Some people refuse to buy anything from Amazon and others only ever buy there. When I started looking at hydroponics on Amazon nearly two years ago, prices of Smart Gardens were between £150 and £80. Now they are below £40, so why write or worry about it? Well, for several reasons.
Firstly, this is below cost for almost every company when taking into consideration Amazon fees and VAT. Secondly, those shown are either older machines which have been superseded by later and far improved versions (like the version 2 West Kent model) or they are from unheard of Chinese companies that will vanish at a moment’s notice and provide zero after-sales support. Thirdly, most of these companies have absolutely no experience in the world of hydroponics and are either middlemen or companies in the LED lighting sector.
Finally, we all know about the lack of service on Amazon and the moment anything breaks on the machine, there will be no replacement parts available because this will have to come from China and the cost of sending it is as much as the entire kit was originally.
The plethora of Chinese companies will vanish as quickly as they appeared once they realise that the UK isn’t the rich pickings that they imagined when they jumped on the bandwagon. Their inability to communicate properly in English or offer any after-sales advice will leave customers exasperated and angry but the damage will already have been done. It is bad enough trying to decipher Chinese-style English in the set-up instructions but complaining about a broken part and never getting a reply will drive anyone mad.
Very recently, I took a look at the one-star reviews on the leading number one seller of Smart Gardens on Amazon in the UK (the one offering version 1 of the West Kent 7 pod). I know all its faults because this is what I studied to build mine, but I had all the faults rectified and made major improvements. Here I quote from customers in the last 12 months:
‘I’d love to give this a good review, but the water pump failed after less than a month of use.’
‘Poorly made and stopped working after 2 hours.’
‘The cable seems to blow and there was rust all around the cable insert and in socket.’
‘The major issue with this item is that the company that makes it, no longer makes the sponges you need as a growing medium.’
‘The power supply is not watertight, after six months water leaked in and completely broke it.’
Yes, I can imagine all of these happening because the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) that runs the lighting and pump sits in a compartment inside the tank of water. Gradually, over time, the water gets in and short-circuits the lights and/or pump which is why the West Kent model has the PCB sitting outside the tank, at the base of the magnetically attached LED lights. Supplying replacement sponges is a critical part of hydroponics and if you cannot continue to purchase them, it becomes a serious problem. West Kent offers four different boxes of different replacement parts to ensure that everyone has a fabulous choice.
Why-oh-why would you continue to sell a version of a product that you know has design faults? The answer: because the price point today is too low for further product development and all the companies want to do is sell their out-of-date stock. Why offer an advanced model into the market and be forced to sell it at below cost?
‘Caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) is a well-known saying but in these days of shrinking incomes, it is so tempting to buy something that feels like a bargain. Sadly, a bargain often turns out to be waste of money with huge regrets afterwards. The best place to visit is the rest of the internet, outside of Amazon, where all the proper, branded, long term, Smart Garden providers hang out. None of these are unknown Chinese companies and all compete with high quality products at prices well above Amazon, so that they can reinvest in updating their range.
Amazon is now the home to Chinese companies selling directly from mainland China with no thought of how to offer a back-up service of replacement parts, good advice or replying to queries in UK daylight hours. By driving prices ever lower, the need to cut costs and quality becomes a critical part of staying competitive so if you are thinking of buying on Amazon, don’t forget that there is a whole world of higher quality products outside on the Web. You have been warned!