Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Amazon: 5 Illegal Tricks of The Trade

Amazon is by far my favorite online store. It is my favorite store even compared to those I can find down the street. They are large and in charge, and have a great support system in place. They are always making advancements into newer markets, and their service is second-to-none. However, there are many of us out there taking advantage of Amazon. I would like to discuss those methods.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way responsible for how this information is used. The following information is only for educational purposes.

The Lost Trick
One of the easiest tricks to pull on Amazon is having a "lost" item. What this entails is ordering something from Amazon, receiving the item, then contacting Amazon support and claiming that the item never arrived.

This is an easy trick, and if done right, can be done multiple times. However, someone who has--or almost always has--items lost will likely be caught. It becomes much harder when it is spaced out with legitimate purchases. In the same fashion, inexpensive items are easier to steal than items that cost hundreds of dollars.

How This Hurts Us
While many of us might think that Amazon is a huge company so a few hits here and there isn't going to affect them, the problem becomes how often and how many people pull this trick. If hundreds of people start doing it, they'll likely clamp down on delivery service one way or the other, making it much harder to receive a package than it is now.

In addition, for those of us who actually do lose an item, it could become a big hassle to get a refund if Amazon suspects everyone of trying to swindle them.

The Broken Media Trick
Another trick which is quite effective is ordering a piece of software or movie that comes on DVD or Blu-ray. After the DVD or Blu-ray is received, you quickly make a copy of it and then crack or break the DVD/Blu-ray.

This is a much harder trick for Amazon to battle against unless it opened each item and checked beforehand, making it a "used" product during the process. Think of it like driving a new car off the lot, once it's off the lot the price automatically drops. Amazon will give you a refund and never be-the-wiser of what really happened.

How This Hurts Us
I would have to honestly say this has little effect on Amazon's general base of customers. Not unless the person committing this crime does this repeatedly, forcing Amazon to create new rules and guidelines on how such matters are handled and preempted.

In either case, this is just dishonest. I like owning my actual movies or software. I always make backups in case they do get ruined, but the point of me buying them are to support the companies producing these products. This in turn could affect how those movies or software programs are priced in the future...

The Swap Trick
This trick involves swapping out items and is a bit more devious in my mind. This can be done with most any item of a decent size, and with a little communication, you can end up having a new item free.

An example of this would be if you already had a phone, like a Samsung Galaxy S5. You personally purchased it from Verizon without insurance, and now it has a cracked screen that renders it nearly inoperable. On Amazon someone is selling the exact same model and color, second-hand. You order the phone and wait for it to arrive. After ensuring that it works you contact Amazon and claim that the phone arrived but has a crack on the screen which was never detailed in the listing. Amazon has you return the phone and refunds your money, leaving you with a brand "new" Samsung Galaxy S5 to continue using.

I should note that items do not have to be used, but likely if the item isn't in perfect condition crooks have a better chance of getting away with the dirty deed.

How This Hurts Us
This truly hurts the sellers of Amazon, and by hurting them, that hurts us. If too many people were to perform this trick sellers may be wary and prefer to sell their items elsewhere, somewhere we don't want to buy from.

And if Amazon were to catch on to what was happening, they may go ahead and introduce new policies for used items to ensure (as much as possible) that whatever was sold worked and appeared as detailed. This could be good for us in reality, but it could also cause higher delivery prices, or introduce a new tax to make these new policies possible.

The Still NIB Trick
This still NIB (New-In-Box) trick has been used for a long time. A product is bought that comes in some sort of box and shrink wrapped. You open the box and use the product, then either put it back or keep it, followed by shrink-wrapping the box and sending it back. In the case of Amazon, you contact their support and tell them you no longer want the product and need a refund.

This is definitely riskier than the other tricks on the list, but can still be done. Boxes that have taped edges will be extremely hard to remove and put back as that would be a surefire way to know if someone tampered with the box. And keeping the product is even riskier than sending it back. I would imagine criminals would choose a product sold on through a third-party on Amazon since they would likely not have as much recourse as Amazon itself.

