Beware that cheap battery

Beware that cheap battery

Summary: Online shopping makes it so easy to find the cheapest option that you may not notice the product isn't really what you think.

TOPICS: E-Commerce

I know that on more than one occasion I have bought an item online that wasn't quite right when I got it. I'm sure, in retrospect at least, that at least some of them were counterfeits. Some of the others were just cheap no-name trash.

Sometimes these products will work just fine and sometimes they won't perform well. Sometimes they can be harmful to other products or dangerous. This is all separate from the moral turpitude of buying knock-off electronics.

Canon, a common victim of counterfeiting, recently sponsored an event at City Tech, the New York City College of Technology, to raise awareness about the problem. They released a survey which showed that US consumers are concerned about counterfeiting, but man, especially millennials, are willing to buy them anyway.

One panelist at the City Tech event was a representative of safety consulting and certification company Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which raises the safety issue: Canon argues that many of the knock-off products are unsafe. The main point has to do with battery packs and external charging devices. This being Canon, the problem is largely about cameras. The pirates faking Canon and other brand-name products also rip off the UL trademark.

The difference in products can be about more than just price. Lithium ion battery packs from real companies with real UL-certification have more than just batteries and cells in them; they also contain a device to sense temperature and circuitry to shut the battery down in case of fire hazard, and the same is true of external battery chargers. Even so, there have been plenty of stories over the years about the potential for Lithium Ion batteries to cause fires owing to bad parts, bad design or other mistakes. A small sample:

These are about the batteries that come from real companies that have reputations and legal interests to protect, and still it's hard to avoid these problems completely when you deal in such large volumes. How much do you think a bunch of anonymous criminals, trying to make every penny they can, will put into quality control?

The survey also showed that most US consumers think they can pick out a counterfeit from the real thing, but in fact it's not that easy. Canon has a "Spot The Fake" quiz on their site. Below is an example; the left is a genuine LP-E6 battery, the right a fake. Can you tell the difference?


The Canon event was about counterfeits, but to me that's not the whole story. I know I've bought no-brand battery packs for notebooks that caused problems; I've no proof, but I believe one of them ruined a Thinkpad motherboard. That's the last time I buy a battery that doesn't at least purport to be from a reputable manufacturer.

This same problem has been true of printer ink and toner for some time. Both knock-offs and compatibles are widely available, as are refilled cartridges and kits for refilling. There's not a safety issue with them, but there definitely may be a problem with quality. It seems there are also counterfeit printer ink/toner devices, so that's morally problematic.

Now it's also obviously true that Canon and even UL want you to buy genuine products in part because, unlike with knockoffs and compatibles, they make money off the genuine hardware. This is something to bear in mind, but not a reason to discount the safety or moral arguments.

I find it very easy to believe that the smaller merchants I've never heard of are more likely to sell knock-offs and products which don't necessarily meet the standards I'm expecting. Based on this, my own experience and even materials from Canon and UL, I'm now less likely to buy the cheapest option or from someone I've never heard of.

Topic: E-Commerce

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  • The problem is obvious - but where is a solution?

    You are absolutely correct about OEM vs counterfit batteries.

    It has nothing to do with millenials though. The problem is rather that the fake batteries do not hold the charge.

    Say, I want to buy an OEM battery for a phone that had a misfotune of being briefly submurged into a fish tank.

    Where should I go to buy the battery? Should I go back to T_Mobile, or back to LG?

    Can I be sure that batteries bought from actual companies are not counterfit?

    Because the $6 battery bought at Amazon was an excercise in futility, since it only holds enough charge for a couple of hours. On the other hand, that same Amazon did not have a 'certified' more expensive variety.

    Is there a way to be sure that the battery is real? The shiny tin-foil sticker is about is fakable as everything else.

    It seems that in the age of globalization, there are more questions than answers.
    • Did you actually buy from Amazon or one of their "merchants"?

      One way is to note the merchant you're buying from on amazon. You're not always buying from Amazon itself and of the outside merchants selling through Amazon, some are trustworthy--some even have their own websites separate from amazon and some are unknown and risky.

      Of course, it goes beyond just batteries, chargers and printer cartridges. There are tons of potentially unsafe pocket knives, unreliable fountain pens and countless electronic devices being sold by certain websites that ship directly from China. The prices are extremely low and they don't charge for shipping.

