Buying Ham equipment online – Caveat Emptor

This Latin phrase (roughly translated into “let the buyer beware”) has never come to mean so much as it does in these current times, particularly as we have move more and more to online purchases which occurred due to, and post the the Covid pandemic.

Lets look at has changed between buyer and seller in the last 20-30 years : –

  • More is being bought directly and personally with international sellers.
  • Buying from a country that has different laws.
  • Buying from a country that has different advertising guidelines.
  • Buying from a country or a vendor that has a different moral values than the purchasing country.
  • Language barriers.
  • Distance barriers.
  • Limited local product line availability forcing the buyer to buy directly from overseas
  • Online ordering has made it easier for personal shoppers to buy from overseas.
  • Some online services such as Ebay, Amazon, AliExpress are too large, and in many cases will not assist in resolving an issue.

Now we will start with a disclaimer, not all products purchased via Ebay relate to what I am going to spell out here. The comments below relate primarily to Electronics parts and equipment and those parts in particular are coming from China. Furthermore there are genuine local sellers on Ebay, but sadly this is less and less, especially in this field of electronics and amateur radio.

Drop-shippers

Lets start with one of the issues that plagues most Australians at the moment which is buying from Ebay. Over the past 20 years or so, the general expectation is when you locate the goods on Ebay, that you are dealing with a local seller, and even more so when the location is Australia, Lakemba, Chullora, Auburn, NSW or Albury, NSW (that is to throw you off track). However, especially lately, when you order the goods from these sellers, you are buying from a Chinese seller, and the Chinese reseller has just listed the suburb of a warehouse or in the case of Chullora, Australia Post – Sydney Parcels bulk Lodgement centre.

One of the tell tale signs that you are dealing with a reseller is that even if you are in the next suburb, you still have two weeks delivery time (even with a courier like Courier Please). Two weeks is basically the minimum time for the goods to come from China (using their system of airfreight/couriers). These sellers are known as Drop shippers. The system is so well drilled, you don’t know except the part does not turn up in a couple of days.

Now to be fair, if you are satisfied with the fact that it is coming from China, it will take 2 weeks to arrive, and you got it at a price that was good, then you will be satisfied and all is good in the world.

However if you found a part on AliExpress or Banggood at a cheaper price, but you went with the Ebay seller as they were offering deliver by courier from their warehouse in Summer Hill, NSW, and they are stating 3 Days delivery time, only to get an updated delivery time of 2 weeks later than you expected (that has happened a few times). You are now peeved….I have on a couple of occasions cancelled the order as soon as this occurs.

Here is one message from a seller listed as

  • Location: Australia
  • Member since: Nov 20, 2020

after I questioned the time for delivery changing I got the following message

thank for your message ,and i am sorry to it ,and it may have lost by our colleague , we should take all duty, today i can refund for you ,pls tell me what your opinion ? thank for your understand

It was a product that I needed immediately and could have paid a local supplier using their own website, and got it in a few days (which after requesting a refund, was exactly what I did).

One thing I learnt from this was just because they offer a local courier service for delivery and you get a tracking number, does not mean the courier has it. Many of these courier services (to get the business) offer this service allowing the vendor to prebook the courier, get assigned a number, and when you try to track, it continually shows up as not picked up yet or no status at all.

Misleading Advertising

One of the most common issues, particularly with the Chinese sites, is that the advertising is getting more and more misleading or confuscated. First of all the advertisements that you get in your news app showing a price.

If I click on the ad, I then come up to a web page with the following heading – Lusya XIEGU G90S Shortwave RadioPiggyback Station Portable SDR Built-in Sky Spectrum Band With Approval Code T0256

Its not until you click on the icons that the true price is revealed and picture of what you are getting for your $71.07.

Now to be fair that is an extreme example. If you think that you are going to get a G90S for $71 then to a certain degree that is the buyers fault. However, we are not all the same, and there are people that may not be able to discern this, and may fall prey to this advertising (elderly looking to buy something for the grandson). I am pretty confident that this style advertising would not be allowed in Australia.

Fake Parts

There are countless reports of fake parts (mainly components) mainly with goods coming from China. It’s not only hobbyist being duped, but businesses and governments. A good report to read is https://northcoastsynthesis.com/news/beware-fake-parts/.

In some cases the parts are completely outside the electrical properties it should have, other times it is not even the correct product or a complete fake.

There is not much you can do except buy from reputable local sources. Even good Chinese suppliers could end up being duped by their suppliers and they would not know it. Again if you do decide to give them a go, have look around, do your research, check the reviews (although you can’t trust those either).

Clone products

This one is a beauty. There seems to be no morals when it comes to copying/cloning another persons design. Even if the design is released to the public not for commercial use, the Chinese manufacturers will clone the design right down to leaving the product name and version. If you see something you like, really spend some time doing your research to see if it is just a clone of another product. Problem with many of their clones, is that they will make some changes to suit parts availability or make changes to the parts positioning, which ultimately change the product to the point that your $AU300 has just been wasted.

