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Electronics Buying Guide – Where to purchase online?

You may have some crazy idea which you’d like to prototype, or just wanting to learn a thing or two about hardware, but you’re clueless on where to purchase the necessary parts. This is for you – suggestions on where to purchase materials online, especially electronics components.

May not be applicable to those residing outside of Malaysia/Asia.

I’ll break them into 3 main groups, each with its own focus and strength. My preferred method is group 3.

Group 1: Electronics Distributor

            

Element14 and RS Components are distributors of products and solution for electronics. They are the official distributor of Raspberry Pi. If you need products of higher quality or you’re looking for niche components, this is a good place. Many of the products on these sites are industrial grade.

It is slightly pricey, but the service and packaging is good. You may request for quotation, order confirmation and tax invoice. Delivery is fast as stocks are kept locally or within neighbouring countries. Typically, your purchase is shipped the next day and you receive it within 2 working days.

Searching on RS Components with keyword “DHT11” (by the way, this is a common humidity sensor), there’s no cheap sensor that a hobbyist is expecting. What we get instead requires SMD mounting – not something we can easily prototype at home (e.g. plug and play with the Arduino).

In short: premium quality, fast delivery, pricier, limited product range for hobbyist

My experience: Bought the Intel Edison, Raspberry Pi, and some not-so-common components (e.g. zener diode, crystal oscillator) from Element14.

Group 2: Electronics Retailer

Sparkfun and SeeedStudio are well known electronic retailer. For those in Malaysia, Cytron is also a good local retailer who offers faster delivery compared to overseas retailer. These sites are good for those who are just beginning to learn some electronics as the website is well structured.

This sites are not just selling hardware, they also put effort in testing, writing up tutorials and providing sample code. This means you can get started very quickly with the given boilerplates. You can also purchase starter kits which comes with all the necessary components and tutorial. Pricing wise, it is fairly priced for consumer market.

Doing the same keyword “DHT11” search on Sparkfun, at least we get cheaper and more suitable to be used for hobby projects.

In short: good quality hardware with tutorial/sample codes, reasonable delivery time, fair price (but on the higher side)

My experience: Never had the need to purchase from these retailers directly. Sometimes I browse the site, note down the product I want, and buy it via group 3.

Group 3: General E-commerce platform [Recommended]

               

Well, group 1 and 2 are technically e-commerce sites as well. However, what they offer are very limited compared to general e-commerce platform where anyone can sell [almost] anything.

Now, if I search “DHT22” (By the way, this is a common humidity sensor) on Ebay, price is cheap. Note that he top 18 posting sorted by “best match” indicates that the source is from China. So, why not we buy it from nearer the source – China instead?

Chinese E-commerce sites, specifically Taobao and Tmall is undisputed the cheapest and best place (in terms of options) to get almost any electronic component. Any better and you have to bring yourself to the shops in Shenzhen – China’s Silicon Valley.

However, shipping may be slow – it takes 1.5-2.5 weeks from the point of purchase to the arrival at doorstep via air mail . Furthermore, not every vendor ships internationally (i.e. outside China), so it is sometimes necessary to use a forwarding agent.

Again, same keyword “DHT11” search on Taobao will get you cheap sensor. Price quoted in Chinese Renminbi.

But… some of you may say “I can’t read Mandarin”. Don’t worry, you can browse the website using Google Chrome and have the whole page translated to English. Besides, the pictures are usually self-explanatory. I’ve known of many people who do this and shop better than me. But if you are still not comfortable buying from these Chinese sites, you can just stick to Ebay (pricing wise both are comparable).

In short: low to medium quality, slow and sometimes hassle delivery (not necessary), lowest price,  huge range of products

My experience: A major portion of my stash is from Taobao/Tmall, this includes electronics (ESP8266, Arduino, various sensors and actuators, etc.), multimeter, oscilloscope, 3D printer, parts for building drones, and many more.

Summary

If you know exactly (i.e. part number) what you need, try searching on Ebay or Taobao for the cheapest price. If you don’t exactly know what you need, try to browse sites like Sparkfun or SeeedStudio. If you need industrial grade components, then go for Element14 or RS Components.

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Jarrett says:

    Hi Calvin, currently I’m looking at ibutton/ibeacon on each platform stated above. Let’s say if I were to get the shipment from Group 3 site, there are my questions.

    a) Do I have to purchase in bulk for the minimum? Since the price is quite cheap.
    b) What about defects in the devices? How long would it take for replacement and warranty?
    c) Do most suppliers get ibutton/ibeacon from these sites? If they do, are they selling them locally through online store (such as Lazada, 11th Street) or they just get suppliers from the ready-clients?

    At the end of the day, I just want to get ibutton for my prototype testing. Hope you can enlighten me for that. Thanks.

    • calvin says:

      Hello Jarrett,

      Pertaining to buying ibeacon or any BLE beacons from Group 3:

      a) You don’t need to purchase in bulk. Normally, the price listed are for single unit purchase.
      b) You’re entitled to buyer protection when purchasing from Ebay or Taobao. If you receive faulty unit, you’ll be able to return the goods and ask for replacement (or sometimes refund). However, the practicality depends on your location and seller’s location. For example, shipping the faulty unit (which is often borne by the buyer) back to China is costly (above 20USD) and takes time (weeks). As for the warranty period, that depends on product and seller, it’s stated on the site.
      c) Many beacons (if not all) selling on Lazada, 11th Street are in fact from China (which can be purchase at Taobao). If you want to purchase bulk, buy from China. If you only want 1 or 2 units then it’s more cost and time effective to get it locally.

      Hope this helps. I’ve personally purchased iBeacon/Eddystone beacon from Taobao.

      Regards, Calvin

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