      These items come with no guarantee, no warranty and no help from the apparent manufacturer if/when they break or fail because they're known to be counterfeit merchandise. Yet there are unboxing videos all over youtube featuring people's newly arrived shipments of booty from these sites. And there will continue to be. And then they'll badmouth the real manufacturer when the counterfeit fails. And *they* will get no sympathy from me.
    • Amazon is a middle man

      They move product. They do provided reviews (some of which can not be trusted). With a little effort you can research most products and find out if they are ok, and if you can't get that information, you know it probably is not ok.

      There will be a certain level of cheats. Buyer beware. Saving $10 not a great option all the time.

      On the other hand, the price of printer ink is ridiculous.
  • The solution is simple ...

    .... if the 'Brands' did not charge such absolutely ludicrous prices, knockoffs could not be made to undercut them so temptingly and still make a handsome profit for the scammers.

    I've bought printer compatibles at less than a quarter the price of the 'Brand': they may or may not have been 'fake', but the quality was just fine. What does that tell you about the profit margins of 'Brands'?

    If they weren't so greedy, there'd not be a guaranteed huge profit for fakes, and the fakers would go do something else.

    They get no sympathy from me; 'Brands' have no moral superiority here, just their theft is legal.
    • Totally Agree...

      What do companies like Canon expect when they charge $40 for a battery that costs them $3 to make? They invite counterfeiting.
      • Actually...

        The $40 battery costs $10 to make and the $10 battery costs $3 to make. If the expensive brand really were as cheap to produce as the cheap brands, then the cheap brands wouldn't fail after such a short time compared to the expensive one. What's the answer? Buy from a local store where you can return the product and get an exchange or your money back. There are millions of cheapskates killing off there local businesses because they think that they can get the same thing for a 1/4 of the original price on the internet who then complain when they are ripped off. Support local businesses and you wouldn't have this problem.
        • doubt

          that a Canon $40 battery costs $10 to make. It also costs $3 but Canon marks it up to $20 and the reseller marks it up to $40.

          Or maybe it cost $10 to make 7 years ago when it was designed. Now they are much cheaper and better but still priced the same.
        • Really, actually

          Canon and all other large brands have a very low cost/unit, regardless of who the competition is, fakers or not. At worse, they will be no more than a very small percentage higher at cost than a company that fakes UL and doesn't do real testing. UL is a one-time cost, internal testing takes time.

          There are, indeed, capitalizing on the fear (yes, mostly justified) this article represents. It's almost self-fulfilling. They will push the price up until the volume hits a cliff. That volume will coincide with the huge margin to give them the revenue they are targeting. They only have to sell one battery for every ten a knock-off sells. That ratio also reduces internal touch-costs, and therefore overall per-unit costs.

          They need to reduce their selling prices if they're serious about this. There is no practical way to police this, at least not now.

          Vendors like Amazon's resellers need to be accountable for determining what they are buying is what it is supposed to be. I'd assume checking UL registrations isn't crazy difficult, but because of the dangers there should be a more stringent set of rules all the way through the supply chain.
        • You prove his point.

          If a genuine Canon battery costs $10 to make, no one is asking for it to be sold for $10. $15 or even $20 would cut down on the appeal of knockoffs significantly. If the eggheads in their actuarial department indicate that selling 10,000 batteries at $40 each is more likely than selling 20,000 batteries at $20 each, then that's their right...but then they don't get to complain about people who decide to roll the dice with Chinese knockoffs.

          Availability is another aspect to this. Nokia isn't making batteries for their 3650s anymore, but China is. Cry me a river.

          Finally, OEMs have had their own problems. Anyone remember a few years back when Sony, Apple, and Dell recalled their exploding batteries? Dell at the time, I'd have expected that from. Sony and Apple, for all their markup and attention to design, never said "hey, some customers might not like having their laptop spontaneously catch fire"? These kinds of issues plague the OEMs just as much as they plague the knockoff makers.

          In conclusion, I have no problem buying third party accessories. I don't feel any moral obligation to buy Canon accessories because safety. Knowingly buying counterfeit, on the other hand, is a different story altogether, and no, I don't support that.

    • No-Name not equal to countafeit

      Many no-name products may have better quality and much lower prices. This is the main reason that the no-name products exist in the market.
    • Printer companies make it hard to circumvent their greed.

      They work on the same principle as razor makers. They make printers cheap, equipping them with “starter” cartridges that are good only for a fraction of the number of copies their “normal” cartridges even though the print quality is quite good. Even their normal laser cartridges are made in such a way as to make them hard or impossible to refill, because these printer companies want to sell expensive new cartridges.

