Online purchasing of parts (or anything else, for that matter) involves shipping. When ordering a few dollars or less worth of parts, the cost of shipping can be several times the cost of the parts themselves. If distributors want to show top-notch customer service, they should offer free shipping on small orders.
For the second time in the last few months, I've needed to replace failed capacitors to repair home electronics. Aluminum electrolytic capacitors have a way of failing. Each time, the cost of the parts I needed was no more than $2, but oh, the shipping costs.
On my most recent capacitor replacement, I needed but a single electrolytic to fix a DVD recorder. We have two identical units, but only one had a failed capacitor. My options were to order the part online or drive 20 minutes to the local electronics parts store. Two years ago, when capacitors in a computer monitor power supply failed, I bought replacements at the local store for $1.07 plus tax. No shipping charges except for a little gas and my time. This time, I decided to go the shipping route.
The bulging top of an electrolytic capacitor indicates a failure.
I checked four distributors, which I'll call A, B, C, and D. The letters refer to the order I went to the web sites and are in no way indicative of the company names. I recalled free overnight shipping from distributor A from my previous repair job in November. This distributor requires you to register to place an order, but they shouldn't. For some reason, I was unable to log in, even with resetting my password. Distributors B and C had the capacitors for about the same price (all ranged from $0.65 to $0.69 for single quantities), but would charge $8.99 for shipping. Really? Looking at distributor D, I saw free shipping and I could order as a guest. No registration required. I placed the order a recent Saturday night.
The following morning, an invoice arrived in my inbox showing a whopping $9.60 for shipping. You can bet I was calling customer service at 8 AM Monday morning to cancel. For that amount, I'd go to the store. The customer service rep told me that the order had already gone to the warehouse and couldn't be cancelled. I could return the parts (order was for qty. 3) for a refund.
Refund for the cost of the parts ($1.95), but what about the $9.60 shipping plus the cost of return shipping. Why bother?
Not satisfied, I called back and spoke with another rep, who said he would try to cancel the order. A few hours later, an email arrived informing me that the order had indeed been cancelled. That's another issue. Customer service often depends on the person who answers the phone. If you don't like the service, call again and speak to someone else. You might get what you want.
By Monday, distributor A's site was working so I logged in and ordered the parts for $1.97 with free overnight shipping. The company offered standard shipping at a cost of $8.99. Two-day shipping would cost $15.99, yet overnight shipping was free. The capacitors arrived by 9 AM Tuesday. I installed one in the DVD recorder that night and put away the other two as spares in case the other recorder fails soon. All is well. "Management" is happy.
Online sellers will often provide free shipping for large orders, but what about small orders? If not for the free shipping, I would have gone to the local electronics store. We have one such parts source here in Boston. I've been to several in Silicon Valley and one in Rochester, N.Y., but with Radio Shack gone, many neighborhood engineers and technicians have no choice but to order parts online.
Shipping costs make the difference when choosing a distributor for small orders, especially when it's your money.