13 August 2015

Importing our Tiny House Materials - Did we get Scammed?

We thought buying insulation materials from China would be a breeze. Half way through the process we had handed over 3 grand to a Chinese manufacturer who we had lost contact with and no sign of any material. What did we do wrong? Did we get our product or money back?

We researched how to import materials safely which is summarised in this post 'Alibaba Tips and Tricks for Safely Importing Materials from Overseas'. By using this process we narrowed it down to two potential manufacturers and ended up choosing the manufacturer on price (classic mistake). We carried out some checks to ensure they were a legitimate manufacturer, you can read about these checks here. As we were new to this game we did not carry out all these safeguards but from what we had researched we were satisfied the manufacturer was for real and they appeared professional. In hindsight we would say they were quite pushy in the initial stages of communication, they were wanting quick responses and looking back on it now it all seemed too eager. But... once again money came into play and they were about 2 grand cheaper so we decided it was worth pursuing.

We produced a detailed drawing of the panel sizes, material and density which we sent through the Alibaba messaging service, this ensured we had written records of specifications. Through the Alibaba messaging system we decided to pay half the total amount to start the job and the final amount would be paid upon completion. We agreed on a completion date of approx 2 weeks. The manufacturer was very keen to use western union to make the transaction but this did not sit well with us as there are no safeguards. We managed to convince the manufacturer to use Paypal which they signed up for (in the end this was a great move).

Communication for the first week after paying was good, indicating they were in production and all going well. The second week communication was limited which seemed a bit odd but we thought they must be busy and we didn't anticipate that there would be any problems. After the agreed completion date all communication dried up, this was when we started to really become concerned. We were making friendly communication through the Alibaba messaging system and getting no reply. We tried emailing with no avail. Two weeks on and still no luck we searched the internet for alternative ways to contact the manufacturer (again with not much joy), this is why it is important to obtain as many communication forms as possible early in the process (emails, phone numbers etc). Then out of the blue we got a message in broken English that everything we ok but they had miscalculated the wastage and we needed to pay another thousand dollars. Alarm bells started ringing! We had already paid half the total amount and were thinking, thankfully we had not paid the full amount upfront and now they want to break the agreement. So what to do?

Well we used common sense and asked politely if the order could be fulfilled to the existing contract. The response was 'no there was no possible way' this was incredibly frustrating to hear after we were so far down the track. So it was either to pay extra or pull the pin. We weighed up the risk and decided to cancel the order and ask for a full refund... our fingers were crossed!! We politely asked for this request using Alibaba messaging system. After a couple of days of no reply we tried with another slightly more direct message, still nothing after a few more days.

At this point after about 6 weeks from the initial order with no product, no contact and three grand being used for who knows what, it was fair to say we were worried. What can you do but keep trying. So we emailed the manufacturer's business and personal email. We kept down this route for about 10 days at which point we started a paypal dispute.

Using paypal the buyer has protection if:

  • You don't receive the item
  • The item is significantly different than the description

You can raise a dispute up to 180 days after the purchase was made. If the seller and buyer cannot work out the dispute Paypal will get involved to resolve the situation.

The next day after the Paypal dispute had been raised we heard back from the manufacturer (funny that)! They said they would provide a full refund immediately. Yes! no product and a lot of wasted time but we will get our money back. Over the next six straight hours we were in constant messaging contact mainly working out how the paypal dispute system worked as both parties had never used it. I am going to say it is confusing to use and did not help we were paranoid about losing more money. Will not go too far into the details but it was a long night as we did not want to lose contact and risk not getting the money back.

After the manufacture released the money it took a further three day for the money to clear back to our account. At the end of the day the manufacturer apologised and we did get all the money back but we're still not sure if they were legit or if they were taking us for a ride. We counted our lucky stars we used Paypal and not something like western union in this case. More about payment pros and cons in the next post.

So back to the drawing board to start the process over again. We used our second choice manufacturer who was more expensive but you know what they say you get what you pay for.

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