Are Retailers the Last Middleman? Buying Direct From China.

A few years ago, [eBay] resurrected its China business by letting exporters of everything from wedding dresses to camera equipment sell directly to eBay’s 97 million overseas users. – Mercury News

If you live in the United States no doubt you’ve heard someone preach how we should all buy products “Made in the USA” only.

The reasons vary. We are concerned that we may be unwittingly supporting sweatshops where the poor or even children toil in unsafe conditions. We worry that the products we buy may be unsafe for our own children or pets. We lament the lack of quality. We might even care that other countries have lax environmental laws. Often, it seems most of all we complain about American job loss.

Despite all these compelling concerns, I can honestly say that I’ve never really paid much attention to the BUY AMERICAN-MADE ONLY argument. First, it’s inconvenient, if not impossible. Then there’s the fact that my family is on a tight budget and I love a bargain. However, I also believe we are part of a global society and buying non-US made products isn’t all bad. Chinese, Indians, Guatemalans, etc. are all people too. Many of them probably need and rely on their low-paying jobs more than we can imagine. Plus, when you shop for your non-US Made products the US economy still gets some action. From truck drivers to cashiers to the tax-man our dollars are spread throughout in the US to a certain degree.

But then something happened this past weekend.

I sell goods at a small and local weekend market. It’s a way for me to make ends meet while not having to pay for daycare. And although I sell a few handcrafted-in-the-US goods, probably most of the stuff is MADE IN CHINA.

A woman stopped by and oohed and aahed over these silly faux-fur animal hats. She even said my prices were fair ($10-15 lower than the mall). She tried a hat on and stared in the mirror for awhile, but she ultimately put it back. Not unusual in itself. But then she said she will go on Ebay, pay a little more for a real-fur hat, and get it direct from China – shipped free.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but something didn’t feel right about that. First, let’s put the real fur argument aside. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses for not buying something so that part didn’t really bother me. I still felt a little unsettled by her enthusiasm for buying stuff from China on Ebay.

After she walked away, it dawned on me. By ordering goods direct from China this woman just cut out a huge chunk of the remaining US economy that is affected by retail transactions.

Losers:

      Retail establishment and all the people employed there
      The Country via lost income taxes
      The State via lost sales taxes and income taxes
      The city/township via a loss of things like “business privilege tax” (I pay 1% in sales) or sales tax and income tax.
      The wholesale company that sells to the retailer and all their employees
      The building owners (mall, shopping center, etc.) and all their employees

Winners:

      eBay.cn or other online outlet that charges for facilitating the transaction and their employees
      The delivery services that ultimately brings packages to the customer’s doorstep and their employees
      CHINA (or wherever the seller resides)

I can’t claim complete innocence here either. I do bargain shop on eBay myself and perhaps I’ve ordered from China in the past. I know for sure my other half has had packages delivered from overseas. I was even watching an auction for wooden toy eggs before Christmas. I couldn’t believe how cheap they were and thought they’d be perfect to add to the kitchen set Santa was bringing my son. He loves to pretend cook eggs – mimicking his Daddy!

After my encounter with the Hat Lady I decided to let them go.

Ultimately, I’m not here to tell you to buy Made in the USA only or to even say don’t buy from Chinese Sellers on eBay or elsewhere. But maybe we should all be a little more conscious of our purchasing decisions (or at least keep our mouths shut when talking to a self-employed merchant!).

In the case of the those toy eggs, I started to wonder: How do I know they aren’t covered in lead or other toxic elements? If there’s a recall how in the world would I find out? How do I know ancient forests aren’t being destroyed for the wood? Sure, I should have the same questions about any toy and buying from a major US brand won’t guarantee safety. But it seems like a layer of protection is being removed when we decide to buy direct from an individual or organization overseas. I wonder if it’s worth it, especially when you add those thoughts to the fact that the US economy is losing out big time.

Sources and Food for Thought:
EBay finally gaining traction in China – Mercury News
Disney factory faces probe into sweatshop suicide claims – The Guardian
As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China – NY Times
Beware of toxic Chinese toys – Detroit News
Animal feed in China often contains mild toxin – MSNBC
U.S. manufacturing jobs fading away fast – USA Today
U. S. Lost 1.9 Million Manufacturing Jobs Due to Trade Deficit With China – Huffington Post
Why It’s Difficult to buy “Made in America” Products in your Home – ABC News
PayPal Encourages Americans to Buy Direct from Chinese Sellers Auction Bytes
Tri-Lateral Shipping Alliance Signed With eBay GC and China Post – PR News Wire