How This Hurts Us
Again, this really hurts the sellers. Which can push sellers to other online shops for selling. I don't think it would be as much of a threat to Amazon's customers as it would be difficult to determine what was done, and I doubt it happens very often, if at all. But there is a chance Amazon would decide to check all boxes first, then re-shrink wrap them to ensure no funny business occurs on either end on the transaction.

The Financing Trick (Update!)
This trick isn't as bad as the others, but it's still immoral nonetheless. Amazon offers a store card, which is much like a credit card, but it can only be used for Amazon purchases. You receive a credit line and make payments for items you either can't afford immediately, or wish to pay off slowly.

The financing is $149 for 6-months with no interest payments, $599 for 12-months with no interest payments, and 2 years on select items (like TV's). If you are unable to pay the full amount within the specified time, the full interest amount will be added to your remaining payments.

This trick is used when you want to get financing, but are just under the amount needed to apply for it. For example, I have $500 worth of items, but would like 12-months of no interest payments instead of six. I then find another item worth at least $99. I agree to the 12-months of no interest payments and wait for my items to arrive. Once they have been delivered, I contact Amazon and tell them I would like to send back my $99 item--and/or any others. They deduct the amount from my payment and allow me to still keep the 12-months of financing.

I have since been told this trick does not actually work. I had an incident where I was trying to buy a new phone along with phone accessories and some other items to get the 12 months of no interest financing. The third-party seller did not send the item, so I had to return the accessories. I called the bank to find out if I would still get the special financing, but they stated no (I believe it would become 6 months of no interest if I had kept the items and they met the $199 price point).

How This Hurts Us
This can come in handy when you genuinely no longer need an item you just ordered, or if done by accident. However, if people use it just to get the special financing and keep sending items back, Amazon will eventually decide not to allow people to return anything unless it's broken in some way. Those who would no longer need a product would then be stuck with it regardless, and still end up making payments for it.

Tricks I've Used
I've never used these tricks for personal gain. That being said, I have had a Blu-ray movie lost in the mail. I contacted Amazon after a month to report it to them and I was immediately given a refund. Another time I did do special financing where I no longer needed one of my items I had purchased. They gave me a shipping label, but I ended up keeping the item.

Don't Hurt Us
The big reason for this article is to not just inform, but to let people know that even if they don't believe these tricks to be immoral, they can affect all Amazon customers. No one wants to pay for other people's "mistakes", and no ones wants procedures to get difficult because of it. If you ever think about doing any of these things, think twice, there is always risk involved and inevitably you end up hurting yourself as well as others.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why GeekBuying Sucks and BangGood Doesn't

Most people in the US, and other first-world countries, think (and are usually correctly) that if you buy a Chinese-made product, you're taking a risk. I want to review two Chinese websites gaining popularity that are geared towards countries like the US and other English-speaking countries who are looking for cheap products.

Quality Control
When most of us buy a brand name we expect a certain amount of good support as well as a well-functioning product that won't deteriorate after a few month's use. When it comes to items coming from China, most of us know that it is a risk. It could work great, then die after a few months. It could work for one intended purpose flawlessly but not work at all for another. Or it may just not work period!

I am not trying to bad-mouth China. Instead, I want to explain why people think like this about their products. The main reason is quality control.

Let me first start off with an example of how China can create quality products. It's my most overused example, but one of the best nonetheless. Apple creates its iPhone and other products in China. If they were to produce duds a good portion of the time, they would not be the most profitable company in the world. What is done to curb that (as no product line can get away without a few defective devices), is implement regulations and policies that must be adhered to in order to have high quality control. This ensures that its consumers rarely get defective products and that Apple still makes a killing not only on their over-inflated retail prices, but from their cheap Chinese labor.

That is what you want when you buy a Chinese-made item. However, most of the items being pumped out of China seldom have this approach. There are big brand names from China like Xiaomi or TP-Link that do make good products, and for the most part, seem to have good quality control enforced. But the majority of Chinese products first-world consumers are willing to buy are usually cheap knockoffs of something else.

