Tips for Retail Success

From the Buyer’s Perspective: What product safety testing do I need to conduct for retailers?

By Vanessa Ting

Product testing is a biggie. Here are some things to know about product testing:

  • Virtually all big retailers require product testing. Even if you have done your own independent testing already or tested with other retailers, you will still have to undergo each and every big retailer’s product testing process that you sell in.
  • Smaller retailers’ product testing requirements vary across the board. Some will require that you show proof you passed product safety testing, others may just take your word for it. Others may not even be up to date on the latest safety regulations.
  • It’s *your* job to be educated on your product category’s safety regulations and all ongoing changes.
  • And it’s not just product safety testing you need to submit your product for. Many retailers require product durability testing to ensure that it doesn’t break from and/or can withstand reasonable use (i.e., drop testing, stability testing, etc.) and transit testing (i.e., your product doesn’t damage in shipping). Then there is product safety testing like CPSIA testing for lead, phthalates, and labeling requirements.
  • Many of our readers operate in the juvenile industry. So it is important to know that infant, toddler and children’s products are among the most scrutinized product categories and the testing regulations are strict and always changing.

In my experience, product safety testing is the most misunderstood by vendors because of the depth of testing and constant change in regulations. But once vendors figured out the requirements, how to stay on top of changes, plus created an ongoing testing protocol, subsequently it was easy for them to remain compliant.

But it is durability testing that vendors most often failed, despite all efforts. During my watch, many products, especially those at low price points or manufactured overseas, frequently failed durability testing during my watch for reasons that aren’t surprising to those in the manufacturing business.  To combat this, retailers do routine surprise factory inspections and randomly pull sample from production runs for testing. And these are all things you have to stay on top of. It’s your job to ensure you pass those surprise visits and tests with flying colors.

What happens when you fail any of the aforementioned testing? You lose your spot in that retailer’s assortment. Often times you are given a second chance to make corrections and retest, but usually timelines are so tight that even if you pass the second test, you will have missed your ship date. Retailers will have little sympathy in this situation and cancel your order.

So what’s the lesson here? Be a master of your industry’s testing requirements and err on the side of caution. Like Romy said, join trade associations who are at the forefront of regulation changes. For example, Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) is the leading trade organization for infant, toddler and children’s products and offers educational programs and certification services to keep you compliant. I recommend all vendors join a trade association, not only to get this product safety requirements but because of the many other upsides it provides for your business.

Lastly you can ask your large retailers which labs they test with and those labs (and the retailer’s QA department) will tell you the requirements you need to pass. For example, at Target, we used Bureau Vertitas regularly.  For smaller retailers, ask them for their product testing requirements and what documentation you need to show them. You may find that all they require is product testing certification by trade associations.


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