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PaulOBrien

How to buy from 'grey importers' (and should you?) 

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On Twitter, one of the most common questions I get asked is 'should I buy from this site, the price seems too cheap?'. The site in question is normally one of the big grey importers, such as eGlobalCentral, Tobydeals, Quality Deals. So what are they, why are they so cheap and should you use them?

A grey importer is a site that sells devices originally intended for sale in another country, in the UK. This means that they can get the device potentially cheaper abroad and still sell it in the UK at a reduced price, even after (theoretically) paying all applicable taxes and shipping.

As a consumer, what are the implications of using these sites? Aside from the fact that what you buy may have the wrong plug on, the obvious one is around warranties. As the devices aren't intended for the UK, making a warranty claim with the manufacturer is going to be complex at best, potentially expensive if you need to return the device and completely impossible at worst. What about returns to the seller? Again, as the companies are not UK based you won't receive the same consumer protection you would here, but there's no doubt the discounts are very appealing.

If you do decide to take the plunge, there's a few things you can do to protect yourself and help smooth the process. The first thing to understand is that you're unlikely to get your product quickly. The way things seem to work is that the seller will ship from abroad (typically China) to a UK 'warehouse' who will then ship on to you, removing any risk of import taxes for the buyer. This is OK, but it often takes a while unless there just so happens to be local stock, so you'll have a bit of a wait.

The actual purchase and delivery process can also be a bit strange because of the process involved. Many sellers like to issue a local tracking number soon after order confirmation, however this number will then appear to 'do nothing' while the package makes its way to the UK, before suddenly showing progress as the UK leg of the shipment begins.

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We said above that normal buyer protections don't apply, but what can you do to help protect yourself in the event of an issue or dispute? We've learned the hard way, but always, always try and pay using either PayPal or your credit card. Both offer buyer focused protection policies which don't necessarily guarantee you'll see a positive outcome, but do tip things in your favour. Always opt for shipping insurance. 

Even more important than this is to document everything as evidence should issues arise later. When the package arrives? Take a photo. When you open and unbox it? Video it in case there's problems. If you find issues later? Make the problem as clear as possible with media you can share with both the seller and the payment handler.

Follow the above and chances are you'll be OK. Ultimately you need to decide... Is the risk worth the reward? I recently purchased a Gear Sport from eGlobalCentral. UK street price - £250. Their price - £155. Saving - 38%.

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It's easy to see why these sites are very popular. One final tip for this piece - many grey importers offer cashback via the main UK cashback sites such as Quidco or Topcashback, so always remember to check there before buying.

How has your experience of these sites been? Share in the comments! 


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I've bought various phones and other pieces of tech from most of the big China sites. All good experiences, got caught out with customs fee a couple of times. But if you're buying direct from China, check if they have customs insurance, usually only a few quid and in the event of having to pay a customs charge, they will refund it to you. 

@PaulOBrien speaking of eglobal central, how are they? I seen you ordered a couple of Mi A1s from them a few months back.

I am looking to order a Redmi Note 5 and have seen the below deal. Delivery stated as being about a week but postage is free and its still a decent bit cheaper than the other sites, any catch? 

https://www.eglobalcentraluk.com/mobiles-and-tablets/mobile-phones/brands/#/product/23687

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Delivery will probably be a little longer in my experience but that aside, no, no real catch.

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So it will still ship from China won't it? Or does it? Even if it takes a couple of weeks I'd be happy at that price if there's no customs charge risk. 

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So it will still ship from China won't it? Or does it? Even if it takes a couple of weeks I'd be happy at that price if there's no customs charge risk. 
No customs risk. It'll ship from the UK if they happen to be holding stock else China to UK warehouse then on, no customs risk.
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