Tuesday, 22 July 2014

When did eBay turn into Maplin?

For years we've turned to eBay for cheap, low volume components. Quite often searching for something on Farnell or RS returns three or four of the same thing from a supplier on eBay (unless buying in suitably large volume).

But over the last six-to-eight months, we've been receiving fewer and fewer parcels at Nerd Towers from eBay, and more and more coming from "proper" online retailers. Here's just one example:

We're looking to prototype some simple kits for the up-and-coming Brighton Mini Maker Faire. These kits will be used to create simple motorised drag racers. As ever, habit suggests we hit eBay and see how cheaply we can get hold of the little hobby motors.

any number of variations on 3v motor, miniature motor, 5v motor, 9v motor and so on returned similar results; the cheapest being £1.43 per piece

the cheapest "hobby motors" are £1.59 each

Maybe there are cheaper miniature motors on eBay, but finding them is not easy. Or maybe they're not there. But according to the level of search we used, a miniature hobby motor costs about £1.50

So we were quite amazed to find exactly what we were looking for on the Rapid Electronics website for just 53 pence!


That makes the cost of eBay-purchased products three times the cost of buying them directly from a supplier! But it's not just on electrical items. It seems that sellers are now passing on their high sellers fees and making the exact same products on eBay more expensive than in their own online shops!

modelscenerysupplies.co.uk for example, sell 0.8mm birch ply online. It comes in 9x11 inch sheets, available both in their eBay store, and directly from their website.


In the eBay store, each sheet costs £3.25. But in their own online store, each sheet costs just £2.85


It's long been a running joke that when you buy anything from Maplin, you have to pay the "Maplin Tax". This is the extra you get charged for being able to walk into the store and pick something up off the shelf (if they actually have what you want in stock) instead of waiting for next day delivery from your favourite online retailer.

But there's very little point in an "eBay Tax". There's no benefit buying something at a higher price from one online retailer than from another - better to buy direct from the seller, and let them keep all of the money spent at their online store, surely?

These days, we're finding we use eBay more to browse products, then look to source them elsewhere. Which is quite ironic, given that high-street retailers have been complaining that this is how customers shop in their bricks-and-motar stores - find something they like in-store, then go home and buy the same thing off eBay!

eBay used to be a fantastic world-wide marketplace, where you could reliably go and pick up pretty much anything, easily and cheaply. Yet these days, it's increasingly difficult to find exactly what you want from the eBay search results, meaning it's not easy - and the prices are noticeably more expensive than buying from other sources, so they're certainly not cheaper. 

Maplin is also neither of these things (even in-store it can be difficult to find what you what because of either the surly staff, or the fact that it's not in stock) but at least they have the advantage of being convenient. When you need a 22uF capacitor today, you can pop in and pick one up (albeit paying about 50 times its value). eBay is slowly turning into the online version of Maplin - but without the added benefit of being convenient!