Saturday, 1 March 2014

Buying electronic components online

I’ve been buying electronic components from eBay for a while now. When I started, I had some concerns with the quality, the opportunity for being ripped off and the time that it takes to have the components that I want in my hot little hands.

There are some things that you need to think about when you go about buying electronic components on eBay. If, when you buy something from eBay, it doesn’t work … it can be a hassle to return the item(s) and get your money back, so I plan NOT to.

I guess that the easiest thing to do is to make sure that you are only buying cheap stuff that doesn’t really matter if it goes astray or if you have to buy a replacement if the quality isn’t good enough. I like to keep my risk low, so I really only buy stuff that is less than $10 AUD. That way, if it turns out to be a scam or a dud, I can write the loss off as a lesson.

I wrote a small database application that I use to track my eBay orders.


The application uses the date of the order, type of component, item name, description, # items I’m buying, order cost, vendor and a bunch of other stuff. You could just as easily do this in a spread-sheet with a little jiggering around.

What I can do is, keep track of my orders and get some evidence of how the different vendors serve me. Then, when I place another order, I know what to expect.

I’ve also made another category for my orders for “Wish List” where I can record the stuff that I want to buy later on … all in once place. Handy for me.

What I can say from this experiment is that, in my experience, buying stuff on eBay is pretty safe (at least when you are buying stuff for a couple of bucks). I’ve had a couple of orders that simply never arrived (3 orders for a total loss of $6.69 AUD), but, compared to the orders that did arrive (103 at a total cost of $444.86) means that my overall risk is around 1.5%, so … not too bad.

I also have a couple of vendors who I would not use again (please don’t ask me who).

The other thing that I was worried about, the time it takes for the parcel to arrive, is also managed using my application. The vendors usually have some information on their item pages that tells you how long it usually takes for parcels to be delivered to your country, but you also want to know how long it takes when it arrives in your country. I’m currently living in what is lovingly referred to as a “Remote Location”, that’s right … Hobart Tasmania! So I need to factor the “Bass Triangle” into my estimations. With my application, I can work out the averages for each vendor in terms of:

  • Time to send the parcel;
  • The vendors estimated delivery timeframe (I usually take their pessimistic estimate);
  • The date that the parcel arrived.

So, armed with this data, I can get a fair idea of when I can expect to get my new toys. On average, the delivery of stuff from vendor to me is 15 days in transit. There are a bunch of variables … the vendors are not all in the same place, they don’t all use the same method of delivery … you get the picture, so I won’t die in a ditch if the parcel is +/- 5 days!

Finally, on the question of quality. Most of the stuff that I buy is fairly inexpensive, and that includes inexpensive to manufacture. Almost every component that I have received and tested falls within an acceptable tolerance range and that too is often stipulated on the vendors item page. I have been pretty pleased with the quality of the stuff that I’ve bought off the interweb … I don’t have particularly high expectations in this regard, no-ones life depends on the build quality of the components that I use, so that is an acceptable risk too. There has only been one time where I bought something, tested it and binned it, and to be fair … I hadn’t read the fine print on  the vendors item page (READ IT!).

There are some other benefits. Occasionally when you buy stuff from an eBay store, the parcel will arrive with a savings coupon for your next purchase. If you use these wisely, you can really save some money.

The main benefits that I was looking for when buying electronic components online were:

  • Cost; and
  • Availability

My experience has shown me that buying online exceeds my expectations there. When I started buying components from eBay, I would find a similar item from a local bricks and mortar vendor and compare the price. Often, I was saving up to 90% on the purchase. For example … a 5mm 20,000 mcd white LED cost me @ $6 when I bought it in-store … when buying 200 items from eBay, they work out at $0.02 each that is a saving of > 90%. Although it isn’t an apples and apples comparison, but for my purposes, the $0.02 LED is fit for purpose whereas the $6.00 LED is way overspecced for what I need. An LED with the same specifications as the $0.02 one was not available in store, so the comparison stands.

My advice is, if you can risk the small amount of money that you are spending buy online, track your orders and test the goods when they arrive.

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