The astounding variety in stores is not quite as astounding as it used to be.
Among other things, there are a lot of "zombie brands," formerly famous names sold to new companies and slapped on a wide variety of products. They hope that some people will unwittingly buy the item because of name recognition.
It reminds me of the old Mad Magazine bit about the advertiser who was selling "famous name" appliances: the George Washington, the Thomas Jefferson, the Abraham Lincoln.
Careful shoppers notice that a lot of large and small appliances, carving knife sets, pans and dishware show up with different names. There is one kitchen knife set in a wooden block I swear I have seen a half-dozen times with all kinds of names and prices.
I do know that there are, at most, two Chinese companies manufacturing virtually all of the cheap microwave ovens in existence, even though there are a dozen brands at any given time. It's American marketing in the 21st century.
Through much of the mid-20th century there were hundreds of small companies, each producing their own product with the hope that it would go big.
I recall that Lewis Salton, the man whose company became a major supplier of kitchen items, was a Nazi death camp survivor who came to this country with a single rare postage stamp, saved from his father's collection, and hidden in his prison uniform.
He sold the stamp and used the money to start a small company (Salton) which later generated millions of dollars in sales. But this short article is not about the rise and fall of American entrepreneurial spirit.
It's a look at an online shopping experience where you find such things such as an iPhone case that includes a cigarette lighter and beer bottle cap opener built-in.
I'm talking about wish.com, where the Lewis Saltons of China hope to make it big.
Wish.com is kind of like a Chinese Amazon, aimed at the USA and in English. It accepts major credit cards and also PayPal.
I do not have an inside look at their organization, but it seems they have a large group of independent contractors, each supplying one or more items. And what a list of items it is!
I first began looking for photographic products tere and found, to my delight, LED studio lights for about one quarter the price found in most American catalogs and reasonable or even free shipping.
From there it was messenger bags, small electronic gadgets, odd little microphones or recorders and a variety of novelty cameras that purported to be the world's smallest or look like keychain car alarm device, pen, sunglasses (!), etc. [See "Novelty Cameras"]
Sometimes an item will be priced higher than you can find, for example, on Amazon. In that case, you would be nuts to order from China, as returns are problematic. And most electrical devices are 220V.
There also seem to be an endless supply of cases for all manner of smart phones and tablets. I even found a pair of cufflinks with tiny cameras (not real, of course) as decorations. They were two dollars with free shipping. I also enjoyed finding beautifully made stainless steel 1 cup coffee cone makers. And there was more, too much more to list here.
I make it a practice to not buy anything terribly expensive, as the problem of returns to China is quite serious. However, the wish support team really wants to make customers happy and gain a good reputation. I was even given a five dollar credit because of item arrived a couple of days later than promised.
Clothing is one area to avoid, as it seems most manufacturers working outside of a direct partnership with Americans have little or no idea about how big we are. One dead giveaway is the thin Chinese models wearing attractive but totally unwearable clothes for many Americans. I once bought a belt that was supposed to be the extra long version and it was about 3 inches short of my needs.
Also, USB storage sticks and camera memory cards, especially ultrahigh capacity may not deliver as expected. I have a 2 TB USB stick that seems to work well, but another one that is 512 GB is less trustworthy. Both were very, very cheap and I have not even seen a 2 TB stick in most places in the USA. So, I would suggest that if you need reliable storage for important things, stick with a brand name like SanDisk and purchase it from a reputable store.
But other items I've never seen on our shores. I found a beautiful AM FM radio that also accepts a micro SD card or USB stick to play MP3 files. It uses a cell phone type battery for long life, has great sound, and was something on the order of $12 plus a couple of dollars shipping.
As a some Chinese manufacturers do not pay much attention to copyrights, you may find shirts, wall hangings and other house decorations with illustrations from famous films or motion picture characters.
Be prepared for some English descriptions that don't read quite well. And, sometimes, a new version of a product is offered and the copy from the old version is still used. For example, I bit on a nice-looking watch that had a camera in it, 8 GB of storage and also an MP3 player. (Geeky, eh?) But there was no MP3 player, as the copy was from another model. But the watch cost less than the cost of the leather band, so I'm not too upset!
Occasionally there is an item that just costs too much compared to other things on the site.
I got a laugh out of the beautiful white mug that was printed in English with, "Good morning. I see the assassins have failed." But it was $14 plus shipping which seemed very strange.
And of course who could resist the small $3 USB tester in the shape of a dog which, when plugged in the USB port, began humping it. The perfect gift for the information technology expert in your life.
Although Wish is generally pretty much a G rated site, there is also drug paraphernalia and a smattering of what might be politely called adult toys and apparel. Not that you would let your child loose on the site with a credit card number anyway, but parental supervision is always advised.
According to my last look, I purchased 88 small items from this site in the past couple of years. Many cost only a few dollars as little as one dollar. The one dollar item was a tiny Velcro shirt collar and tie designed to be worn by a cat.
Of these many purchases only one or two have proved to be really not as good as I'd hoped. And even though it takes several weeks to get your product, you are given information all along the way about when it will arrive (and without having to pay any duty or excise taxes).
But before you jump into the world of Wish, look at it carefully and see if the items that you want are also available in the USA, perhaps on eBay or Amazon at a similar price.
But if nothing else, it's just worth a look.