Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Want to Whine About Shipping Costs.

I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes one of my projects costs more in shipping fees than components.  Getting a couple of chips and resistors across the country can make a project cost more than the fun of doing it is worth.  That's why more and more of my projects are based on cheap Chinese products shopped from one of the Chinese suppliers or eBay.

Sure, I'd much rather buy locally, if there was a locally available to buy from, but the industry has moved completely away from that model...  There are no electronic shops within any reasonable driving distance of my place.  The cost of getting something from somewhere else has trained me to look at the shipping cost very carefully, and my big mouth has just gotten a thread closed at one of my favorite supplier's forum.

The story: I want to follow up on my threat of getting a barometric sensor and setting it up to read temperature and air pressure inside a Stevenson screen I have on a fence post in the yard <link>, so I went to Adafruit and found what I wanted.  It was a:

BMP180 Barometric Pressure/Temperature/Altitude Sensor- 5V ready PID: 1603  $9.95

This is a great little breakout board (from the description) and would be a lot of fun to work up in the project.  However, as I was checking out, the shipping price came up:

UPS Ground: $13.23

There were other options, all more expensive than this.  What?  That's almost 150% of the cost of the item.  So, I went to their forum and looked to see if anyone else complained about this.  Of course someone did, so I did too.  I never want to be outdone in the complaint department.  When it became clear to the folk running the forum that I wasn't going to be shuffled aside by sycophants citing how hard and expensive it was to ship items, the main purpose of their business, they closed the thread. Maybe I should start a forum (not likely), because I could get the last word every time.  All you have to do is type something in, then close the thread so no one can respond.

No, I wasn't abusive, I think I was polite and reasonable, but in your leisure (those of you that have any left), take a look for yourselves <link>.

Yes, yes, I know all about how much it costs to staff and support a shipping department.  I understand completely the inconvenience of getting stuff to the post office and organizing everything.  But, isn't that what got this business going?  The huge problem of shipping is why the distributor model came to be. One company skilled in making a product sells it to another that is skilled in warehousing and shipping.  I took that class in college too.

And, they just announced a solution that is actually pretty good; they have joined with DigiKey.  So, let's see what that would do to solve my particular problem: Darn, the pressure sensor isn't listed as an Adafruit item.  Ok, I'll just pretend it was, I'll pick some other item that weighs roughly the same and compare it between Adafruit and DigiKey; I chose the:

ADS1015 12-Bit ADC - 4 Channel with Programmable Gain Amplifier PID: 1083  $9.95

and the shipping was the same at $13.23.  At DigiKey, the shipping for it was $3,23, exactly $10.00 less.

Yes, I know that ordering more stuff would spread the shipping cost across multiple items making it easier to justify, but I don't want to order a bunch of items just to stockpile them for later, they get lost or chewed on by the squirrels that sometimes get into my garage.

But just to fill in the blanks, suppose I bought two of them; would that make it better?  Nope, two boards cost exactly the same for shipping at both Adafruit and DigiKey: $13.23 and $3.23. Too bad I don't need two barometric pressure sensors.

I was going to go back and compliment them on the deal they made with DigiKey, but they had closed the thread already, so I couldn't.  But, not to be forestalled, I commented instead on the cool looking blog post they did on DigiKey (just today mind you, after I complained publicly), but the comment hasn't appeared yet.  It's a moderated blog, so it may take a while for the comment to make it past the censor (free speech doesn't apply to someone else's blog), or it may not show up at all.  I'll check back later to see if they let the comment through <link>, or maybe I'll forget about it.

Don't misunderstand, I absolutely love Adafruit.  They constantly surprise me at their offerings and the support they give to their customers.  Great company, and I'll continue to deal with them, but order from one of their distributors because I just don't want to throw money down the drain on shipping costs. Note that SparkFun still uses USPS shipping and a similar purchase would be comparable to DigiKey shipping.  And, of course, sometimes the additional shipping cost is worth it; times when you want it before the weekend, something broke and you need it fixed right now, or the ton of other times when waiting a week or more is inconvenient. That's not the case most of the time.

The barometric sensor is on its way from China, but that ADC listed above looks like it would work for another project I have in mind.  And, I have an active DigiKey account.


  1. I agree - the Adafruit shipping costs are outrageous, especially when you consider that the bulk of what they sell can be shipped for decent flat rates via USPS, who supply free boxes and envelopes. I like the Adafruit products, which are somewhat pricey themselves, but don't buy much from them because of the shipping costs.

  2. I'm with you Dave. I shudder when I look at the costs of shipping some of these items. Like you I have taken to buying more from China (which I don't want to do) or Ebay where I can get free shipping. Adafruit would get more of my business if they could just figure out a way of getting stuff out of New York City without paying a ransom to do it.
    Luckily I have Dallas close by and I can usually get almost anything from there, but it is still a 2 hour drive each way. I save up what I need until I have a substantial reason to go to Dallas. One other interesting item though is that if you live in Texas you can get free samples of any of TI's semiconductors. Makes using TI stuff a compelling reason. At least here.


  3. I agree too. My preference is to do business in the US, to support the ones who make this happen. To get over the bad product/shipping cost ratio, I always plan to buy extra stuff that might be useful to me later. For example pins and connectors. I have a parts bin that I stock up.

    It sure makes me miss my heyday in the Silcon Valley though. Driving over to Haltec or Halted and looking at all of the surplus hardware. If you lived in the Bay Area in the 80's, you know what I am talking about. Good times! I also worked for the company you don't much care for. They encouraged to use the parts bins for our own g-jobs. It was a win win situation. I had a personal project go before the executive staff for a product proposal. It didn't make it, but I did get 20 PCBs out of the deal. I was happy.



    1. Actually, I think Apple is a great company, they've kept the marketplace in a turmoil creating new products and forcing technology forward. My only objection is the closed nature of their products. I really like being able to change things and muck around (bet you never would have guessed that).

      So, I use Windows, Linux, et al. I appreciate Apple stuff for the artsy folk that just want to use it and have no real interest about what's inside and how to change it.

      If that silly barometric pressure board from Adafruit would have been on DigiKey for the same price and lower shipping, I would have bought it there. I really, really like to buy local, but I won't throw my money away to do it. If it's within reason, I'll buy from the Mom and Pop every time.

  4. Dave and Chris,

    About a year ago, I reached out to Greg Harris VP of marketing and sales at Jameco and explained how shipping costs on small orders was killing the experimenter. After all, Jameco's business is primarily electronics tinkerers and hobbyists so why not figure out a way to put a USPS stamp on an envelope and sent a single part without charging a $5 handling fee. <.5 lb shipping is about $2.50, but by the time you add a $5 handling fee, it ends up costing you 10 bucks for a $3 part.

    I think the comment fell on deaf ears, so now I too buy much of my stuff from China. You have to wait a bit longer, but for the price difference, it's worth the wait.

    China Post must be subsidized and has a reciprocal agreement with USPS for deliveries. Otherwise, how can you order a LM117 5V regulator for 81 cents with free shipping from China on e-bay? Now that's just crazy competitive.

    Gripe all you want about shipping costs, I dislike them too.


    BTW, I miss wandering down the halls of my old electronics store. There's something about these places that stir the imagination. Maybe it was the lacquer in the transformer cores :-)

    1. I miss them too, and there's a couple of generations that never got to see one. I guess it doesn't matter, they never look up from their phones anyway.