You can find these in major online shopping outlets, and a vast majority is now made up of electronic devices ranging from WiFi adapters to USB flash drives. Many of which break down just after enough time has passed where you cannot return it to the store you bought it from. What's worse is that many of these products do not have any warranties, so there is no recourse whatsoever.

One reason I try to avoid Chinese products when possible is that they often don't even follow guidelines for safety measures. There are plenty of people, in China as well, who have bought charging adapters for their phones to be shocked later on. Most survive, but a mutual friend of mine has a child that was shocked and killed because of such shoddy workmanship.

Customer Support
The next biggest problem is customer support. If your Chinese item does have customer support, it can be a nightmare just trying to get it replaced. You normally have to speak to someone who doesn't have a good enough grip of the English language to understand what's going on. And even if they comprehend what's happening, they may not be able to provide any type of support.

The only time this may not be true is usually of larger companies who have opened up a company in your country, where you can deal with people who you can talk to easily. I have had to do this with LG, and while it was definitely out-of-my-way in terms of location, I had a smartphone replaced free-of-charge. Then again, LG is a Korean company. And if thinking of Apple, it's already a first-world country business that is well-known for their support. They just happen to make their products in China.

What lack of or minimal customer support does to a consumer is not so much having them contemplate whether they can rely on customer support to handle issues; but instead questioning whether a person is willing to spend so much money (that they will never get back) if the product never works, stops working, or can't be fixed.

Quality control and customer support are the two major hurdles Chinese companies need to address if they ever want to rival companies like Apple, Samsung, etc.

Chinese Goods Websites
Chinese goods websites have been around for a long time now, and the majority of them are just scams. I come across numerous ones that offer ridiculous prices for professional cameras and branded laptops. The only way to know that they are on the up-and-up is to check how purchases are made.

On many of these nefarious websites purchases can only be made by bank wire transfer or a service similar to Western Union. These sites are scams. There could be a few legitimate ones, but I've never come across any.

Another decent method to know if these sites are legitimate is by checking their domain name information. While where the domain name is registered does not always help, the length of time the site has been around may help. A site that has been around years may actually be real, however, if they only offer the same purchase options as stated above, you can rest assured that you are not missing the deal of a lifetime.

These sites scam people out of money that people will never get back, and continue doing so until they are shut down. They usually just spring up under another domain name days later.

If the companies offer credit card payments or something like PayPal, then normally you are on a legitimate site. And even if not, and they do happen to try to bilk you out of your money, you can use your bank or PayPal to start a claim and get your money back. Just as a note, banks normally give two months to start a claim, while PayPal gives three.

I first heard of GeekBuying from an article on an Android smartphone (THL 5000). The author mentioned the site since it was the only place they could find that sold the phone. I checked them out and they seemed good enough to give a try when I had a need to do so.

GeekBuying is in English, and good English at that. It defaults to USD for prices, which can be changed to a variety of other currencies. There is a chat button, but it reminds me too much of the Chinese flag, indicating to me that having a short chat will turn into an hour long ordeal. They even have email newsletters in (good) English. They seem to always be having a sale or discounts, and advertise coupons for many of their products. It is a simple layout with easy navigation.

BangGood is virtually the same as GeekBuying but with an unarguably stupid name. They offer much of the same stuff. The reason I had used them was my niece needed something from them that GeekBuying did not have.

Smarter Chinese companies are now making well-made English websites to entice foreign shoppers. They must be hiring English speakers to type up their website and newsletters. It's a smart move, but that doesn't mean much since really anyone can do that.

Most of their products are reasonably priced, and you can purchase a lot of items that aren't available in the US or other first-world countries. Additionally good is that they offer PayPal as a form of payment, as well as credit card payments.

