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Last December I thought it'd be fun to 3D print replacement tiles for my Settlers of Catan game. The Catan board is made by placing hexagonal tiles next to each other; each tile represents one lot of resource-rich land (either wood, wheat, wool, brick, or ore) and the set is surrounded by sea tiles, which may have harbors for trading. The junctures where three tiles come together provide spaces for villages and cities to be built, and the borders between tiles are roadways.
I chose this tile set from Thingiverse for one feature -- small holes along the underside of each tile allow magnets to be placed inside. The magnets are just strong enough to keep the tiles together during incidental bumping throughout the game. (Otherwise the game could be retitled Settlers of San Andreas.)
The preferred magnets are pretty specific: 3mm diameter spheres. Go ahead. Search for "spherical magnet" on Amazon. You'll find that the world's biggest retail clearinghouse comes up pretty dry. But no fear, the Thingiverse designer provided a link to a company in China which sells these. The company is called TinyDeal, and back on December 16th I ordered myself a few boxes.
Fast forward -- no, wait. Crawl forward to February 1st and my magnets arrived.
Sure, the magnets came from China. The customer's expectations should be set appropriately; it takes a long time to ship goods from China. Problem is, some behemoth has been steadily resetting the general expectations of the American consumer in regard to shipping time. With Amazon Prime we regularly receive goods in two days, one day, or even the same day that we ordered them. During the Super Bowl they even advertised the possibility of receiving your Doritos via drone in minutes, right? If my craving for simulated nacho cheeze flavoring can be quenched in an hour, surely my need for tiny magnetic parts can be accommodated in less than six weeks.
The business lesson is pretty obvious -- scarcity is the only compelling factor to order from TinyDeal. And even that could be alleviated easily by someone who orders in quantity, stores in the U.S., and is able to fulfill my magnetic need for just a few dollars more, but within days. That's worth paying for, right? I'm going to refer to this theoretical concept as importing. Maybe I'll see it during my lifetime, though I'm pessimistic. I'm still waiting on my flying car.