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There is no such thing as a free watch [pdf] (jennyodell.com)
114 points by tosh on Sept 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Companies with fake back-stories are an ongoing problem on Wikipedia. There were big headaches with the articles for Skyy (Vodka) and Hollister (surfwear for people who don't surf).

Skyy was completely outsourced. Originally, the alcohol came from Midwest Grain Products in Pekin, Illinois, which also sold ethanol to refineries. It was shipped by tank car to the railroad sidings of Frank-Lin Distillers Products in San Jose. Frank-Lin is an outsourcing firm and distributor for booze products. They do some additional distillation to clean up the alcohol, add de-ionized water and flavoring, and bottle. Frank-Lin makes about 2,000 different brands with a huge variety of names. "Whether starting from a prepared prototype or simply a verbal 'concept', Frank-Lin can innovatively create any distilled spirit and coordinate its effective production."[1] Skyy, the company, was purely a marketing operation. Skyy management eventually exited by selling out to Campari, which has their own production plants.

The Wikipedia article for Skyy was originally a puff piece copied from Skyy marketing materials. That was flagged as an ad, and Wikipedia editors started digging into how Skyy really worked. This resulted in frantic efforts by Skyy promoters to change the article back into a puff piece. Didn't work.

Hollister's origin story is completely fake. So were their Robb Havassy surfboards (used for decoration, not surfing), which got them in trouble. Hollister's first store was in a mall in Columbus, Ohio.

[1] http://www.frank-lin.com/production.html

> Hollister's first store was in a mall in Columbus, Ohio


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN?

So a few years back I started a watch company in a similar way.

I think I was actually one of the first to do it, since when I started I couldn't find many competitors. I tried a million kinds of promotions, from "free, you just pay for shipping" to offering people discounts and referral codes.

I actually created my own watch designs (well, modifications of the face, case, and strap with the same Chinese movement.) Some of my improvements started to be used by the manufacturers.

I'm not at all invested in it anymore: I left the business after selling a substantial, but not massive number of watches and finding that it wasn't terribly profitable if you included the cost of advertising, shipping, and (most importantly) my own time.

My own "watch company" was more real in a few ways: watches that I did in fact design myself, shipped from my address in the US, and the quality of the watches was actually quite good. To this day I wear a watch from my company and it has held up to an incredible amount of abuse. I say this as someone who (used to) collect watches. I also was upfront about the cost of shipping and the watch itself - I might have, for example, a banner that says "Free 3-Day US Shipping" and then the price of the watch would be clearly labeled as $20, so people would know that they would only be paying a total of $20 for the watch. The prices varied a lot over time, from $10 to $40 per watch, but surprisingly my profit was never huge even though I only spent about $3 on the watch itself and $7 on shipping.

If anyone's curious about the whole thing (and lives in the Netherlands) I still have hundreds of these watches and I'd be happy to sit down over a coffee, tell my stories from the business and show the watches.

Nowadays several Shenzhen companies offer to do the shipping directly from China. Do you feel that this would have made your business a lot more profitable?

Oh, absolutely. My biggest expense was shipping, by a long shot. If I could have shipped from China I could have been ridiculously profitable, which explains the massive growth in these companies.

At the same time, shipping from China would have made the whole thing more... fake, I guess. Like the author of this article found, these companies never had any physical address. The quality of the watches from these companies also seems much lower than the quality that I had.

That's one of the problems with dropshipping - you don't know the quality that your customers are getting. I could take the 5 in 40 watches that would be broken or had dings/scratches and toss them, but you can't do that if you dropship. There's also the ridiculously long shipping times and lack of tracking.

Interesting. Thanks.

A lot of things have changed in China. You now can have ISO-certified factories and you can order quality control also. But I admit that if I were to do something like that I would probably end up spending a few weeks in Shenzhen to bootstrap it.

Parent is also the creator of the underrated Min.css framework, which does a ridiculous amount in under 1k, has support for browsers going well past a decade, and has a thousand stars on Github.

Fun article, but it suffers from the usual abject lack of understanding of how markets work associated with this kind of critique.

The information one should take from this story is that watches on Alibaba are undervalued, or that the user-unfriendliness of Alibaba imposes a high per-transaction cost. By selling Alibaba stuff for 5x the original price, these businesses are communicating valuable market information; namely, that there's something wrong with Alibaba (could be accessibility/usability/trust/etc.) or that these companies provide a valuable service that may not be obvious (translation of descriptions to readable english, for example). If these companies took the "moral" (emphasis on scare quotes) approach of selling cheap watches at a smaller markup, this information would not be communicated and the world would be slower to respond.

You're missing the part where the watches pictured on the websites are originals with the logos taken off, while the customer actually gets a cheap knockoff...

Yes, that part is fraud, but the linked PDF spent vastly more time complaining about the markup.