      Some of them have a chip in the toner assembly that needs to be replaced because the printer and chip combinations are deliberately designed to prevent the refilling of an otherwise perfectly good printing cartridge. I have made an end run around one of these companies who shall remain nameless and succeeded in defeating their “greedy-locks” by refilling their “normal” toner cartridges twice already. I have never replaced the original chips either. The print quality has not diminished in any way that I could discern.
  • Third party accessories have a right to exist

    I have no problem with the marketing of compatible batteries, ink, etc. People looking for replacements for some older products may not even have the option of buying originals, as they are no longer being manufactured and sold.

    I DO have a problem with the marketing of counterfeit products. The buyer should be informed what he or she is buying, whether original or third-party, so an intelligent decision can be made.
    • Re:Third party accessories have a right to exist....

      Agreed. However stringent import guidelines need to exercised and strict standards need to be adhered to.
  • Availability of genuine accessories for older hardware.

    I always try to get a genuine manufacturer's battery or other accessory when and if it is available. I have an older Toshiba laptop with a dying battery, so I tried to order a new one and the online order kept failing with an "out of stock" copout. I called Toshiba service and they confirmed that it wasn't in stock and might not be restocked. The agent surprisingly told me to try Ebay, though it might not be genuine OEM. I did just that and fortunately, the battery was just fine and is still going strong after two years of hard use. I can only suggest checking the source of the off-brand replacements to see if they have any consumer complaints, negative feedback, etc. but the bottom line is, you can't always get OEM.
  • Of all the nerve

    Canon will have less to complain about if they lower the prices on their replacement batteries! Ditto with their ink cartridges. I don't believe the nerve of these companies that have the nerve to tell you, tut, tut, if you don't pay $100 for our replacement parts, the cheaper parts you buy elsewhere won't work the same!

    I refill my cartridges, and they work just fine, thank you very much. And I don't know when I've ever been able to afford to buy a replacement battery from the manufacturer.

    Canon needs to sit on it!
    • something to consider

      The high cost of replacement ink and batteries is in some part caused by the business model companies use to sell the devices they go in to. There are dozens of printers on the market, with multiple features, that sell for under $100. They cost about 2-3 times that to build but the business model is to sell the item cheap and make up the loss on the consumables they use. Basic printers use to sell for $500. The buy cheap pay later plan came alone to get prices down so anyone could afford a printer. I am truly surprised we haven't seen plans where they give you the printer for free if you subscribe to their ink replacement plan. I question whether such plans work as people, such as yourself, figure out ways to circumvent the strategy but their are dozens of such type plans so at some level they must work. For example, cell phones are sold at low prices or given away as long as you sign a 2 year contract.

      Rather then belittle the companies that make and sell printers for a fraction of their cost hoping to recap the loss and turn a profit on their use you might consider spending money, by buy their ink, to support a company that makes equipment you like and find dependable so they continue to exist. There was a time when your comments were spot on and companies focused on greed but today most are struggling to keep their doors open. I am very frugal, and like you, do my best to avoid spending more then I have to but at times, in an effort to support a company do exactly that. Roughly 40% of Americans work in retail. If we consumers continue to make purchases based solely on price we might find ourselves living in a Steinbeck novel about angry grapes.
      • Cost of printers

        I would have to correct you on this... Cost of manufacturing averages between 5 and 15% of retail. So even if printers are sold for 1/3 what they should, they are certainly NOT sold at a loss, even if they *may* not be sold at a profit.

        As for myself... I've had two identical $100 printers run on refills. One failed after three refills, which I thought was due to the ink but after investigation, turns out it was the print head, the second one is still going strong.

        What about losing that $100 printer? Big deal, the replacement cartridges would have been $70, even with the loss I saved money!
  • Printers & Ink prices

    The problem with printers and ink is the "system". They sell you a printer for 1/2 of what it costs to make, hoping to make it all back on ridiculously priced ink sales. And the printers usually last a year or two at best. I never buy the HP ink off the rack when I can buy a refilled cartridge for 1/3th the cost. And when I have time I will refill them myself.
    • And who invented that business plan?

      None other than King Gillette, who sold safety razors at a loss so he could sell the blades!
      • Hey - don't knock Gilette!

        You could make a crystal radio out of a Blue Blade, a safety pin, toilet paper roll, a pencil lead and some wire!