Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Announcing March MadMess and what to expect when buying from overseas

You like that TRON clock? I sure do. Having a laser cutter has opened my world and rest assured there will be an episode this month about the laser cutter I'm using. (Full Spectrum Laser Muse, by the way)

I noticed some mistakes in the design of my clock that I'm going to have to fix before I upload it, if I upload it, but I doubt I'm going to get to make those changes myself, if only because $11 of raw material every time is a bit steeper than I'm used to.

March MadMess was partially inspired because I really need to clean out my queue, and partially inspired because my friends a GearBest want me to step up the reviews. However, in stepping up the reviews I'm gonna have to be frank and in many cases disappointingly honest about some of these machines that have let me down. Not all of these printers are from GearBest. In fact most of the printer that have disappointed me have come directly from manufacturers. There are some real stinkers on this list, so brace yourself, March MadMess is coming.

As a preview of things to come, I'll have a list below of some of the 3D printers I'll be reviewing with (yes) affiliate links if you want to check them out. However, for now I promised you a clarification of what "the experience" of buying from overseas is going to be.

First of all, I want to say that my defense of GearBest wasn't anything to do with you, the viewers, but more about Tom and Angus calling out Gearbest directly for just doing what they do, while at the same time, posting their own GearBest affiliate links. Maybe it was the hypocrisy that I was reacting to more than GearBest themselves. But I still feel that maybe if people were a little better prepared for what to expect with companies like GearBest, that they can at least be braced for the experience. The stories of people who have been bitten by their interactions with overseas buying that I have heard since my video went up break my heart. My goal is to work with overseas distributors to make things better for the consumer, as well as helping the consumer have realistic expectations so that they're not caught off guard, or so they will be able to judge whether it's worth it.

So what is the experience you can expect when you buy from overseas?

1. Best Price. The first thing to keep in mind is it's not all bad. Buying directly from the manufacturer is the best way to insure you're getting the best price. You can not get this sort of price from big box retail, and the reason... well, the reason is that big box retail is shielding you from the rest of this list.

2. No takesy backsies. At a local retailer, if you get something broken or just decide you don't like it, they'll take it back and either put it back on the shelf if it's okay, or try to get their money back from the manufacturer. Most of the time, they actually end up just eating the cost of that broken item. And that's fine, because they've jacked up their prices to compensate for those losses. But when you're shipping from overseas, the prospect of paying for the shipping to and fro pro-bono is not the way to run business, especially when you're this close to margins. So if you get something defective or damaged in shipping, expect them to put up a fight. And don't even think about it if you've just changed your mind.

One way you can help this is if you agree to see them part way. If they ask you to pay for shipping, then recognize that they need that to stay in business and don't fight them. Again, you're not dealing with Amazon or a local retailer here. The rules are different.

3. The customer isn't always right. Business in the west, obviously, has the opposite opinion of the customer's word, and I've had to deal with people taking advantage of that in my Etsy store. People who were very deliberately making the experience as bad for me as they could so that when they complained after the transaction that it wasn't exactly what they wanted that I would cave and give them a full refund, essentially giving them my work and product for free without a fight. And, yes, I did it, because I live in the land of "the customer is always right" and I run my business at enough of a margin that I can afford to take that hit once in a while, and once in a while is all I have to deal with. But in China that is not the default position. I don't know why this is. Maybe it's because they're running closer to the margin. Maybe it's because the percentage of dishonest people are greater than the customers I deal with. But either way, if you come to them complaining, they may take the position that you're trying to rip them off.

4. Keep on top of your shipping notification. The retailer overseas isn't the only people who you have to worry about. Occasionally packages get lost. Occasionally shady people in customs or handling see a big package from China and decide they're going to get a little something for themselves. The best way to keep your package moving is to get the tracking number and check the status of your package as often as you can. Don't just sit back and wait, because if you take too long, the shipping company may tell you that you're beyond the period where you can complain. They'll insist that their policies tie their hands, and it'll be between you and who you bought it from to take the hit. And remember, they shipped it, so their not going to want to take the blame.

