When e-commerce went mainstream and turned the world of retail and wholesale on its head, it was the consumer who emerged as the winner. Liberated from the monopoly which local bricks and mortar stores used to enjoy, the consumer can go online and hunt for the lowest prices from sellers around the world.
In a previous post, I talked about the decline of the bricks and mortar hobby shop in the online age. Although it would be easy to feel sorry for the hobby shop owner who has been turfed out by online competition, it’s important to realize that he may have just become greedy and priced himself out of business.
Hobby retailers (bricks and mortar as well as online) have a habit of overpricing products which are available elsewhere at far lower prices. They rely on their image as a specialist retailer to justify big margins.
A good example is miniature lighting. I frequently use LED lighting strips in my dioramas. They outlast bulbs by a wide margin, generate very little heat, and are easy to work with. LED strips are available via hobby retailers as well as eBay (mainly from sellers in China and Hong Kong). Guess which is cheaper? The price difference is so big that I wonder how hobby retailers are able to sell any LED strips at all.
Some hobbyists may not have the patience to comparison shop, but for those willing to spend a few minutes surfing the web, the return on your time investment can be considerable. And it can add up over time.
Here are some tips which can be useful in finding the lowest price for the product you’re looking for:
· See if you can determine where the product is manufactured
· Determine what types of retailers carry the product (for example, paints are carried by art stores, hobby stores, hardware stores, home improvement stores, and last but not least, paint stores); also check if the manufacturer sells direct
· Compare prices at each type of retailer in the country of manufacture with retailers in your country (remember to include shipping costs when comparing)
· Check prices at portals like eBay and Amazon
It helps to keep in mind also that the more middlemen you can cut out, the better your price will be. Some products are resold multiple times before reaching the consumer, and the price goes up every step of the way.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you don’t mind waiting a bit longer for your product to arrive, you can save a lot of money. Basic shipping rates from China to North America are astonishingly cheap if you don’t mind the four-week wait. I’ve also found shipping rates from Britain to be very reasonable. In contrast, buying from a U.S. source can entail horrendously high shipping charges, particularly on eBay and Amazon. And look out for eBay sellers who price a product at a discount and overcharge for shipping.
You would think that large online hobby retailers would have lower prices because they get quantity discounts when they purchase stock. However, I’ve found that this isn’t always the case. Remember that retailers are under no obligation to pass along savings to their customers. The only consistent advantage I’ve found to buying from a larger retailer is better product selection. If you’re buying several items at once and can bundle them into one delivery, you’ll usually pay less for shipping.
There isn’t one universal rule for getting the cheapest price. It depends on the product you’re buying. So do your research and happy shopping!