Q4. Is there a legal way to import well-known brands into the USA for resale?
A. The answer in brief is: If a product or a brand does not have a CBP Recordation number displayed on the USCBP website it SHOULD be safe for you to import that product or brand, but please read the entire post before you order!
You can start your search here: Intellectual Property Rights (IPRS) search - cbp.gov
There are many big brand products that can be purchased overseas, even at retail, at prices way below the retail price in the USA.
It is vital to appreciate that there is absolutely no way you can safely or legally import imitations, counterfeits, or knockoffs. Even items that look like big brand items may be confiscated by the US CBP Service. Reconditioned big brand items may suffer the same fate.
Before proceeding please understand that this article is not intended as legal advice, and the author accepts no liability for any outcome resulting from acting upon any matter or matters referred to in the article.
This post is specific to the USA, but if there is sufficient interest I might be persuaded to write about the issue in relation to other countries.
First: What are parallel imports? Parallel imports (also known as gray market goods) refers to genuine branded goods that are imported into a market and sold there without the consent of the owner of the trademark.
The goods are “genuine” goods (as distinct from counterfeit goods) in that they have been manufactured by or for or under license from the brand owner.
However, they may have been designed with small differences, or even packaged differently for a particular jurisdiction, but then imported into another jurisdiction (USA). This can lead to the presence of what is called a material difference. What you might consider is a trivial difference can be classed as material by CBP or a court of law.
Here are some of the things that courts have determined constitute material differences:
A material difference is one that consumers familiar with the brand would notice and consider relevant to their decision to buy. If a consumer is familiar with a branded product, and after purchasing a parallel import notices that the product’s characteristics are inconsistent with his or her previous purchases, the consumer may begin to doubt that he or she has purchased a genuine product.
- Packaging differences, including absence of certain familiar markings;
- Product appearance, even a slight difference in shape or distinctive color;
- Difference in smell;
- Different appearance of labels;
- Missing legislated labeling requirements;
- If it is food, beverage, cosmetic etc., different ingredients.
These differences are important because of potential damage to the brand owner’s image or reputation.
More to follow on this subject when I answer Q5. Don't forget, if you have questions you want answered, please post them on my AMA thread.
NOTABLE! Most liked posts in thread: Walter Hay's Q & A - Importing and Sourcing
Q6. Is Parallel Importing Really Worth the Trouble?
That is a decision for each one individually, but if you obtain sound expert advice that gives you a definite assurance that you are on safe ground, parallel importing can be extremely lucrative.
In some countries where government protection of big business interests is not as great as it is in the US, parallel importing is actively encouraged. Japan and New Zealand are two notable examples of where there is a thriving market for parallel imports, and some quite large businesses have grown up around that business model.
It is always necessary to do your research before beginning any enterprise, but in the case of parallel importing, thorough research is absolutely essential, but I believe there is so much profit potential that time spent on research could be handsomely rewarded.
Just think; Do you think the manufacturers, (Bayer) are selling at below cost in India? No, it would not cost them anywhere near $15 to produce 500 gm. (just over 1 lb.) of ciprofloxacin. After all, Indian manufacturers profitably sell the same antibiotic at around that price. Bayer is also no doubt selling at a profit at $15, yet they found a market (Mozambique) where they can sell the same product for $740.
You may not find such extreme price differences for products that interest you, but huge differences do exist. Maybe you can capitalize on that.
This is the last of the Q & A's relating to parallel importing, but if you have questions on the subject, please post them on my AMA.
Q8. Why do suppliers on Alibaba and Aliexpress tell me I must pay PayPal Fees?
A. After countless visits to China since 1978, I am very familiar with the Chinese way of doing business, so I can tell you what is behind suppliers asking buyers to pay some of their costs. In this case, the PayPal fee.
It is part of the Chinese mentality. Money is of enormous importance to them and consequently every dollar counts. Many eRetailers are glad to pay what to them is a small fee.
There is no such thing as a small fee in the eyes of a Chinese business person. To them it all adds up. They won't shrug their shoulders like the many eRetailers and say oh well, it's only a small fee. If they can add that to their sale, that is simply seen for what it is - extra profit. Small? No, because many small figures add up to large figures.
It may help readers understand this thinking when I tell you that over the years I have seen numerous quotes for small value items priced to four decimal points! They might quote something like 1,000 pcs @ US$0.0724 per pc., rather than simply 70c.
.24 of a cent! Less than 1/4 of a cent! Small, but it adds up. On the 1,000 pcs order that adds $24 to the otherwise total of $70.00. If it is for 10,000 pcs the total extra profit for them is $240.00 on what would have otherwise been a $700 order.