It's not always dishonesty that stops your package from getting through. Point #6 below also gets in the way sometimes. But we're getting into the ugly, so first I want to talk about...

5. Minimal Quality Assurance testing. Testing equipment that rolls off an assembly line takes time and money. Do you want it cheap, or do you want it tested? You can't have both. In the case of a kit, forget about it. No way anyone is going to build it, test it, and take it apart so you can put it back together.

Retail deals with these issues by buying in bulk, testing the product, throwing away the bad ones, and jacking up the price on the remaining to cover their expenses and give you the assurance that what you're buying will work. But buying one or two from a manufacturer, you're kind of rolling a dice. Most makers just consider this as a learning experience. Getting a kit with missing parts, or a printer that won't print until you do some mandatory upgrades? That's just something to overcome. And it creates quite the sense of ownership. However, if you're expecting to get what's in the listing, and printing on day one, this can be a harsh awakening.

6. Bending the rules to gain an advantage is commonplace. I mean no disrespect to my associates overseas. When I say this, I mean that business practices that we in the west would never let people know we were doing, because business ethics is a thing, are openly considered in the east. And not only considered, but weighed, tallied, and if the chances of getting away with it are good enough, turned into a common practice. Now, perhaps the only difference between doing business there and here is that they don't necessarily try to hide what they're doing. Generally my run-ins with this sort of thing are uncommon, but very specific.

This is the one aspect of associating with companies like GearBest that I am not proud of. If I could convince them to change anything, adhering to more ethical business practices would be it. But now that I know how common these practices are, I know that just because I buy at a retail store, doesn't mean it's not going on in the backroom. Retail's job is to give you the right to be oblivious, but I've had my innocence taken away.

I've seen control software for a piece of hardware that ships with the crack to overcome the copy protection. But when I went to see how much the software would cost to buy a non-pirated, I discovered that the software had moved to a subscription model and they couldn't ship it to you in this way, and I see the reason they do it the way they do.

I've had retail stores in Malaysia pull out the pirated version of the software they copied and cracked and were now selling. They treated it like it was just the generic alternative to the real thing. They didn't see it as a lost sale to the real thing if you were never going to buy the real thing at full price.

I've heard of companies regularly falsifying shipping information to get a lower shipping rate. When customs catches the "mistake" who do you think they're going to want to pay the difference? The answer depends on how much you want what you ordered. Now, honestly, I'm on the side of the consumer with this one. The shipper was caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

I've also had manufacturers with designs obviously building on open source technology, that people foolishly leave where anyone could do whatever they want with them, and when I innocently ask them how they iterated the design, they insist that they came up with the everything entirely on their own, from scratch. It's like they're standing on the shoulders of giants, but insisting that they're just really tall.

And if you catch them doing this stuff, and call them out, they will deny, deny, deny. They will stand firm and defend their position. Because to do otherwise would be to admit wrongdoing, and that's bad for business.

Maybe this is why they assume everyone is trying to cheat them. Because over there, someone probably is. It's eat or be eaten.

So what's to do? Are you going to swear to never do business with any overseas companies? I wish I could buy only locally from companies I can verify are honest and aren't poising any moral quandaries in the back room, but that is a right of the rich only. And business who make that commitment, unless they make a big deal about it and win public support for their higher prices, will lose out to businesses who are less morally encumbered, or do a better job of hiding it.

Honestly, I find the openness of their corruption refreshing. And maybe by staying close to them, finding out what they're doing, and exposing it to the light, it can get better.

Generally I believe that there's more honesty than corruption. Hopefully I'm not just being naive, but these people, when you get to know them as people, aren't evil. They're not trying to cheat people. They're just trying to do business, giving people what they want at the price they want it. They're not catering to the rich, they're trying to make things better for the rest of us. But sometimes, honest people have bad experiences because these factors combine against them. It sucks, and I want to do whatever I can to make it better.

As promised, here's a list of some of the printers I'll be checking out in this series (not necessarily in this order) with the best price links for them, if you want to check them out:
This will probably come in useful later. There will also be some Raspberry Pi projects.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.