The Amazon Trap - Why buying a button maker on Amazon does not work. February 25 2021

If you have purchased a button maker on Amazon and are contacting us for a return or a repair, in most cases we cannot help you.  We do not sell on Amazon. If your purchase was recent and you can still return it: RETURN IT! Get your money back and buy a button maker that:

  • Takes North American made parts (cheaper and more reliable)
  • Is solid metal and does not have plastic parts
  • Is engineered with precision and consistency necessary for button machines
  • Is repairable
  • Any part is available and can be replaced
  • Is not heading for the landfill.

Buying a button maker is an investment.  Your machine with reasonable use should still work for your grandchildren's children!

Jeff Besos Amazon CEO - Up to his eyes in returns

Photo: Jeff Besos  (Former Amazon CEO)

We are seeing an increasing number of frustrated button making clients who purchase Chinese button makers that take mm (millimetre) sized button parts. They then try to buy the cheaper North American parts for their machines.  North American parts do not work in mm sized button makers. The slight difference between 37mm and 1-1/2" is enough.  Button making maybe low tech but the engineering has to be precise.

Secondly, we just get too many calls from customers who want a repair on a Chinese button maker or who need tech support because the machine does not accurately press buttons.  The key components are often plastic and there are no spare parts on the market. Unlike North American button makers, Chinese button makers, cannot be repaired except possibly with superglue. I wish you luck!

The problem with Amazon

Why do you rarely see North American button makers for sale on Amazon?  It's simple: MARGIN.  Amazon started out selling DVDs, videos and books.  A DVD costs 50 cents to produce and sells for $20-$30.  That's a margin! the other costs are ancillary costs: royalties, publishing fees, shipping.  Shipping a DVD or book is cheap. Refunding the royalty for returned product is a simple digital transaction with no residual cost. The unwanted product ends up in the landfill with little cost to Amazon or the Amazon vendor.

Jeff Besos Blue Origin Aerospace - Landfill in space for Amazon.

Compare this to a solid metal button maker: it's a big box that could weigh 50 lbs or more; it is a high value item ( and this is key) because not the cost to the customer but the actual cost of producing it is high. This means that returned items have to be "processed": repackaged and made ready to ship out again.  For Amazon, this is too expensive and the margin is limited and uninteresting. They accept the large number of returns on cheaply made (not cheap) button makers with low acquisition cost and low shipping costs.

A sidebar anecdote:  I had a customer in my store wondering why her Chinese machine was not crimping.  Being used to handling heavy metal button presses, I picked it up and the handle hit me in the face as I was expecting it would have some weight to it. I laugh now but at the time......

Amazon (former) CEO Jeff Bezos had a bright idea!

So, what if we get a machine that costs very little to make, say in China. It's light and easy to ship.  The low production cost, high margin, allows Amazon to get the 15% cut on the goods, shipping and taxes even if sold through a third party vendor. No worries, returns can just go to the landfill as the cost of the product is insignificant. Amazon vendors selling solid metal button makers with a significant cost of production cannot give away 15% of the order value and therefore do not sell on Amazon.

Amazon logo

If you are following me on this, then you realize the negative affect of all products sold on Amazon. The 15% cut of the order value that Amazon pockets on the cost of goods, shipping and taxes is as much as 25% of the net value of the sale of the goods.

It is true, margins for big box retailers, have increased in recent years. Retailers who buy in China and sell directly to the public have seen ridiculous growth in margins as they cut out the middlemen - importers, wholesalers and buying agents. The traditional supply chain systems have mostly gone bust, become specialized or themselves opened a "direct to public" operation. Quality is down and margins are up. Basically the Amazon cut replaces the cost of quality materials and quality controls. Companies producing well engineered products using the best materials available rarely sell on Amazon because they can't afford it.

Fridge Landfill

An easy example of the race to the bottom is your fridge. Formerly it would have been your fridge for life. Now it just about outlives a winter coat.  No point giving cutlery bought on Amazon to the newlyweds,  the set will be discoloured and stained before the first diaper.

This, some say, may be well and good in the wider world. But in the button-making world and any other world that needs accuracy of manufacturing and consistency of product, it simply does not work. The limited tolerances required for accurate and consistent button pressing have a substantial cost. That is why the button maker that was made in China will not work for long, if at all.

Chipping from China

The high cost of the often inconsistent Chinese button parts is, to some people, surprising. Quote, "I thought stuff from China was cheap."  There is no doubt the manufacturing cost is cheaper in China. But they find it hard to compete with the high shipping costs for button parts. Button parts are bulky and heavy and relatively of low value. A full container of shells, pin-backs and mylar hardly merits the $5000-$10,000 for the transportation cost from China, so they needed to sell button parts at a higher price.

So another bright spark came up with another bright idea. Anyone with a home printer knows where I'm going with this. You buy a hunk of plastic printer for $95. Seemed like a deal. Then every 6 weeks you spend $100 on the toner cartridge. Chinese button makers are no different.

You sell a button maker that looks like a deal but you size the supplies in mm not in the traditional button making inch sizes. By the time the purchaser got through the first 100 buttons the supplies have to be replaced. Luckily it probably took a month to use up the first 100 buttons. The machine cannot be returned and the customer either throws away the machine or is forced to purchase overpriced supplies.

You may think Jeff Besos and Blue Origin Aerospace are reaching for the moon to populate it. I think Jeff knows Amazon is going to need more landfill sites.

Amazon Landfill on Moon