Risks of Buying Items From China on eBay

Chinese factory workers making products for eBay

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Some of eBay's biggest discounts are available from sellers in China. While these sellers usually offer the lowest price, there are drawbacks. Be careful when buying products from China as there are special circumstances that may arise when dealing with these vendors and sellers.

Also, know that not all foreign sellers are scam artist looking to bilk you out of your money. Some vendors and sellers are legitimate businesses who value their customers. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad apple to ruin it for the majority.

Shipping Costs and Handling Time

One of the deciding factors for many buyers is the shipping and handling time involved in a purchase. Many sellers in China—as well as those in other foreign countries—advise of shipping times measured in weeks. Four to six weeks is common. This estimation is not an exaggerated expectation. It can take 6 weeks for an item to arrive in the U.S. from Asia, or it may even take months.

Buyers should also be aware of the cost they may pay to have the product shipped from these distant locals. Once the cost of shipping is added, it may be more expensive than purchasing from a U.S. based seller.

Verify the Item Is Authentic

Unfortunately, there have been many instances of counterfeit, fake, or knock-off goods sold on eBay, particularly those from China. Exercise caution when purchasing high-dollar items, such as luxury purses, new iPhones, and cameras.

Counterfeit items are not allowed on eBay, but the site is unable to police the millions of listings as they should or would like to. A safe rule of thumb is to assume that a well-known or high-end designer or brand offered from a seller in China is not authentic.

If you order an item from China, receive it, and discover it is a fake, always report it to eBay's Vero Program

Look at the Seller's Feedback

Just as with any other seller, foreign or domestic, always look at the sellers' feedback. Don't just base your decision on their overall star rating or approval. Read the posted comments starting with the lowest rating. See what experiences other buyers had with the business.

Make sure the seller has built a successful history of providing good customer service, shipping on time, and delivering a quality product. Do your due diligence before buying from any seller.

Problems With Returns

Returning an item to China is going to be expensive. If you are ordering clothing, shoes, or accessories that might not fit, it is going to be a huge hassle to return them. Often clothing and footwear are sized using Asian or European measurements. These sizes are drastically different than those used in the U.S.

Also, be careful ordering electronic accessories as they may not work properly with your device. For example, you may order an iPhone charger that turns out to be generic and incompatible with your device. Returning may not be cost-effective or possible. 

Remember You Get What You Pay For

Goods made in China are typically made with materials of lesser quality. Since the quality is inferior, the product may fall apart quickly. Plastic electronic accessories, toys, and automobile accessories are a good example.

Some items can actually be dangerous to you or your loved one's health. According to The New York Times:

"Consider the safety issue: a scary one, indeed, because China has a very well-deserved reputation for producing inferior and often dangerous products. Such products are as diverse as lead-filled toys, sulfurous drywall, pet food spiked with melamine and heparin tainted with oversulfated chondroitin sulfate."

Furthermore, there may be a language barrier when asking questions or reaching out to a Chinese seller after the sale. Their standards in customer service may vary sharply from what we expect within the United States.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the working conditions in some foreign countries are not what they are in the U.S. Some countries may employ children or convicts to create their products.