Unless you regularly peruse the less—ahem—mainstream portions of the web’s personal electronics sites, you might not be very familiar with the booming low-price gadget trade. Manufacturers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea are more than willing to offer phones, tablets, music players, and even full PCs to buyers whose budgets won’t stretch to the big brand names.
Why Go Off the Beaten Path?
Now, some of the products offered on Asian import sites might not have quite the same standards for materials or features that you’re used to if you stick to the likes of Samsung and Apple. But in addition to lower prices, these imports also often come with unconventional designs. For example, the gadget pictured at the top of this post is an Android-powered knockoff of Nintendo’s 3DS design, offering only one screen but far more power—not to mention compatibility with tons of Android games and emulated ROMs that you can’t play on “official” hardware.
Cheap electronics are also a great way to try out new form factors or software without investing too much of your money in something you might not like. Consider this Windows-powered tablet: it’s essentially a clone of the low-end Surface, but at half the price (including a keyboard!), it’s a great way to try out the convertible style without dropping a thousand dollars or more on a Surface Pro.
And of course, there’s always simple cost savings to consider. If you’re willing to roll the dice on lower quality and wait a few weeks for shipping from overseas, you can save a bundle on cheap items like USB cables, phone cases, watches, tools—almost anything, really.
Gearbest: the Best Option For Straightforward Ordering
Gearbest sells items from its own warehouse and from affiliated sellers via its associate program. Unlike some of the other options on this list, it offers straightforward payments via all major credit cards and PayPal. Select your items, put them in your cart, and pay—that’s all there is to it. The site offers a three-day DOA return, a fourteen-day return on unopened items, and a one-year repair warranty on all items, on top of whatever warranties are offered by other sellers.
The store’s primary focus is on consumer electronics and accessories, but it offers home goods, tools, toys, and even fashion and decorative items. Major brands are mostly absent, though imitation goods are pervasive throughout the catalog. Anecdotal evidence shows that Gearbest sellers sometimes mark items in stock when they’re not, so be prepared for the possibility of long shipping times.
BangGood: Wide But Shallow Selection
With separate warehouses in North America and Europe for at least some products featured on the main item page, BangGood might be able to get your items to you a little faster than other retailers. It also has a much broader catalog, with items in almost every conceivable category. Of course, this means some categories are rather shallow when it comes to actual selection for picky buyers. Though the site accepts payments in a few dozen international currencies via standard credit cards and PayPal, checking out can sometimes be a hassle, requiring multiple tries for payments to go through.
BangGood’s return policy varies with each sales department, but in general you have three days after delivery to return something. But if there’s no verified shipment tracking—a very real possibility with items going through multiple countries via cheap carriers—you only have thirty days after the order to return the item. If you’re buying from some of the pricier Chinese brands on the store, like Lenovo or Huawei, you might want to spring for deluxe tracked shipping.
Everbuying: For Imported Cell Phone Addicts
Everbuying focuses on cell phones, tablets, and other consumer electronics, though it has a small selection of watches, toys, and beauty products. It sells from its primary Chinese warehouse and via affiliate sellers. Though prices are a bit higher than the previous vendors we’ve covered, Everybuying’s focus on cell phones means it has a better selection of enthusiast-favored brands like Xiaomi and Elephone. Most electronics items offer free or reduced shipping, though of course it can take a while.
The site accepts major credit cards and PayPal, offers FedEx and UPS shipping once items are stateside, and boasts a thirty-day guarantee on all products (unfortunately minus shipping costs). That said, the company seems pretty invested in its questionable customer service department, much preferring you to ask for their help in “fixing” something before applying for a return. Be wary of major purchases.
AliExpress: When You Can’t Find It Anywhere Else
As the small business-focused alternative to the massive Alibaba online retailer, AliExpress often offers items that you can’t find online anywhere else. The downside is that it’s generally intended for resellers—that is, small businesses importing items by the dozen to sell to consumers via online or brick-and-mortar stores. That said, it’s often the only place to find certain obscure electronics or toy items.
Unlike Alibaba, you don’t need any special account or massive bulk orders to buy from AliExpress. If a vendor offers a single item purchase, you’re welcome to grab it, though it’s usually more expensive than the bulk price prominently featured on the listing page. Payment methods are MasterCard and Visa only for major credit cards, with a wide selection of international wallet payments—but no PayPal. Be aware that AliExpress has no set-in-stone refund policy, instead offering a complex eBay-style “dispute” system between the buyer and seller. It’s not a place to go if you want an especially safe buying experience.
Amazon and eBay
If you’re looking for a specific product that isn’t available at standard retailers, don’t forget to check Amazon. Its affiliate program means it lists items from all over the world, and enthusiast products are often bought in bulk by resellers and posted to Amazon for buyers outside of Asia. They’ll generally be more expensive than on the sites listed above, but Amazon has higher standards for sellers and a much more forgiving return system, allowing a little more peace of mind when buying. And of course, eBay is a bazaar for international low-price electronics, offering reasonably safe buyer protection via PayPal.