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Most of the brand-name tech we buy today has inflated prices to cover advertisement cost, store rentals, staff etc. The Chinese market is different, and many manufacturers don’t market their products in the same traditional ways.
The tech you buy is also most likely already made in China, so buying your new laptop with a more direct line from the manufacturer will not only save you money, but will hopefully help force the Big Names™ to re-examine their price points to bring affordable tech to everyone.
What Tech Can You Buy From China?
Cheaper production costs, little to no advertisement expense, and a lax grasp on copyright law means that if you have some patience for delivery times, you can grab a bargain on anything from fitness trackers and other wearables, to laptops, mobile phones and even DIY go-carts.
The tech is equivalent in quality and specs to brand names you know, and other than slow delivery time and potentially poor customer service, there aren’t many good reasons not to get on the Chinese market bandwagon.
An increasingly recommended product line to look out for is Xiaomi. As a brand, they are quickly gaining ground on many staples like Samsung, Asus, and Apple. You may have already heard about the Xiaomi mi band fitness tracker or their popular redmi mobile smartphones, one of the top cheap Android phones.
Why Is It Cheaper to Buy Tech From China?
Want to try some new technology before breaking open your savings for high-end products? By buying from China, you can get your smart bulbs, drones, cameras, laptops, or robotic vacuum cleaners, test them, and either use them until you replace them, or give them away and buy a higher-end product when you’re ready.
You’re not paying for staff, customer service, fast delivery times, easy returns, or extended warranties (a warranty that few of us ever use). What you do pay for, is the same quality of product with a different brand name and logo.
Just get the product that you need and forgo the rest of the first world customer service expectations you may have. You can always get your own gadget insurance to cover your shiny device afterward.
Where to Buy Chinese Tech
Be wary that the quality of service might be sketchy with some of these sites, but doing a quick Google search will usually let you know if the site is still good.
Your miles may vary with GearBest, Lightake, and Geekbuying, whose delivery and customer service is reportedly going downhill. Gearbest especially has had a big fall from grace this year, but remains popular.
TomTop and Tradingshenzen are both popular, and might be a better option than the other three these days.
Our recommendation would be to hit AliExpress first and then check out the other sites for potential deals.
Some recommended stores on AliExpress include HK Goldway, Mi Store, Mi Global Store, Fantacy, Eternal Team, and Xiaomi MC Store.
More often than not, products will be delivered as advertised, and if they aren’t, the sellers are happy to re-deliver or to offer refunds for broken items or non-deliveries. Negative ratings will often kill a seller on AliExpress, so they will do a lot to avoid it.
How to Shop Safely From China
Many of the websites offering Chinese brands will do crazy deals regularly to get new customers signed up, so look for those and make your savings even higher. There is usually at least one coupon code you can use.
Most Chinese product resellers have a similar policy to AliExpress. Our article on whether AliExpress is safe or legit will answer many of your questions about what you can expect to experience when using these sites.
If you’re buying from AliExpress or other sites where there are multiple sellers, try to avoid sellers with few reviews. If prices are much cheaper than any equivalent products, keep in mind that it may be a scam or fake products, and look for something that seems closer to the average price point.
All that said, you will need to do your due diligence, and look for reviews of the product and the seller that you are buying from. Doing this will help ensure that you’re not being scammed, or receiving a dodgy product. The time spent doing this will definitely be worth it.
If you are buying a mobile phone, make sure that the wireless carrier bands are available in your area and with your carrier. Our look at GSM, CDMA, and mobile frequency bands will help. You can find specifics about what frequencies your carrier uses on Frequencycheck.com.
Shipping and Delivery Times From China
When buying products from China, shipping could take up to 6 weeks depending on their warehouse locations. In busy periods, your order could take a week to start shipping. If patience is not a virtue you hold, Amazon might be a better option.
Do not order from any of these sites if you need to get the items by a specific date. If you do, make sure you order at least two months ahead of any birthday or anniversary to stay on the safe side and avoid disappointment.
If you are buying a more expensive product, we recommend getting the shipping insurance offered on check-out. It usually won’t add a lot to your overall cost, but if something does get lost the seller is much more likely to offer you a quick refund. Gearbest, for example, will only refund half of what you paid if you don’t have the insurance.
Customs and Import Duties
Most products you order from these websites will be marked as “gift” to avoid extra custom or import charges. There is still a chance that your package will get stopped in customs, especially if you chose one of the faster delivery options like DHL.
More often than not you will avoid this cost, but to avoid any nasty surprises, here is a US customs calculator you can use to see how much it could potentially be. In the US, the import duty is determined by the type of item you buy, and its price.
Returning Items to China
Returning orders can cause more headaches than what they are worth, so don’t order something that you would expect to return if it isn’t suitable for what you want. For cheaper items especially, your return shipping costs may be more expensive than the item itself.
Security Concerns When Buying Tech From China
In a world where we share (willingly or not) more and more information about ourselves and our lives, privacy, and device security are both becoming increasingly important to all of us.
We have previously written about the potential security holes in some mobile devices from Huawei and ZTE. While it’s hard to keep up with the products and manufacturers to watch out for, it’s likely they have similar privacy policies—some are just more obvious in their data mining than others.
It probably goes without saying though: don’t use these phones for government or security cleared business. See our guide to privacy on Huawei phones for more.