Paul Midler, at Knowledge@Wharton, introduces the expression "quality fade" to describe,
the deliberate and secret habit of widening profit margins through a reduction in the quality of materials. Importers usually never notice what's happening; downward changes are subtle but progressive. The initial production sample is fine, but with each successive production run, a bit more of the necessary inputs are missing.
('Quality Fade': China's Great Business Challenge, July 25) . Chinese suppliers can pull this off because the fading is done in slow, incremental steps. Buyers may be slow to see it, and once they do, they may be reluctant to make major investments in developing relationships with new suppliers in response to what appear - at any point in time - to be small changes in quality. They may look for less radical fixes. They may engage in wishful thinking.
Dan Harris, a lawyer working in China, agrees that quality fade is common: China Quality Control Darkness Before the Dawn (July 27). Harris always warns his clients about the "fourth shipment":
In our experience, quality fade tends to happen disproportionally on the fourth shipment, probably because it is at this point that the Western importer is feeling comfortable enough with its Chinese manufacturer to place a large order and the Chinese manufacturer is feeling comfortable enough to cut corners.