It is very tempting to buy an expensive piece of test equipment from an online dealer located in China, since the initial cost for a comparable piece of equipment is typically lower than in countries like the United States. However, it can cost you much more in the long run. Online shopping has become extremely popular in recent years, thanks in large part to convenience — but with convenience comes greater individual responsibility. Shoppers don’t always realize that a seller may be nothing more than one person with no knowledge of test equipment selling or reselling products. Sellers like these have no idea how to use the products they’re offering and, thus, cannot provide any technical support whatsoever.*
If you’re buying simple items like a cell phone case or a USB flash drive, it sometimes makes sense to buy the cheapest product you can find, typically from an overseas seller. If the product fails you can just buy another equally cheap one instead of sending it overseas for repair or replacement. You (hopefully) won’t need technical support for a cell phone case, so it sometimes makes financial sense to buy whatever’s cheapest and hope for the best. But complex, expensive pieces of test equipment built from thousands of discrete components are another story altogether.
You can buy, for example, a cheap digital storage oscilloscope directly from a seller in China. But do you really know who you’re buying from? How long have they been in business? What kind of support do they offer their customers? The fact of the matter is you might be dealing with a single person who is buying a product directly from the manufacturer, marking up the price, and shipping it overseas. That person might even be reselling a used or refurbished product without your knowledge.
More importantly, what happens when you buy a cheap piece of test equipment from an overseas seller only to discover you need technical support? You may have out-of-the-box issues that you could easily address yourself with a little guidance, or you may run into a serious soft- or hardware issue that requires professional repair. Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll return an item only to find that you need to return the replacement as well. And let’s not forget how easily packages are damaged in transit. These kinds of things have happened to all of us at some point.
Consider the logistics of shipping a product back overseas for repair or replacement — that is if the vendor even provides repair or replacement service. Shipping delicate electronic equipment overseas is more complicated than you might imagine. In addition to overseas shipping costs, you may have to pay import charges and other fees. Most US-based businesses will at the very least cover return shipping costs, but an overseas seller may expect you to foot the bill for return shipping. Keep in mind that it takes a long time to return an item to a seller on another continent. Simply contacting the vendor and waiting for a response can take days or even weeks.
Also consider that if the product you ordered is defective or was damaged in transit, many overseas dealers will not take responsibility, forcing you to deal with the manufacturer (more on this below) or shipping company on your own. In contrast, most established businesses in the United States insure their shipments, so if something is damaged in transit it may be replaced at no charge to you. Some businesses will issue a call tag to pick up products that are dead on arrival and may ship a replacement unit to you, even before they receive the defective item.
Dealing with an established business in the United States is the way to go when purchasing products like electronic test equipment. First of all, you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. In addition, an established business will provide support for the products they sell. That support alone can be as valuable as the product itself, even if you never run into a problem with the product. An overseas seller who doesn’t know anything about the product will not be able to help you with even the simplest questions you may have.
Another thing you should consider is service on a unit that is no longer under warranty. Some companies will not even work on units that weren’t purchased from them, and some manufacturers do not offer service on units that were sold in another country; for instance, some North American brands do not recognize their own products when they’re sold from China, even though that product was manufactured on the same assembly line (this has been a common issue with camera equipment for many years).
Finally, consider this: Counterfeit goods are very common in China. Many of these products not only look and feel the same as their name-brand counterparts, some even have the same logo and model number on them as the actual product. However, most of these counterfeits are poorly built and may be very different inside than the piece of test equipment you thought you were buying. Reputable US businesses that import products from China do not sell counterfeit products and will stand behind their entire product line.
With all of this in mind, you should thoroughly consider the true cost of an item and its actual overall value when deciding whether or not to risk buying a cheaper product from an overseas seller. Regardless of the sticker price, you may end up paying much more in the long run. Know what you’re really buying and shop smart.
*Furthermore, these sellers may not know much English, making it difficult to even find out that they can’t help you with any technical problems.