China Cheap

How do they do it?

When I was in Quartzsite, AZ this past winter, wandering around the sales, I bought a new pair of reading glasses with yellow-tinted lenses to cut the blue light from mobile devices. I’d heard that the blue light was bad if you used a device at night, which I did. Often. I think the glasses have helped improve my sleep patterns.

Because I need readers with me all the time and I don’t always carry a purse or clothes with suitable pockets, I’d taken to wearing the glasses on a chain around my neck, kind of like a stereotypical librarian from the 1950s. (I’ve been accused of many things, but vanity is not one of them.) When I bought the new readers, they also had beaded chains that were quite pretty and only $2. I bought one.

I wore it just about every single day for six months. Then it broke, dropping microscopic beads on the floor. I was definitely not going to restring them. With heavy heart, I tossed the chain away and got online to find a replacement.

Nice looking beaded chains were available on starting at about $12. Surely I could do better.

I did. On eBay. $3.56 with free shipping. I submitted an order and paid with PayPal.

I knew it was coming from China and I figured it would take a long time. Maybe a month. Whatever. I wasn’t in any hurry. I still had the old chain I’d used before the nice beaded one.

China Letter
A letter informed me my eyeglasses chain was on its way.

China Box
My new eyeglass chain arrived in a very nice satin-lined gift box.

The chain on my glasses
Although not quite as pretty as the one I broke, my new eyeglasses chain certainly does the job.

But within a few days, I got an email message from the Chinese company I’d bought from. It was written in perfect English, easy to understand, and complete in the information I needed. If scammers wrote letters this nice, they’d fool more people.

The package arrived about a week later. It was a padded envelope with Chinese postage on it. It easily fit in my mailbox.

I brought it in and opened it up. I was very surprised to find a nice pink box inside. I’d been expecting the chain in a cheesy plastic bag marked with an inspection number. The box made it suitable for giving as a gift.

When I opened the box, I found the beaded chain inside it on a piece of satin that seemed made just for it. Classy.

And that got me thinking. How do these Chinese companies make money?

First they have to get the materials and labor to create the item they’re selling.

Then they need the fancy box with the satin insert and someone to carefully stow the chain inside it.

Then the box goes into an envelope with a packing slip. A label goes on the outside with postage.

And then someone takes it with countless others to the Chinese equivalent of a post office where it’s shipped thousands of miles. It goes through customs (I assume) and gets sorted into the U.S. postal system. And eventually it makes it to my mailbox.

For $3.56.

Less than the cost of a latte.

How can they possibly make any money on this?

7 thoughts on “China Cheap

  1. Had a similar thing happen. Needed a charging cable for a Fitbit. $0.99 on EBay. Of course it came from China. Received 10 days after ordering. No email, packaged in a bubble types bag in a padded envelope.

    I like you wondered how can they do that and make money.

  2. Chinese new capitalism needs to shift stuff just like US old capitalism. If the stock of fancy plastic chain is high and the demand is low, then, subject to wage differentials between Shanghai and the US (which are still huge BTW), it is best to for the Chinese to dump it at cost rather than to hold it at a loss, clogging-up the plastic chain warehouse.
    With warehouse space thus freed (and we are talking kilometres of this stuff) there will be room to store the next best glasses chain. This applies to both your order and high-carbon quality steel strip for R44 engine parts.

    On the subject of flying and glasses, how do you manage swapping between reading, long-focus and sun glasses when in pilot mode? I’m now really struggling with all these chain thingies. I can cope with no glasses in good light but if the photons dwindle I need readers for the chart and then have to don aviator sunglasses if there is full sun. Result, glasses chain chaos.

  3. Now on my third smartphone battery in 9 months. Reason? Made in China as a copy of original Samsung one. Indistinguishable from original battery (which lasted 2 yr) China is cheap but crap

    • I definitely agree. If I want something to last, I try hard not to buy Chinese-made. But it’s getting increasingly more difficult as US companies send work to China to save money. Why do they want to save money? Because American consumers want to buy cheap. We’re creating the problem.

What do you think?