Next time you want to say to your lampworker friend "I buy all my beads from Michael's (or Hobby Lobby or wherever)"... Don't. Also along those lines, try to avoid things like "Well, I can get the same kind of bead from the hobby store for 30 cents". You can ask why your friend's beads cost more, if you can do it in a nice manner and spare 20 seconds for the friend to explain why their beads are better than your cheap imports.
However, I'm going to explain the difference right here, right now, and hopefully save everyone the trouble later on.
1. Your beads are made in a sweat shop. Want to help starving Chinese children but don't have the money for adoption? Buy some beads. They're made in sweat shops by children and poor women. These people have to make as many beads as they can, as fast as they can. They work in TERRIBLE conditions. It's crowded, poorly lit, and very poorly ventilated. The lack of ventilation greatly increases the likelihood that the worker is going to develop serious lung diseases and tumors at a much younger age. They could die from it, too. There are toxic fumes created from the fuel AND the glass as it melts.
2. Your sweat shop beads are probably not annealed. Annealing is the process of slowly cooling the whole bead at an even rate. It reduces stress points (which will later become cracks and breaks) from the inside out. You may not see any cracks, but there are stress points there, and there will be cracks, and the beads WILL break at some point. Good bead artists will make sure that you know that their beads are thoroughly annealed in a kiln.
3. The beads are usually not well-cleaned. If you see some brownish dirt-type stuff in the holes of your bead, it's not clean. That stuff is called bead release and it is what holds the glass in place while it's being made, and allows it to slide off the mandrel when it's finished. Bead release is toxic stuff and is VERY bad for your lungs if you breathe it in. Most bead designers clean their beads underwater to reduce airborne particles of bead release and to prevent friction while cleaning.
4. The designs on your beads were probably stolen from a professional bead designer. The owners of the bead production companies are notorious for buying a tutorial and sending it to their outsourced bead production places. They will also sometimes buy one bead from a professional designer and send it to their shop to have it duplicated. The difference is that the independent designer makes each bead carefully and with great attention to detail. The imported beads are noticeably inferior in design.
If that isn't reason enough, here are some extra reasons why you should buy from your friend:
You support your friend and their family. Your money goes to clothes and food and school supplies. You boost your own economy- the money you spend stays in your bead designer's neighborhood.
You can take comfort knowing that you're getting a good product- your friend has put in a LOT of time learning the craft. She takes care to anneal the beads, thoroughly clean them, and will gladly replace or refund them if something happens to it. There is a lot of pride that goes into your handmade beads, and your friend wants you to be able to tell everyone you know about them.
You save on shipping and customs costs. Maybe only a few cents tacked on at the store, but it's there. You can put that money toward better beads.
Your friend can probably do custom work for you. If they can't, they will make it a point to learn so that they can make what YOU want.
Handmade is better. Always.