At the electronics market there are lots of booths of people selling iPhone cases, USB thumb drives, cell phone trinkets, and other useless but high margin plastic things. They prey on the thousands of visitors from around the world who are there to get useless “Made In China” crap for their families or get ‘amazing’ deals on electronics. There is no need for warranties or money back guarantees; most people will not be returning for quite some time, and those that would know better.
As it was one of my first days, and in the interest of recording for posterity, I allowed myself to fall victim at one of these booths. A tray of unpackaged microSD cards caught my eye, and I asked for one of the 16GB ones. Initially the price was over $20, as communicated through the large button calculators at every booth. Clearly this was not competitive with even Amazon, and I was not a fan. She chopped the price down to $10, but I wasn’t having that, either. Walking away is the first trick in lowering prices, and I played that card, quickly getting a call to return. Then I played the second card, which was asking for a second one, but at a discount on each, bringing the total to $15 for 2 16GB Kingston microSD cards. She hemmed and hawed, but ultimately accepted when I started to walk away again. Success! My first negotiation at a booth, and I had achieved more than 50% savings!…
The fronts of the cards look legitimate.
The back of one of them even has an authentic looking sticker that says “Made in Taiwan.” It HAS to be good, right?
Not quite right…
The thrill faded when I discovered some things about these MicroSD cards. I put it in my laptop (my China laptop that had been formatted prior to arriving in China and would be separated from my home network, and I formatted the drive immediately) to check it out, and discovered that somehow these MicroSD cards had figured out how to be extremely efficient with data storage, because though it was formatted in FAT32, it only took 8kB of storage after being freshly formatted. It should have been much more than that.
So my 16GB drives were actually 2GB drives with different labels printed on them and the firmware rewritten to report as 16GB? Or maybe they were defects that should have been destroyed? Anyway, they were bad….
Putting it all together in a pretty little package
It’s a wild world, and it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Quality control is essential and challenging, but there are people with no scruples who will destroy it anyway. It’s challenging to keep fake parts out of your products, and it’s nearly impossible to prevent your product from being cloned, poorly. The cloners will replicate everything, including the packaging, and there’s very little you can do about it. You just have to do the best you can, and as long as the clones aren’t happening in your market, don’t stress so much. Also, don’t source your components from disreputable sources, and NEVER buy a MicroSD card at the electronics market in Shenzhen.
Bob Baddeley is a software/hardware engineer from the USA. In 2012 he was chosen for a Chinese hardware startup accelerator to work on his product, the Portable Electronic Scoreboard. His articles can be found on his blog www.engineerinshenzhen.com.