Chinese providers and platforms often offer seemingly low prices for products that are actually interesting. Is it safe to access or is more caution required?
High complaint rates and frustrated customers
For simple products, the risk is manageable and apart from a very long delivery time and possibly a complex return, the process should run smoothly.
Things are different when it comes to watches. Watches are complex precision instruments made up of many different components. If these have not been carefully manufactured, assembled and checked, problems can quickly arise. At Bartels Watches we have been importing Chinese watches since 2014. We haven't always had good experiences with this. In some cases the complaint rates were 15% or more. Through precisely specified requirements and acceptance and delivery tests (and supplier changes), we have quality under control and are considered a reliable supplier by our customers. This also means that we are available at any time and have spare parts and an experienced watchmaker on site. However, these are iterations that private individuals do not want to go through.
Challenges when buying watches from China
What are the challenges if you want to procure a mechanical watch yourself in China?
- The guarantee period is usually only 1 year.
- Customs duties and taxes will be charged on the purchase price. An invoice with a reduced price doesn't help because customs has learned the lesson and wants to see the payment receipt as proof of value.
- For watches with an alligator strap, the watch can be confiscated for violating the Endangered Species Act (CITES).
- If you don't like the watch,
- The return shipping costs (€30-40) are borne by the buyer.
- The supplier often also charges 20% as a restocking fee.
- The bank can also retain fees for refunds from abroad (approx. €20).
- If the watch has a defect during the warranty period,
- Significant language and communication problems must be overcome
- The watch must be sent in at your own expense and often the costs of returning the repaired watch must also be borne.
- A repair time of weeks or months must be accepted.
- After the warranty period, if there is a defect, the same effort will have to be made and the repair costs will also have to be paid. Seiko and Miyota movements can also be repaired internationally, but many watchmakers see imported watches from China as unpleasant competition and charge (too) high repair prices .
- For watches with Chinese movements (e.g. Seagull ST19 or BWF B18) you will hardly find a watchmaker who can repair them and not spare parts.
- Many watchmakers, at least in Germany, fundamentally refuse to service Chinese watches .
- Reselling a self-imported watch can be difficult and the proceeds will be disappointingly low.
Conclusion: Bargain trap from China?
Buying a supposed watch bargain from China can work, but it doesn't have to. If a problem arises, the new watch will quickly become an economic total loss or, in the case of more expensive watches, an expensive nightmare. Especially with an emotional product like a watch, there is soon nothing left of the original joy.