My Experience - GeekBuying
I had wanted to use GeekBuying for some time, but I really had no need. A niece of mine was looking for a new GoPro and I recommended the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera since it was 1/3 the price. The quality of this camera is quite exceptional from reviews and comparisons I have seen. The only lacking aspect is 4K, but that's only a minor issue for myself. On top of this, Xiaomi is a world-renowned Chinese smartphone company, so it should be made of excellent quality.

I persuaded my niece to buy one along with a waterproof case from GeekBuying. She agreed and I purchased it immediately (around the 20-21st) with the fastest shipping available from DHL. I got confirmation emails of my purchase and read that there was some small processing time. Of course no mention of actually how long was defined. The next day I made the exact same order for my niece's friend.

After about a week, I emailed asking what the hold up was? Where was my tracking numbers?

I first got a reply saying it was still processing the order. Now, in my lifetime, I have never had to go through such a long process order for items like this. The money was already withdrawn from my bank account, and since I used PayPal, I had a record of it there as well.

I responded explaining that the money was already gone so I know it wasn't a processing problem. Not only that, I had purchased an item from BangGood the same day which had already arrived...

I was then sent an email explaining that the camera (notice no plural) was ready to be shipped by DHL. And that the waterproof case was a "presale" item and would not be able to be shipped until the end of the month. I checked the website and the picture for the waterproof case had been slightly altered to add a small ribbon in the corner to say "Pre-Sale".

This was something that was not stated on the site during my purchase, not only that, I would not have made the purchase otherwise. My niece was going on a trip on the second of the next month and wanted to use it while diving.

Beyond this, they also stated that they could send the camera by DHL, and that they would then send the waterproof case by registered airmail. Of course I wanted the camera ASAP, considering that the point of paying for fast shipping is to send the items quickly, but I shouldn't be paying as much if they're just going to ship my second item through local (cheaper) services, ones that cannot be tracked.

I again responded but stated my demands. I expected both of my camera orders to be sent by DHL immediately, as they offered. But that I would not accept any type of other shipping since I paid for DHL and I wanted tracking.

They ended up shipping one camera, the one from my second order. It took a little over a week to arrive.

I also explained in great detail that if I did not receive email replies within two days addressing these issues and acknowledging what I wanted (and paid for), I would initiate partial (and whole if necessary) refunds from PayPal. I reiterated that point again and again as I told them no reply would result in the same consequence.

It took them days to respond and asked if I would like the other camera shipped. In capital letters I told them to send it immediately and provide me a tracking number. It took them another few days before it was finally sent...

The second camera arrived, but I had not received any emails about the current status of waterproof cases. By this point I had one email telling me they would be available by the end of the month, and another at the beginning of the next month.

Suffice to say I was furious at such as crappy company and identical service. I made some idle threats, which I wanted to follow up on, but since it was not my money nor my products, I had to sit back and wait. I did state that I would wait until the 10th of the month, since that would be the ending of the beginning of the month if you were to divide it into three sections.

Finally, on the 12th (of the next month), the first package with the waterproof case was sent. It stated it was sent by Hong Kong post, and that it would take 15-30 days to arrive! Had I been in the US at the time, I would understand the tardiness of the package, but I was only hours away by airplane, so this was just plain stupidity on their part. That's not even going back over how I paid for fast shipping through DHL.

On the next day I received an email that the second package was sent. Mind you, the only thing they seemed to do right was send my first order first instead of the other way around like with the cameras. What was odd was that a courier named NHLPost was carrying the second package... Why would you need different carriers? Generally, a company chooses a courier and they stick with it. I chalk this up to them either not having a proper scheduled time of when to ship packages, or that they are genuinely a company so lacking in infrastructure that they can't even decide upon the most basic of things. If it matters, the arrival time was also between 15-30 days.

What might be of interest to some is that before the waterproof cases were sent, I decided to check the website once more for them. There was the waterproof cases I bought, but now there was another case available about $4-$5 cheaper, that looks exactly the same...

The first waterproof case arrived, followed by the second, about two weeks later. This is despite having been shipped the day after the first one... The ONLY good news from this was that my ordeal was over and everything seemed to work.

