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Knockoff brands find diehard fans

Chinese vacuum cleaners even have their own
May 22,2018
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1. Soundmagic headphones for under $50 2. Dibea’s Hair Dryer F150 for under $50 3. Xiaomi’s Mi Air Purifier for under $150
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Dibea’s Cordless Stick F6 for under $100 [EACH COMPANY]
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A Chinese mistake. It’s the running joke that Korean consumers use to describe cheap Chinese knockoffs that don’t break immediately after purchase and function surprisingly well for the price.

But the stereotype that Chinese knockoffs are cheap and shoddy is now a thing of the past. As Chinese manufacturers continue to churn out high-performing appliances that resemble goods from premium brands for a tenth of the price, Korean consumers are flocking to these low-cost alternatives.

Now, Koreans have a new word to describe these brands: Chyson, a portmanteau of China and the British household appliance maker Dyson.

Chinese companies such as Dibea and EUP manufacture vacuum cleaners that look nearly identical to Dyson’s iconic cordless cleaners. The difference: their price tag comes to 100,000 won ($92.54), a tenth of what Dyson usually charges.

Sales of these Chyson vacuum cleaners from May 1 to 13 increased by nearly 30 times year-on-year, according to online shopping market Gmarket. During the same period, sales of Chyson hair dryers doubled.

“Sales of Chyson products have been steadily increasing since late last year as their good performance relative to price has spread via word of mouth among stay-at-home moms,” said Oh Hye-jin, a manager at Gmarket. “Interest has also increased ever since a television program aired arguing there was little difference in quality between Chyson goods and their originals.”

Most Koreans purchase Chinese electronics by directly shopping for them online. Last year, the number of online purchases that Koreans made for Chinese goods totaled 4.1 million valued at $272.5 million, up 226 percent and 160 percent compared to 2015, according to data from the Korea Customs Service. Electronics were the most popular, accounting for 22 percent of orders. Koreans bought 888,000 electronics goods in 2017, a 17-fold increase since 2015.

AliExpress and Taobao, both shopping platforms run by the Chinese tech giant Alibaba, are Korean consumers’ go-to sites for these purchases. AliExpress even has a Korean-language version of its website.

“Although the delivery takes time and the quality of goods fall short of those of more expensive brands, I was attracted to the low prices,” said a 41-year-old man surnamed Kim who bought his son a drone for his birthday from AliExpress. “It’s also assuring that I can afford a replacement when an order breaks down or malfunctions.”

“Although Koreans in the past hesitated to use Chinese products, consumers are now reassessing them for their reasonable costs and performance compared to higher-end brands,” said Jun Han-suk, a professor at the Institute of Global Management. “As the walls of the global electronics trade break down, the market share of Chinese goods will further expand.”

Online reviews of Chinese products are still rampant with criticism of their short lifespan and shortcomings in design and finishing touches.

Earlier this year, Xiaomi’s sudden discontinuation of after-sales service without prior warning added to Korean consumers’ wariness about Chinese products. Many also feel iffy about the companies’ moral scruples. They tend to plagiarize designs and ideas without giving original credit.

“The Chinese IT products that are growing popular now are still a far cry from the premium appliances with excellent after-sales service that Korean consumers are accustomed to,” said a senior manager at a Korean electronics conglomerate.

In the long run, however, Chinese appliances are expected to dominate global markets. There is no country in the world that can provide similar quality of products while charging as low as China does.

“The global competition against China in the field of IT, where Korea has a comparative advantage, will only intensify as China continues producing inexpensive products,” said Kim Yong-suk, a professor of electrical engineering at Sungkyunkwan University. “China is already leading the world in futuristic technology including artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, Internet of Things and robotics.”


BY SOHN HAE-YONG [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]