It could also be that branding is important and that by selling on their own website their viewed as more unique. Though that could also point to a flaw in the design of AliExpress that it doesn't allow for good branding on it's seller pages.

I think that analysis only applies in standardized commodity markets where you get where you pay for. If someone is willing to pay X for Y shares of a stock and they got sold something else, what information does that convey? Mostly that an opportunity exists for fraud, if they get away with it.

In lower-trust environments, standard and not easily adulterated products are worth more, and that's how brands got started.

You've also missed the point that people are paying $12 for watches that are arguably junk not even worth $1.

> Think about this: would you rather buy a $10 watch and pay $2 for the shipping or a “free” watch and $12 for the shipping?”

$10 watch every time. There's something to be said for price anchoring and something for nothing and other dirty tricks, but this question seems to get it all backwards.

Also, lol at the review complaining the watch wouldn't arrive in time for his girlfriends birthday or whatever. Nothing says I care quite like free.

Nope, I want as low S&H as possible. In The Netherlands, the S&H is even free by law (sending back is for the buyer though). Even though some shops carefully hide that option.

Why I want as low S&H as possible compared to product price? Warranty. In the EU you get 2 years of warranty by law. If your product cannot be repaired, you can get your money back.

Now take the above example or take the example where you're unhappy with the product (e.g. you figure out the quality is bad, or a production error you notice) and want to send it back (in NL you'd have 14 days to do that for w/e reason, getting a full refund). If the item was free with an S&H of 12 EUR then you gotta send the product back for w/e S&H. It could be 12 EUR, it could be less. After receiving the item (for which you let them sign or else they claim they never got it back; verification costs extra) they'll issue a refund instead, worth 0 EUR. Of course, 0 EUR is an extreme example but even if the balance is out of the way the danger with relatively high S&H is that your refund is worth too little compared to your S&H.

Result? High S&H items have high failure, and are of low quality.

Of course its GLHF getting your warranty if the store is in Asia. Then again, I wouldn't buy directly from Asia. I'd buy from a shop I could verify is from EU, pref old EEG (Benelux, UK, Germany, France).

Either way, its false advertising to exclude such ridiculously high S&H from the total cost of the product. Customs calculates the price of S&H together with the cost of product anyway so you can't use it to avoid paying tax.

Of course its GLHF getting your warranty if the store is in Asia.

That actually hasn't been my experience, buying from AliExpress and Ebay directly from China. I've had multiple items replaced without having to ship them back or provide any proof. It's true that I don't order anything above ~100€, and I don't expect them to honor a two year warranty anyway, but still, I've had less pushback upon report of failure than on regular shops.

Shipping costs most definitely are not free by law in the Netherlands. They do have to be mentioned clearly though, none of that nonsense of hiding it until after you've entered your address info.

You're right, S&H is not free in The Netherlands (although many businesses will if you buy for certain amount give free S&H, and if the company has a volume package at say TNT Post then one package more or less isn't going to cost them.)

However, if you are using Wet Kopen Op Afstand (which you generally are when you're buying from a Dutch shop and have S&H to The Netherlands) and you want to send the item back (for whatever reason, with a few types of products being excluded like underwear, unsealed CD/DVD, download services, ...) then they'll have to issue a full refund INCLUDING the S&H.

Here's one source on that:


"Geld terug De verkoper moet uw aankoopbedrag terugbetalen, ook de bezorgkosten"

And I guarantee you many shops don't refund S&H at their own discretion.

The costs on sending the item(s) back ARE on you btw.

One of my favorite gifts from the missus is a bit of poetry that she wrote. Essentially, it was free.

I have a few bucks. It took some time to really understand that value isn't always preceded by a dollar sign. Sometimes, free very much can say one cares. Well, unless you want to get into costs such as caloric inputs.

Sure, maybe should have clarified free as in "as cheap as possible with no effort". If you're going to go for the material gift, put some material into it.

I can agree with that. And, with material, some effort is good.

Your point on price anchoring is great. They're really playing with human nature by saying something is worth X amount then offering it for "free".


Really they are trying to convince people that the choice is between a $10 watch that costs $10 (with $2 shipping) and a $30 watch that is free (with $12 shipping).

I very briefly (for reasons that will soon become apprent) dated someone who runs a watch company exactly like that, while portraying themselves as a "Silicon Valley entrepreneur". They buy watches from China, and using tactics such as the one described, sell them at a premium. They even have the fake humanitarian BS about how their watches are handcrafted by women in 3rd world countries blablabla. Last I heard from them, they were planning a kickstarter because they had it in their head that it was the logical next step.

When I tried to point out the arguable dishonesty of the whole venture, they told me [verbatim from text messages] : "I'm selling a lifestyle brand. I just want people to know my brand".

Heh. Charlatans have been a thing since humans have been able to grunt at each other.

