed with this level of detail about each of its factories, Target can better identify those that are best in class with an eye toward one day being able to turn more of the quality control responsibilities over to them.

“It helps us shift away from trying to inspect in quality, which quite frankly I think so much of the retail quality assurance continues to do is focus on inspecting in quality, [to] shifting to is designing in quality,” Quarshie said. “And so if we’re not spending the time double checking and walking hand in hand on the factory floor, we can spend more time up front in the product development phase designing in quality.”

It’s these eventual advantages that lead Target to induct the startup as a participant in its inaugural Target + Techstars Retail Accelerator program. From there, Target recognized Inspectorio’s potential, which lead to a pilot program this summer. Based on those results, Target remains optimistic about the impact the platform could have—on its own business and beyond.

“The beauty is it’s not about it being a proprietary solution for Target. It’s an industry solution,” Quarshie said. “For that reason, we’re really excited about being a part of this effort.”