Another interesting note about the waterproof cases was that the packaging they came in stated that if no sender could be reached to return the package to somewhere in the Netherlands. I don't even know what this could mean. Maybe it's actually a product of the Netherlands, but other than that, I have no idea why a foreign country would bother spending time and money sending a return package to anywhere other than its original destination.

My Experience - BangGood
My niece also wanted a special wrist wrap to use the camera while hang gliding, as did her friend. Since GeekBuying did not have anything like that, I turned to BangGood.

It was practically the same setup, except they have some random tracking site for their items. There didn't seem to be a recognizable option as far as third-party couriers go, so I couldn't verify anything about the shipments.

The good news is that the "processing time" was incredibly short for the first order and it arrived in just over a week's time. The bad news is the second order didn't seem to have the same timeline despite being made the day after.

Their tracking for the order was not working and I kept getting an error on their contact form that stated the order didn't even exist. I eventually wrote to them and explained the situation asking why it was taking so long and that no reply would result in a refund through PayPal.

I got a reply that gave me a working tracking number to their tracking site and showed it in transit. I was told that it had been out-of-stock and it was just now being shipped, but that I may have to wait 7-25 days!

Again, these orders all had the fastest shipping rates paid for, so 7-25 days is way too long, especially considering the wait time that has already passed. I responded that I was happy to wait if they would refund the shipping, otherwise, it needed to be here by the next week or I would start a refund regardless.

They sent me another email apologizing for the confusion thinking I had chose free shipping. A week later the second wrist wrap arrived.

The Good
Both companies offer a variety of products that are either hard to get at cheap prices in first-world countries, or that are simply not available in them. The prices are inexpensive, and they offer free shipping on everything.

It also helps a lot that it caters towards English-speakers, making it easy to find what you want and order it. In addition, proper payment methods such as credit cards and PayPal help make customers from first-world countries feel secure since they have a way to file claims if they are somehow screwed out of their money.

The products from these sites can be of excellent quality. Yet, they still offer plenty of products I would say are a risk to take since they are not brand names, or even stamped with a name at all. Despite that, if you're willing to take the risk, you can get some of those no-name items fairly cheap.

The Bad
There are quite a few bad items, none to be taken lightly if spending a decent amount--which I would never recommend for a first-time customer.

The first is the customer support. While they can afford to send newsletters and make a pretty website with acceptable English, they can't afford to hire a staff that doesn't speak broken English. They use phrases that piss you off more than help, like "be at ease", that conjures up feelings that you are being scammed.

Another grand issue is selling something that is not ready to be sold. It's great that you correct your mistake after-the-fact, but what about people like me who already bought it because it is rightly expected to be ready to ship?

Furthermore, if you offer fast shipping, but you pretend that processing times takes days upon days, then you are misleading people into believing products will be delivered in a timely manner.

To add to that point, if I pay for multiple items, all to be shipped via a specified courier so that they can be expedited, all items should be shipped via that courier regardless if sent sooner or later. It's not the fault of the customer if you do not factor these types of situations into your overhead expenses during checkout, and they should not be the ones having to pay for it when they're doing that company the courtesy of shopping there. All this does, just as in my case, is ensure that I will never use or recommend that company to anyone else, and go so far as to utilize my time to find alternatives for friends or family who are about to make the mistake of using said company.

One final issue I have is the need for the customer to contact the company when something goes wrong. The customer should only need to pay and wait for their products to arrive. In fact, they are oblivious to any mishaps unless notified (or someone who keeps an eye on these dealings as closely as I do). It is not their responsibility to reach out and ask why nothing has happened. It is the company's sole responsibility to reach out and communicate if anything is amiss. Again, simple things like this ensure customers like me never want to use their service again. If something takes too long, the fear of not being able to get a refund also becomes a reality, which prods people like me to initiate a refund regardless of what support is given.

While not an issue, I would think that mistakes like these should be handled with discount coupons or vouchers. Even if I don't use them, I still feel better that at least I got them. Anything at all that resembles a willingness to admit fault and wish to fix it is a plus that these companies seem oblivious to.