But this is largely academic if you want to deal with genuine manufacturers rather than the traders you will find on the major B2B sites. The reason is that very few genuine manufacturers will accept PayPal, although the numbers are slowly increasing.
Q5. Is It Worth Doing Parallel Importing?
A. One of the best ways to answer this is to say that according to the World Health Organization, Bayer sell ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic) in India for $15 per 100 units (500 mg) but in Mozambique they charge $740.
The clear reason is that there is absolutely no competition in Mozambique, but there is a huge amount of competition in India. Wow! What an opportunity! Or is it? ..........
Now don’t rush to buy ciprofloxacin in India and try to sell it in the US. Pharmaceuticals are one of many product categories subject to specific legislation that would make it impossible. There are other branded products that are either impossible to import or can only be purchased as parallel imports if certain very tight rules are observed.
A few years ago, in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Customs Bulletin, the agency announced that it was applying the “Lever rule” (a landmark court ruling in the case Lever Bros. Co. v. United States, 1993) to cover certain brands of watches. Importation of the watches is now forbidden unless they bear labels warning potential purchasers that they are “physically and materially” different from watches normally sold in the United States under those trademarks.
This ruling applies to many product categories, and consequently anyone considering parallel importing should seek expert advice. Experienced Customs Brokers should be able to identify which products have been specifically listed as restricted gray market goods.
It is possible to conduct a search on the CBP site located at: http://iprs.cbp.gov/ and find the Intellectual Property Rights Search (IPRS) page. Enter the brand name in the "Keyword" box and if that brand has requested and been granted gray market protection, a CBP Recordation number will be displayed. If one clicks on the entry under the second column, which is labeled "Title Product", on the brand name, the CBP Recordation opens up to another screen and displays more details.
So, the message of value amounts to this: If a product or a brand does not have a CBP Recordation number displayed it SHOULD be safe for you to import that product or brand.
Although I have provided that search information I can assure my readers that I would not personally rely solely upon those results. If your Customs Broker cannot give you a definite answer, it would be unwise to proceed with parallel importing without obtaining legal advice.
Just a word of caution: If you intend relying on any expert or legal advice, you must have that advice in writing.
Q9. Must I order the huge Minimum Order advertised by Chinese suppliers?
A. This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and the short answer is NO.
Having said that, I know that it is not easy to persuade manufacturers to agree to a smaller order. This is why it takes about 2 1/2 pages in my book to explain how to do it.
The first step is to avoid for as long as possible the subject of order quantity. If you can carry on for some time, an email conversation about product technicalities, colors, size, weight, packaging, lead time for orders etc., you will find that the supplier will broach the subject of MOQ.
In accordance with acceptable Chinese business culture, you can even ignore the subject until the supplier raises it again.
Finally you will have to address the issue, at which time you should ask first to purchase a sample for testing, and say that your boss will decide on order quantity after the test.
Maintain the conversation, confirming receipt of the sample, and saying that the test is proceeding.
Soon after, you will say your boss wants to place a trial order. Nominate the quantity you are willing to order.
You must be prepared to accept that a smaller order will cost you more per item. Don't let them overcharge for that. You might have to accept an increase of as much as 40%, but there are ways around that, and the full answer is found in Ch.28, and Ch.29 of my book.
Q7. Where has Alibaba's community forum gone?
A. You are referring to the old forum that I reported on some time ago, but it has been changed beyond recognition.
The forum, previously found on Alibaba.com was quite revealing, containing thousands of no holds barred reports of complaints.
If you go to Alibaba's Community Discussion forum and search for "Scams" you will find no discussion, just generic advice posted in 2014 and 2015 by moderators on how to avoid scams.
All of this tells me that Alibaba realized that their real discussion forum was too revealing and damaging.Sheens likes this.
Q10. How Much Do I Need To Start Importing?
A. This question pops up repeatedly, but it is not easy to answer.
I have seen numerous forum comments, with the lowest figure being $1,000.
When I started importing, I had the proceeds from the sale of my first business, so there was basically no limit. Despite that, I began very low key, placing small orders until I was completely confident that I had a good business model, and had found excellent suppliers.
In the first 6 months I had outlaid no more than $5,000. From that point on, I went gangbusters.
To provide a different perspective, here is an email from one of my book users:
"Ok. From extremely skeptical to successful completion. Credit given where credit is due. I followed the book instructions you laid out. Took my time to double check everything and was able to successfully import an order from China. Not only that but it was also a “sample order” for less than 300.00. A 300% mark up has allowed to get initial investment back and I have 70% of my inventory left. Stop promoting your book. Your encouraging competition for me Many thanks."
He was actually selling on Amazon, and on his own website, so I don't know what he might have spent on advertising, but I do know from later correspondence that he built a large business from that very low starting point.
I suppose the answer to question Q10 is still somewhat up in the air.
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