It's not always 12$ shipping, sometimes it's 2$ shipping for a 1$ watch that is given for free

They use it to collect emails

Source: one of the marketing groups I'm in

This is an awesome write-up, this deserves to get into Adbusters

tldr; the guy selling fake watches in chinatown has gone "high tech" with online marketing and ads

    hipster: But I can find this exact watch for $2
    soficoastal: then why are you talking to us?
    soficoastal: have you ever bought a cup of coffee for 2-4 dollars? do you think it costs dunkin or starbucks that much to make? or do you think maybe they mark it up for a profit?
    hipster: I, a regular person has access to that watch right now for $2.
    soficoastal: you can make a cup of coffee at home for like 10 cents....it's called capitalism

At the bottom, a yellow warning "Message could not be sent" -- were they blocked?

Yes - it's even said in the PDF.

To be honest I feel whoever was talking to them was a bit rude... whether you like the products or not I don't see anything wrong with their business. It's like blaming Apple for adding a huge markup to their products which in terms of hardware are very similar to a Windows PC and even made in the same factories.

Apple at least contributes a very well working operating system on top of the hardware. They have added value. Although when I bought a macbook for the first and last time they shipped it directly from China. It took 4 weeks. And when it arrived they announced the new generation of macbooks. I sent it back, where they complained that I bought it before the new generation existed, but I had the laws in my country on my side and could send it back within 2 weeks for a full refund. I did then order the new macbook.

So in a sense, yes, they're pretty much the same. Although their OS is great, their hardware business is based on the same model as Folsom & Co.

I wish at some point someone would explain to me why people are willing pay more than, say, $2 for a cup of joe. Regularly. I mean, perhaps during a job interview or at a point where it really matters, like making a business agreement while on the road. But at those points you're buying coffee "just to prove that you can", no other reason. Same reason I tax deduct the clothes I wear on such occasions.

The same is happening with sunglasses. Bunch of websites (e.g. [1]) selling "premium" sunglasses that are "discounted" from $350 to $50. The quality, as you would expect, is extremely poor. The actual production cost is maybe $1-2.

[1] http://www.aqsstore.com/sunglasses/

There is a lot of chaff being produced and sold in the watch world.

For those who like the design of the watches I think the style is called "Bauhaus", for further online searches.

For some more durable and genuine brands who prominently display Bauhaus design elements, take a look at the collections of:


-Junghans (Max Bill)

Those are great brands, but the person who is going to drop £1500-3000 on a (beautiful) Nomos is fundamentally not the same as the person who's going to spend $12 on a no-name watch, whether that's on the watch itself or on shipping. No way.

I hate to recommend them because, as far as I'm concerned, they're on the same spectrum as the scammers in some sense[1], but if you do like that style of watch and you're willing to spend maybe a hundred dollars (probably less, used, or in a sale) MVMT might be the brand to go for. And I've seen ASOS selling Bauhaus style watches for as little as £25.

[1] I don't love MVMT because in their marketing it's pretty clear that they're claiming to be something they're not - i.e., a "real" watch company with some actual heritage - as opposed to what they are, which is an affordable fashion brand.

Off topic: This was the first PDF I enjoyed reading in the browser.

Really? I was bothered by the font choice, but I felt it was too entertaining to miss out on.

I think I found my source of passive income.

don't forget to dropship

I bought two of these and I wear one on each hand.

"A man with two clocks never knows the time" :-)

Why not wear them on the wrists?

> It is difficult to put on and uncomfortable once you do; one online review conjectures that a person would need square wrists to wear it.

Lack of square wrists, I would assume, then?

Luckily OP has square hands.

Great essay, thank you.

"Have paid for WHOIS protection - preventing consumers from finding out where the website is based". That's not quite true. You can locate a website with the IP address -- WHOIS protection protects the owner of the domain by obscuring their registered physical address.

Sure, though IP address of server usually has nothing to do with where the actual business is located.

Yeah, in this case you'd discover it was hosted wherever Squarespace runs its servers, which is not exactly helpful.

This was a great read

I don't get why the writer would format this as a PDF with a monospaced font but have "fi" ligatures.

It just adds flavor to it. Makes it look like a weird document you would stumble upon while flipping through boxes in your grandfather's attic.

It's silly, but given how interesting the write up is, I find it pretty cool. It's always good to have something that deviates from the boring, ad infested, JS guzzling norms of web design.

It's fine for a monospaced font to contain an "fi" ligature (to represent Unicode U+FB01), but it absolutely should not contain a "liga" feature to form it from "f" and "i". I'd personally not even create a "dlig" (discretionary ligature).

Not surprising to see this, because the rules are quite different for non-monospaced fonts (almost all fonts should have a liga feature for fi, and all modern text layout engines should respect it).

Source: I've worked in this space.

I think some software that creates PDFs does that. No idea why.

Because it's aesthetic.


If you're looking for an affordable, decent watch /r/Watches has a nice buyers guide for watches up to $250:


Why is this a PDF?

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