The Verdict
So, in light of all the predicaments I had with (mainly) GeekBuying, I think it is quite obvious as to who takes the cake here: BangGood

I believe the only difference (besides support) I noticed was shipping costs and how shipping was tracked. If you weighed only those differences, GeekBuying may seem to be the more appealing of the two companies. However, once you include support, I think BangGood lunges ahead by miles.

This doesn't mean that one or the other will always be better or worse. In a few years the tables could change and I could be writing about the fall of BangGood and the rise of GeekBuying (even if unlikely since I have no intention of going back to GeekBuying unless there is no viable alternative). As for now though, I recommend using BangGood if possible.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

FREE Custom Domain Email

When you're creating a website you may be faced with creating emails for the domain name that you--or your client--purchase. It's not a difficult thing to do, and many domain name resellers will even offer you this service at an additional price. If you are not part of a huge business, or just need some custom domain name emails for a business card, you can't go wrong with free! Today I want to explain a way to do just that.

Google Domains
Google Domains used to be a great free service for setting up custom domain emails. You initially received 25 emails, along with other free services like a catch-all feature and aliases. They later downsized the amount of emails to 10. Eventually, they decided to cash in on this service and force people to use Google Apps for Work. Anyone who was already using the free service still retained their free email accounts (although even that has since changed), and now everyone else must pay. had its own custom domain email setup that was similar to Google Domains. It too was free and started with 50 free email accounts. When I last used this service (2013) I believe it was limited to 10 free email accounts. They have since forced people to migrate to their own Office 365 subscription service in order to continue using Microsoft as their custom domain name email provider.

Zoho Mail
Since then I have turned to Zoho Mail as my free custom domain name email provider. The setup is as simple if not simpler than either Google or Microsoft. The differences are that you can only have up to 5 free accounts, and each comes with a maximum of 5GB of storage.

The Zoho Mail interface is quite clean and simple. There seems to be a few additional features that I did not recall seeing from Google or Microsoft. You can restrict POP3/IMAP access for any account, limit how much inbound and outbound traffic an email account has daily, and privileges that can be given to users to create groups.

In Google and Microsoft the admins were left deciding when to create groups and who had access. What I thought was very interesting was that groups in Zoho Mail have different group levels. Each group is essentially a mail forwarding service sent to the designated users ranging from all email accounts to only those chosen. On top of that, Zoho Mail made it much simpler to do all of this if need be.

Zoho's big "selling" point is that the service is ad-free. I never saw any ads when I used either Google or Microsoft, but I can imagine how annoying they would've been if so.

The Setup
Setup is simple and can be quick if you have access to your domain name's DNS records:

  1. Select the free option from Zoho's site.
  2. You will be asked if you have an existing domain name or wish to purchase a new one. Assuming you already have one, type in your domain name and proceed.
  3. You will then need to enter a CNAME, followed by a MX record for verification. Along the way you will be asked to create user accounts and groups, which can be done at a later point.

It's a fairly simple setup to get through. I spent a total of maybe 10 minutes to verify everything and add user email accounts.

Mobile Setup
If you have a device with Android or iOS, retrieving your email will be a cinch. Just look in the Google Play Store or iTunes Store and search for the Zoho Mail app. Once downloaded, login with your credentials and you will then have access to your email.

If you happen to be on a Windows or Blackberry device, you will need to go the POP3/IMAP route. You can follow the instructions here for setting those devices up. A word of warning, if you do use IMAP to sync, retrieve and send email, you will first need to enable the IMAP setting for the account(s) in Zoho Mail.

I was a big fan of Google Apps and was disheartened to see it go. Likewise, I enjoyed's service until they decided to make it only subscription-based.

Zoho seems like a good service, I have not found anything to suggest otherwise. They claim it will also have this free service forever, and I hope they do. I guess it will really depend on if they stay in business and if they never go back on their word. Only time will tell.