Warranty

Here is where you are really taking matters into your own hands. This is the real shortcoming with buying direct from the Chinese. Warranty will be a real hit and miss affair, first mostly due to the language barrier, but also you are relying on your returned product to reach the right place and if it doesn’t arrive, you have almost no chance of locating it.

And then if the product does arrive, the language barrier will be an issue. This is where using someone like Amazon is a better proposition. However Amazon has their problems as well. I rang to get a programming lead replaced (DOA) for a transceiver that I purchased via Amazon US Site (which showed – ships to Australia). After a discussion, they recommended that they could do a credit, and I organise a new lead locally, which is what I did.

I went to use the credit on Amazon.com.au – silly me, amazon.com and amazon.com.au are not the same company. Ok, happy with my mistake, I’ll use it on amazon.com….I need a book anyhow….I looked for several products, and every single one of them would not let me use the credit. I called up Amazon.com and discussed the issue. Finally get to the bottom of it, the products must be “Ships from Amazon & Fullfilled by Amazon” and this is leaves almost nothing that the credit can be used for as almost every product is fulfilled by the original supplier, and anything else of value does not ship to Australia or the real kicker, is that the shipping and import fees cost more that the credit. It literally makes the credit completely worthless. Amazons response, “sorry there is nothing more we can do”. So if you given this option, push for the warranty replacement.

Buying Used via the Local Website Classifieds

In many cases, buying via the local classifieds is probably a little safer in at least you are generally dealing with someone in your country and possibly in your own state.

However even this is can present its own issues which can include

  • You are dealing with used goods
  • There is generally no warranties
  • You need to watch out for blown finals or diminished finals
  • Even if there is a balance of a manufacturers warranty, it may not transfer to a new owner
  • Especially post Covid with limited radios and radio related equipment in Australia, some operators are hoping to sell used equipment at unrealistic prices (almost treating it like an investment)
  • Some of the equipment being sold is of little use (especially to the new operator) as it is too old, doesn’t do CTCSS tones, making it useless with repeaters.
  • Some of the Transceivers (and receivers) are just way to old and requiring complete capacitor replacements, relay replacement, screen faults.

Now it is still possible to pickup a real bargain, especially if the seller is realistic with his pricing and very open with it’s current issues or faults.

You will also find a seller that is keen to see his/her equipment to go to a good home (especially someone just starting out), and puts a great price on it.

Now having said that, there is nothing wrong with get some of this dated gear at a good price, but go in with your eyes wide open. Do your research on that exact model, and confirm what common faults with that model have appeared over the years. Doing a capacitor replacement is not beyond most people, but it can be labourious and boring, and more of a labour of love in resurrecting that model of transceiver, and it really can be rewarding. Even I have one unit where I am replacing the capacitors and a few other parts, so far 4 months into it, but when finished it will be a unit that is close to 40 years old and one of the first radios I played on.

However, if you are new operator, and feel that you could do this to keep your costs down as your first rig, it isn’t really the way to go, as it could take you a fair while to replace the capacitors, and even then, you might get it running only to have a cascade effect of failing parts due to its age, which could be extremely frustrating.

Most sellers are are good and they will detail issues, including lower than normal outputs, but one thing to look out for is sellers where there is very little information. One advertisement, it was only by looking at the pictures closely (and having researched that model over a few months), I noticed the common issue with displays of that model with the usual LCD vertical lines missing (and poor quality pictures in advertisements are another thing to watch out for). There was nothng in the advertisement about it as a fault, in fact the only words was that it was a great unit…just missing the part that should have said faulty display, possible $250+ for a replacement display (making the unit uneconomical).

Just go in with you eyes wide open….

Conclusion

Many of you are probably seasoned professionals, with many of you already been burnt, many of you with your own mental check lists, so this check list is really for the newcomer.

  • If it appears to be too good for the price – it is – walk away!!!
  • Read whatever you are buying over and over until you are satisfied what you are getting what you are ordering
  • Before you buy, walk away, come back later or next day and check it again
  • Basically the same as above, do not impulse buy
  • Read the reviews – is there is a concern? has someone questioned the sellers product location?
  • Think about warranty – is the saving you are making going to be consumed on the first warranty issue because you bought from overseas?

One thing I find useful is that I do is that I use Aliexpress and Banggood’s carts as a cart. In many cases I collect up my purchases in the cart for the month, and usually on a weekend (when I have time), I work through each item and perform the following steps

  • Do I really need it?
  • Who else is selling this and does it have more features? – Just remember whilst two items may look the same, things like firmware versions may greatly enhance or worse, restrict its use.
  • Is there a better Price for this product? (remember to look at the price of the item and also compare the shipping costs. Whilst an item may look cheaper, their shipping costs may be double.
  • Do I understand the product well enough to be confident in what I am buying (usually as you are looking at other sellers – you are rechecking the specs)?
  • Then finally I might cull a few items as they were nice to haves, or you were just interested in what it was.
  • The best part of monthly buying is normally you have removed the emotion in buying the product, that emotion that usually creates regret after proceeding with the purchase.