Buying Electronics Online




About: I have been working in IT since the mid 1980's. Most of that has been database and application development. I've been working on Internet application development since the late 1980's. I've just moved back ...

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.

In this article, I talk about some of my experiences and lessons learned when buying electronic components online.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Manage Your Orders

The easiest way to get frustrated when you are waiting for your order to arrive, and to avoid fretting about the order coming late, is to record your orders somewhere and in a way that makes it easy to track your orders, track the vendors and to help allay your fears.

I wrote a small database application that I use to track my online purchases (eBay, Adafruit, Amazon, whatever).

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.

Alternatively, I have made a spread-sheet in MS-Excel that does a very similar thing and I can use data sorting, filtering and searching to look at various aspects of the orders that I've made.

Step 2: But Is It Safe, I Hear You Ask.

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 time-frame (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!).

Step 3: Are There Any Benefits?

You betcha ... and the main benefit is CHEAP!

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.

Step 4: How to Make Your Own Spreadsheet

This is very much based on my experience and the data that I'm interested in. You may want to add columns or do other stuff (like add a URL to the order or item, add a picture ... rate it in carrots, I dunno) in which case, I hereby give you permission to do that!

  • Start out with columns…
  • Order Number – you increment this … it’s there for sorting
  • Date of Order – The date you placed the order (and paid)
  • Category – An arbitrary category used for column filtering
  • Item – A short description of the item
  • Description – A more detailed description of the item
  • Cost – The total cost for the order
  • # Items – the number of pieces
  • Cost Each – a calculated value of the cost per item
  • Vendor – the name of the vendor (sorting and filtering)
  • Sent Date – the date that the vendor tells you the order was sent
  • TTS Days – Time To Send days (calculated)
  • ETA – The date that the vendor estimates for delivery
  • ETA Days – the estimated number of days to deliver (calculated)
  • Arrived Date – the date that the item actually arrived
  • ETA/ATA Difference – the difference between estimated and actual (calculated)
  • Travel Time – the time that the order was in transit (calculated)

Now to put in some calculations … This is where the value is added. I’m using Excel 2010, so these formulae are using functions that I know are there in this version … don’t blame me if your spread-sheet doesn't have the DATEDIF function!

Cell ReferenceFormulaPurpose
H2=F2/G2calculates the cost per item
K2=IF(J2<>"",DATEDIF(B2,J2,"D"),"")Calculates the number of days to send the order
M2=IF(L2<>"",DATEDIF(B2,L2,"D"),"")Calculates the estimated number of days to arrive
O2=IF(N2<>"",IF(N2>L2,DATEDIF(L2,N2,"D"),DATEDIF(N2,L2,"D")),"")Calculates the difference between the Estimated and Actual time to arrive days
P2=IF(N2 <> "", IF(N2>J2,DATEDIF(J2,N2,"D"),DATEDIF(N2,J2,"D")),"")Calculates the number of days for the order to arrive

Copy the formulae down the columns in the spread-sheet and you should be good to go.

You can turn on Filtering in the spread-sheet so that you can track individual vendors and item categories. When you don’t enter an ordered date, the item is, effectively, a wish-list item.

Well … that’s my experience. I wish you all the very best when ordering components online.

For me it's rather like gambling ... and I never bet more than I can afford to lose.

The attached spreadsheet is provided "as is" use it at your own risk.



    • Indoor Lighting Contest

      Indoor Lighting Contest
    • Make It Fly Challenge

      Make It Fly Challenge
    • Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

      Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

    25 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Thank you so much, i will buy Electronics from a good platform, or i will ask my friend to recommend to me. she said utsource is great, does anyone have also buying on utsource?


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    It's basically the same as you, but I added some seller marks and top seller rank based on delivery time (scheduled on shipping fees either).

    Your instructable was a very good starting point, but i added some features that maybe only interest me.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, in the desktop application version, I have added seller rating and also the "normal" price per item so that I can work out how much cash I've saved. I get that from mouser, element, rconline, jaycar, etc.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    That's cool, I haven't think about SQL query but it seems to be a good improvement when there is more than a certain number of lines.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I'd like to add: Don't buy memory sticks/SD cards on ebay. They are easily corrupt and a waste of money. Some trick your computer into thinking it is a 16 gb sd card etc, but it's really only a 1 gb and, you can lose data on it.

    4 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks magnuswf, thankfully, I've never bought memory sticks or SD cards on eBay, so I've been saved this problem!


    4 years ago on Step 3

    Thank you for sharing some great tips with us. In my experience, when it comes to eBay purchases, those that are inexpensive (and there are often times when its a cheap part that ca be pretty critical to our projects), I think a forgone conclusion is that more often than not, you will find the most competitive price from sellers in China. So far, so good... That combination (cheap prices & China sourced), in and of itself implies either issues with product quality or issues with product descriptions/presentation in general. To that end, I think some sellers know full well a buyer is not likely to pay a few dollars in return shipping for an item that costs them a dollar or two. And though there has been times when upon notification of a defect, a broken item or one missing accessories, a seller might say "no need to return item, we'll credit purchase price in full" or "keep it, we'll ship a replacement at no extra cost", I know for a fact that some use it as a means to guarantee many sales with very few returns if any! And with eBay's Money Back Guarantee policy only providing for a refund of purchase price plus original shipping fee but not return shipping, it might not benefit you much (in fact you lose money) to pay $5 for return shipping only to then get reimbursed the original price of a $3 item ($ amounts are only examples). This applies in the same manner to Amazon's AtoZ Guarantee Protection Policy.

    4 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I made an etcher/marker for a friend, but it did not have selectable voltage as I assume the pictured one does (I took a DC power supply and made a switch that by-passed the rectifier). I, for one would be interested in your etcher build and the acid etch process as a bonus. I like the look for sure.

    Thanks justbennett ... I wanted a slightly steam-punk design. Originally I had intended it to go into a rosewood box ... I still may do that ;)

    Thanks justbennett ... I wanted a slightly steam-punk design. Originally I had intended it to go into a rosewood box ... I still may do that ;)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I curious about your initial image. Did you build you're own etcher? How about that etched panel on the etcher?

    1 reply

    Hi justbennet, yeah, I made the electrolytic etcher, it's a very simple design and I'm planning on making an instructable about it soon. Curiously, the etched panel on the etcher was made by acid etching, rather than electrolytic etching. I've made a bunch of electro-etched parts for various tools, cross-bows and artwork, they are fun to use and relatively safe.


    My tracking sustem is simple: bookmark the ordered items; upon arrival, move to the "Item Rec'd" folder, group by month, year. Checking your purchasing history on the Bay is helpful also when making price point comparisons. But overall, yes, the smart shopper has all the facts readily at hand, and vendors are petrified of negative reviews, and will ship n/c replacements on low cost items, so the customer really does swing a very big stick.