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28/01/2014 09:08 | Comments: 

There are significant Chinese web shops operating with a single aim in mind: conquering Europe. Their weapons are low prices and customer satisfaction.

There are significant web shops operating with a single aim in mind: conquering Europe. They go to lengths to establish themselves as a reliable, credible brand and will do literally anything to provide a quick and seamless shopping experience, so there is no need to get in a fit if something goes awry with your order. More than anything, Chinese web shops want satisfied customers because only those can bring more shoppers. I used to be an avid customer of brand name electronic gadgets but after a series of disappointments I turned to these faraway vendors and have never looked back.

How to save on PayPal

Demanded by popular request, here’s how you can modify the settings of PayPal conversion.

Here’s one way to do it:

Once you check out and the web shop forwards you to your PayPal account, look for the text ‘Other conversion options’. From here, check the text box that states “Bill me in the currency...”. Click Submit and you are good to go.

Or you can do it like this:

Check in to your PayPal account and do the following procedure:

Select Profile  menu - My money – click Update in the line My preapproved payments  – click the text Set Available Funding Sources  – check the text box Conversion Options – „Bill me in the currency...” associated with the linked bank card  – click Submit - enjoy!

 Although their awkward layouts and horrendous colour schemes may make them look dubious and petty to the European eye, most of these Chinese web shops are highly successful ventures. On its busiest day (11th Nov) market leading Alibaba group had 402 million visitors last year. Their annual turnover was $5.75 billion, they processed a total of 152 000 000 shipments. Established in 1998 by seventeen Chinese businessmen, Alibaba now employs 24 000 people and has an average daily turnover of $30 million.

After consulting various forum posts I opted for and I have not regretted it so far. While this business only employs 300 people, they list 3000 new products every month. They sell anything from smart phones to motoring gadgets, from clothes to weapon accessories (still, you are strongly advised again ordering clothes from Chinese web shops: apart from a difference in sizing charts, these clothes are also tailored to Oriental body ratios)

The quality of goods is less than uniform, so as a rule of thumb, whatever you buy, never opt for the cheapest one. If you are planning to buy something more costly, it is advisable to read customer reviews or to Google the item. Of course junk and cheap clones abound but better web shops don’t try to hide this. Usually you can go by the common sense guideline of you get what you pay for. The majority of articles on sale works flawlessly and is on par with goods available at your local brick and mortar store, at a fraction of the price.

Everything I have ordered so far has worked as advertised and shipping never took more than two weeks. The ordering process could not be easier, provided you have a PayPal account. In case you don’t know what PayPal is, it’s an electronic payment system where you can link your bank card to a virtual account. PayPal fees are paid by the vendor, not the customer, so basically you can use the system for free. Another advantage is that it only transfers the amount being transacted to the virtual account, not a cent more, and you don’t need to worry about credit card scams because the web shop never sees your CC details. If you are dissatisfied with your purchase you can file a dispute and reclaim your money. When setting up your account you might want to authorise your bank to exchange any currencies (as opposed to letting PayPal do it), this could save you a few cents on the dollar.

Once you pick the item you want (don’t forget to add a handful of useless but dirt cheap trinkets in your basket, it’s sort of part of the game), all that’s left to do is choose a shipping option. Standard air mail is for free; registered mail costs something like $1.50. You can also opt for DHL if you want your goods fast but more often than not you will pay more for shipping then for the items. Once payment is completed you get a tracking code allowing you to check on the journey of your package from the vendor’s warehouse to your door.

Regular airmail usually takes ten to fifteen days from China. DHL halves your waiting time. Registered mail is recommended as it provides protection against postal workers with sticky hands. Two months ago I bought a watch. It was on sale and I was reluctant to double the costs by having it shipped registered. Sure enough it never made it to me. I wrote the web shop an email and they resent the watch, completely free of charge – with registered mail.

Like everything that comes from outside of the EU, goods ordered from China are subject to customs and VAT. The rules of this change from country to country. I can tell you that in Hungary private persons pay nothing if the total value of the package does not exceed €22. Between €22-150 you pay VAT (27% in HU); add to that 2.5% customs for anything beyond €150. Note the term ‘total value’ above: when calculating customs and taxes, postal fees are also included in the value of your package which really is outrageous.

Web shops will do anything to please their customers so they usually send packages with heavily marked down value statements, typically something between $10-30. If you opt for standard air mail (SG for Singapore, DE for Germany, HK for Hong Kong) you can usually get away without being hit by customs. At this point you are supposed to take your package to your local customs office and make a statement yourself. No points for guessing how many people do that. If your package is taxed you get a letter asking you to make a statement about the actual value of your shipment. Once you have sent them your proof of payment from PayPal you can pay your dues at the post office. If you select any of the courier services you will invariably pay customs, regardless of the value of your package. This process also adds at least three days to the processing time, so in reality you can’t really save time by going the faster and more expensive route. As for the contents I have yet to see a shipment where I don’t get what I ordered.

If you have any concerns, issues or questions you can contact customer services in English – most of these web shops operate from around Shenzhen or from Hong Kong (which was, if you recall, under British rule until 1997, and still has English as an official language). They go out of their way to help you. They do have their peculiar way of handling issues and complaints – indeed, let’s talk about those dreaded warranty conditions.

Most items you purchase from a web shop come with a guarantee but you need to send your faulty items back, and that takes time and money. However they are usually lenient with items of smaller value. Recently I ordered an FM transmitter for a stately sum of 8 dollars. The battery was malfunctioning and when I notified the vendor of the issue they said they’d include a new one with my next order, free of charge. In more serious cases you may have the option of having it repaired and send them a copy of the invoice for full reimbursement via PayPal. As a last resort you can always send the faulty goods back to China. This is rather costly at around €13 but for marginally more can have the items shipped back to them via DHL, speeding up the entire process. Administration and processing takes a few days but I have never had a warranty claim that was not fully resolved within three weeks or so.

If you find online shops operating on the eBay principle, move on. Because they represent several small scale merchants they are less reliable than larger establishments with a single owner. I am sure you could all cite horror stories of ordering from overseas but my own experience is rather good. Browsing various forums you are bound to read many complaints, and while these are probably well founded, I have yet to see an online community made up of fully satisfied web shop customers. After all, why write about a transaction that works flawlessly?

Reliable online stores

Among many others: Tinydeal, Minideal, Geekbuying, Banggood, Antelife, Focalprice, Tmart.

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