* See edit at bottom
In Part 1 of Buying from China I described my motivation for buying direct from China and how my project concept led me to searching and investigating the best way to approach buying direct from overseas. Most of the information I'm about to go over is available from a number of sources on the Internet but this article may help anyone navigating the often contradictory information you will encounter in doing research on buying from China.
Finding the needle in a haystack
My particular experience began with a search of the product I was looking for and once I found several listings from companies based in China I took a deeper look into the process I should take. My initial game plan was to outline some steps to take to ensure I didn't make a wrong turn and end up in a situation where I couldn't control the outcome. This required doing an in-depth search of the companies listing the product I was looking for.
The company that turned up more often in my searches was Alibaba." Alibaba is a privately owned Hangzhou-based family of Internet-based businesses that cover business-to-business online marketplaces, retail and payment platforms, shopping search engine and data-centric cloud computing services. Its products and services are designed to make the benefits of the Internet accessible to small businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers. It operates primarily in the People’s Republic of China."(1) I did a search of complaints and scam reports on the company and it turned up several results. I did the same thing for Ebay and it returned more than 10 times the results. Still, Ebay is local and any recourse would be more easily accomplished than with an overseas company. I decided to take the plunge anyway and created an account.
I soon learned that Alibaba was more adapted to large quantity purchases but they had a division tailored to small quantity purchases called Aliexpress. My account in Alibaba also worked in Aliexpress and both sites were well integrated with each other. After taking a little tour of the interfaces and various tools available I posted the specifications I was looking for and almost immediately I started receiving replies. This is a list of the steps I learned to check out on the companies that were replying:
- Make sure the company has several representatives
- Make sure the company has a Web Site over 3 years old
- Make sure there are contact emails, addresses, phone numbers
- Make sure the company has been doing business more than 3 years and they have feedback
- Do not send money directly to any company and be leery of companies requesting you to
- Be cautious If emails are not answered promptly, within one day (be mindful of the time difference)
- Require pictures and specifications of the product
- Check the information/ratings Aliexpress has on the company
There are obviously a number of other checks you can do but the point is don't just dive in and accept the first offer.
I finally settled on a company, Shenzhen Delonghuale Electronic & Technology Co., Ltd, and my contact was Allen Chen. Allen did a great job in answering my concerns and questions and, for the most part, was prompt in his communication. Shenzhen Delonghuale Electronic & Technology Co., Ltd delivered an excellent product and exceeded my expectations. The time from order to receipt was longer than we agreed upon, which caused some concern on my part, but in the end I was satisfied with the overall process.
It's about time
When I first ordered the product my order was accepted, money accepted, and I received all the emails that made me believe all was great but then I received an email that stated the order was canceled by Aliexpress. My first thoughts were, they got my money(several thousand) and there is no way to get it back. Of course that was just the worrier in me and it all turned out OK. The reason it was canceled had to do with my bank and international purchases. I straightened all that out with the help of Mark Story, Director, International Corporate Affairs for Alibaba group, who was a huge help. Aliexpress has an escrow system set up and I advise using it if you don't have an escrow service. This ensures your funds are not released until your merchandise is received and approved.
The order did end up taking more time to be built and shipped than what was stated on the order and I got really anxious at about 24 hours before the official shipping time. This is the time that the order will be automatically canceled and monies returned if an extension is not made. The initial agreement was different, it was on the order, but that agreed upon time never translated over to the official shipping time so by my estimation the delivery was way past due. A few short hours before the order was to automatically cancel they shipped it. A little disconcerting but considering the product, price, and overall experience, I was satisfied with the process.
I would recommend using Alibaba and Aliexpress but as with any transaction be cautious and thoroughly checkout the individual companies you may end up doing business with through these services. The project I ended up successfully completing may require additional units and, if that happens, I will have no reservations using Shenzhen Delonghuale Electronic & Technology Co., Ltd again.
I learned, during this process, that patience is a valued trait and inpatiance can be a stumbling block to communication. I admit my usual transactions are made with time as a major consideration but with this transaction my way of doing business had to be tempered with the reality that my priorities are not paramount to a successful transaction completion. One can argue the benefits of timely and even rushed transactions being the preferred method to order products but in this case I should have factored in that not everyone will have the same priority. This doesn't mean there is no thought or concern for customer satisfaction, just a different set of rules to gauge and ensure customer satisfaction.
Edit: Added 6/25/13
Shortly after installing the unit on-site it started having display issues. The issues were sporadic and hard to troubleshoot and I still have'nt diagnosed the reason for the display problems. It seems to be a board , FRC board, that is impossible to locate for replacement. I have replaced the main-board, the T-con, and applied other 'fixes' to no avail. The FRC board is the next logical board to replace. The manufacturer has been less then helpful on this. They did send the main-board but have not been helpful in further troubleshooting. Their responses are more sporadic then the display issues.
The lesson here is that a warranty is only as good as the company you buy from and with this unit being bought from China the standard product support you would expect is severely limited by distance. The fact that the product had problems so soon after receipt is also a testament to poor quality. Considering quality and support from this purchase I must back track and not advise anyone to buy from Shenzhen Delonghuale Electronic & Technology Co., Ltd.
Edit: Added 11/2013
I searched for the FRC board for several months; hoping one would come available, with no success. I finally decided to order one that had the same IC part number, knowing this was a stab in the dark. After receiving the board and placing it in the unit I found myself back at square one as the replacement board didn't work. I went ninja on the old FRC board to see if I could visually find what was wrong with the board. I had looked at it several times before to no avail. I hadn't found any broken or burnt traces, no fat capacitors, and no obvious problems with any of the board components. This time I got out my meter and started testing current flow and resistance but with the board out of the unit this was just an effort in futility as far as discovering any malfunctioning component on the board. Just as I was about to resign myself to not being able to fix the unit I got out my magnifier and gave the board one last look. I noticed the top of one of the capacitors looked off so I zeroed in on it and discovered a tiny hole at the top. The hole was smaller than a pin head. I actually got a pin and tried to push it in the hole and the pin was too big. I extracted the part and soldered another capacitor in place of like volt and capacitance values and placed the board back in unit. I turned the unit on and the problem was gone. After 5 days, of leaving the unit on, the display issues never returned.
The manufacturer should have been able to produce a new FRC board for me and saved several months of waiting and troubleshooting. This is a lesson in buying from companies that can't support their warranty claims and from companies that limit any recourse if they send you a defective piece of equipment. Since this problem began when the unit was installed and placed in service it is certain the problem came with the unit.
by Jim Atkins 'thedosmann'