Buying from China - Need to knows

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I am an Englishman now staying in China. I have been registered on Ebay since 2002.
If you are buying from China or any other location in the world it would be prudent as a safeguard and to avoid any potential scams to carry out a few simple checks;

1. Read and understand the listing, know exactly what it is you are trying to purchase.
If there is any doubt or confusion in your mind then you can either Email the seller to clarify any details or failing this, look for another seller elsewhere on Ebay.

2. Check the Feedback. It is always advisable to delve a little deeper.
For instance, first glance, it may appear that your seller has an acceptable feedback score, maybe a feedback score of 30 with 100% rating…very good you may think!
On closer inspection though you may find that the feedback is made up of purchases only.
30 successful purchases of low cost items is an effective way of 'buying a good feedback' without infringing Ebay rules.
So my advice is…always delve a little deeper. Be sure.

3. One other course of action I would follow is to Email the seller with a few pertinent questions.
Assess the response both in terms of time to respond, content and tone of reply.
For instance, if you were to walk into a shop on any High Street and be met with an unhelpful and rude member of the sales staff, you would I am sure probably walk out and go elsewhere…the same applies within Ebay.

Official Ebay Guides on International Buying -

It in my firm belief that a seller should try to encourage and entice a potential buyer - NOT offend or ignore them.

Buying from China - the need to knows
China sellers are rapidly becoming aware of the benefits of Ebay.
One, it enables them to reach a very large target audience easily, and two, selling directly to western buyers without the need for middlemen (traditionally middlemen have always been used for selling to the west) means the China seller will get a significantly higher price for his or her item. Most certainly substantially higher than could be achieved by selling in China.

Buying from China does pose an issue or three for westerners.
The language and translation difficulties are probably the most significant but also to some extent a lack of trust exists, more evident on the western side. Add to this the cultural divide and it is no surprise that issues arise.
You will probably have already seen some Chinese listings and noticed in some cases the badly written English, misspellings and the like.
In their defence, please do not forget that they are often trying to describe in a foreign language and probably using an online translator quite difficult descriptions whilst using an invariably slow internet connection.
Some will have no English language at all and rely solely on Chinese text translated into English online.
More often than not the description will also be a little less informative than you might hope for. This is probably more to do with translation issues and the desire to NOT mislead and deceive rather than the opposite.

The Chinese listings often appear gaudy, lots of bright colours, flashing gifs and sometimes sound etc.
Admittedly this does all look a little dated to our sore western eyes and ears. But to the Chinese it is acceptable, it’s a cultural thing. In China, most websites are just as colorful and loud, if not more so and they just love flashing gifs and floating menus etc.
Walk any High Street in China and you will see and hear exactly what I mean…

I have noticed on many 'from China' listings what appears to be high postal charges and often low starting prices. Some sellers from any location will use this as a way to reduce the listing fees and hoodwink the unsuspecting buyer.
My take on this looking at it from the China end is this:
The China sellers are actually following Ebay advice and trying to entice a buyer by way of a low start price whilst also trying to keep the costs down as is often the case, they need to relist the items several times before a sale is made. Which does put them at a trading disadvantage.

A tip
 The Chinese are master hagglers as haggling is part of everyday life here. They love to haggle. This can sometimes be used to western advantage as you can approach the seller and ask for a 'Buy it now' price. Once obtained, then try and haggle the ' But it now' price down. This way you avoid the auction frenzy and possibly get yourself a bargain.
 Always, always use Ebay and PayPal. Never trade outside however attractive a proposition offered may look.

Trust is another matter, poor communication and translation difficulties will only add to this particular issue.
This inability to fully understand each other and the fact that China does have a rather low quality and reliability reputation in the west is of course one of the main trust concerns.
Another concern is the perennial question of many Ebay buyers regardless of where they purchase - Is my money safe whilst I wait for my goods to arrive?
The China seller is at a distinct disadvantage here as the delivery times from China are not very good at the best of times and sometimes through no fault of the seller items can be held up at customs at both the Chinese end and the destination. More on the postal services later.
Postal delays and disputes have always been the bane of Ebay buyers and sellers alike and in my experience have always caused the most friction between the two Ebay parties.
Although interestingly it is the third party, the carrier, that is responsible and often escapes unscathed.

So, is your money safe when buying from China?
If you always use Ebay
And always use PayPal
And always carry out the 3 steps listed above.
Then the answer is yes, as safe as you could hope for if purchasing from any other Ebayer anywhere else in the world.

I cannot end this guide without further information as promised on China Postal Services which I hope will both enlighten and provide a better understanding.

China Post offices are located in most Chinese cities.
It costs more to send an airmail letter to the UK from China than it does to send one from the UK to China. (Delivery time 10-15 days)
Two services are offered. Basic and EMS.
The system for posting an item is very different to the UK.
You take your item into one of the China Post offices unwrapped.
It is inspected by a member of staff.
Once they accept it as worthy of sending, you then wrap it, address it etc.
It is then weighed and you choose your postal service. Mostly EMS for international.
It is stamped and off it goes.
Not vastly different from the UK but significantly so when other considerations are factored in.
All items are inspected before wrapping?, yes, any quantity less than 10 are normally inspected. More than 10 then a random check is carried out.
I bet you thought queuing was a UK phenomenon.
Let me tell you - In China it is a national pastime, it is not unusual here to queue for hours.
The longest I have needed  to wait was 2 hours 15 minutes in a Bank on one occasion.
China Post office is no exception, depending on time of day and peoples desire to post an item or 20, the posting process can take some considerable time.
UPS and FEDEX and some others are also available in most large cities i.e. Beijing, Shanghai and the like invariably more expensive than EMS.

Things are changing, albeit a little slowly and I would like to think that in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai the system is more streamlined.

Important Notes:
Exchange rates are always in a state of flux.
The EMS quoted delivery times are based on the item received at an EMS depot, not every city has an EMS depot - so, in some cases an additional 3-4 days needs to be added.
EMS - the first 500grams (minimum threshold) quoted at 240 RMB (Nov 2010) (exchange rate variable) and that could take as long as 10/15 days to reach the UK (should be 7 days) and sometimes longer.


I must point out I am not able to help in any specific product or supplier searching or researching.

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