Legendary Chinese online retailer FastTech is closing after a decade of serving bargain-hunting vapers around the world. The company has probably been hurt by the changing vape consumer base, but also seems to be a victim of China’s recently implemented licensing and sales rules.
The company announced its decision to close in a Dec. 5 post on its customer forum. In the message, attributed to the FastTech team and titled “FastTech’s story ends here,” the company squarely blames restrictions introduced after China’s 2021 handover of the vaping industry to the state tobacco monopoly.
“This decision has been taken predominantly because of the new legislation on the vape industry,” the company wrote. “The new measures and restrictions make the road ahead much more uncertain, which also leads us no longer able to remain competitive on price and delivery. We did our best to avoid getting to this point. However, under the current industry regulation, we have been left with no choice but forced to close down.
“We want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for being our loyal customers for the past ten years. It has been a pleasure serving you all. We couldn’t have lasted as long as we did without you. It is your patronage and support that made FastTech a great ten years..”
As of Dec. 7, the company’s website appears to be operating, but almost all vaping products are flagged “sold out.” FastTech has not named a final date to place orders, but it appears to be practically done now.
China outlawed domestic online vape sales in 2019, but that doesn’t seem to have affected FastTech. It was the newly introduced Chinese licensing and sales regulations, along with the new tax scheme that led to the company’s decision to close. Neighboring Hong Kong’s vape ban—which includes a prohibition on importing Chinese vape products for air shipping from Hong Kong—may also have played a part. Much of FastTech’s low-cost shipping went through Hong Kong.
FastTech sold vape (and other) products to overseas customers at sometimes near-wholesale prices, and shipped them very inexpensively. In fact, they were sometimes so cheap that small vape shop owners bought directly from FastTech rather than from domestic distributors. (Other vape shop owners hated FastTech, complaining that new customers unrealistically expected to find FastTech-like prices in their stores.)
In addition to bargain-hunters, FastTech served many customers in countries with vape product bans, where small packages containing vape devices often slipped past customs inspectors looking for large shipments of contraband.
The retailer first became popular in 2013 through mention on vaping forums like ECF and Reddit’s r/electronic_cigarette subreddit, and blog posts from Joe “Vapor Joe” Petner. U.S. and European vaping markets were exploding at that time, and the committed core of the vaping community still included lots of tinkerers, gadget freaks and cheapskates who were willing to put up with the sometimes lengthy shipping times that earned FastTech the nicknames “Slowtech” and “the slow boat.”
FastTech offered for sale almost every Chinese-made vaping-related product, including many popular mods and atomizers, an endless variety of parts and accessories, and many semi-legal clones and copies of well-known products. FastTech sold a huge variety of non-vaping items too, like AV cables and adapters, cell phone cases, chargers, off-brand tablets, flashlights, and batteries. (See the 2013 FastTech home page screencap above for an idea.)
But it was vaping products that kept FastTech in business, and it was probably reliance on the vaping market that drove the company out of business.
Since FastTech’s 2013-2018 heyday, vape forums have declined and been replaced by thousands of isolated Facebook pages. Interest in vape product experimentation, tinkering and modding has waned, with the majority of new vapers now entering the space using mass-market pod vapes and disposables—products that don’t need accessories and don’t foster experimentation or require modification. (There remain a number of FastTech competitors in China operating on a similar business model. Time will tell if they too will give up, or find some way to beat the increasing challenges.)
In 2013, the FastTech website was something like a virtual representation of the vaping “wild west” (as outsiders saw it). What FastTech’s demise represents is grimmer: the corporatization and consolidation of vaping markets, government policing of products and shipping, the growth of prohibitive taxes, and a rapid shrinking of the freedom and hopeful future vapers once took for granted. Goodbye, FastTech.