There’s an active worldwide market for shipping containers that is affected by macro trends. For instance, in 2007 the U.S. had a larger import/export imbalance which meant that more containers were arriving in Houston with fewer leaving. That pushed prices down. In 2008, exports picked up and prices rose. China is a big factor in shipping container pricing because they’re needed for shipping or as a source of steel for recycling.
We didn’t find much difference in prices between suppliers — everyone keeps tabs on the market prices. Therefore, what you pay is mostly determined by the condition of the unit and the cost of transporting it to you. Those that are “cargo-ready” are in the best condition. They’re waterproof and structurally sound with good floors and no holes. We look for units a step down from that, ones that don’t have holes, but aren’t cargo-ready and are a little cheaper. The cheapest ones are rusted out junkers, which, ironically, are also hard to find because repair yards scavenge the usable metal from them to repair others, or they’re recycled for the metal.