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Maplin goes into administration - will I miss it?

categories: /loose-thoughts
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The world of electronics ;)

Maplin goes into administration

Today it was announced that Maplin, the only high-street electronics chain that I know of, went into administration (BBC).

I have mixed feelings about this retailer.

I am into electronics and tinkering. I like to see what I’m buying compared to looking at a picture only. I definitely value an option to be able to pick up immediately, especially if your project grinds to a halt because you’ve burnt your last ATmega328. I have some sentimental attachment to Maplin as the only shop in the vicinity I can walk into and be surrounded by low-level electronics, most of them instantly triggering an idea for some interesting use. A physical outlet gives you a chance to talk to the staff and gain some insight about the product you are about to buy.

So it seems there were a lot of things working well at Maplin.

The sour bit

As with most of the stories there are at least two sides to them and this one is no different.

Would I pay 10 times the value of a product? No, not in normal circumstances.

An example from a couple of years ago. I needed a couple hundred of LEDs for one of my projects. At Maplin these were priced at about £0.50 a pop. For 200 pieces that would amount to £100. It’s a lot of money for a product that will not bring back any revenue. It’s also a lot of money for one of the most basic components that cost nearly nothing to make. If they only offered some options to bulk purchase at the time.

Few minutes of browsing and I’ve found a seller from Far East shipping 500 of LEDs at about £10 for the lot. Similar parameters, I didn’t have to sacrifice anything here. We are talking here about a price of £0.02 per LED compared to £0.50 at Maplin. And I got 300 extra in case I’ve burnt some :)

I have to admit it was a small compromise on my behalf. I wasn’t able to see it before purchase or pick it up immediately. It took about three months to arrive. I would have probably struggled with returns (although Maplin charged me a restocking fee for a - in my opinion - substandard product). I also haven’t helped a UK based business with my purchase. In this case however, I had no scruples as this product (like many others) was so severely overpriced it feels like I’m giving £90 to a charity of unknown denomination.

This is the biggest problem with Maplin. They weren’t competitively priced. I am not an expert in this matter but from my point of view, the prices seemed massively bloated.

The alternatives

Until few years ago I was kind of stuck with not much choice but Maplin, or ordering from outside of UK. Obviously there is Farnell, RsComponents and other, similar companies within UK, but I perceive their assortment as aimed more towards professional electronics engineers.

I didn’t need just the most basic components but all sort of development boards, sensors, actuators, displays and other fancy kits, often in a shape of a shield, hat, shim or similar form-factor suited best for rapid prototyping. In general these are things that allow you to test concepts without necessarily grabbing a soldering iron. That offering was nowhere near as exciting as that of Adafruit’s or SparkFun’s, two American companies with vast range of products. There also was RadioShack but it went bankrupt in 2015.

I did find some offering from UK based sellers on general purpose shopping sites (like ebay or Amazon). It was however scattered all over these sites. Because of being a generic platform the filtering and category split didn’t help much with the search and the stock levels were unstable. I doubt you could easily trace the origins of these parts as, to start with, you would have to engage with individual sellers. Some of them didn’t seem to know English well.

Then, I’ve discovered Pimoroni, and it felt like heaven to a tinkerer like me. Their assortment is really varied, and users of Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, Espruinos, BeagleBones and the likes will find huge selection of exciting components there.

My first hand experience with their customer service proves it is really good.

Delivery is very fast and I didn’t have an issue with the quality of products or packaging (yet).

The prices are OK.

I can only hope that lesser competition won’t lead to a price increase. Not that Maplin was a competition to them, price-wise.

More of a similar assortment is available from the following online shops (only ones that I’ve had dealings with):

I am pretty sure some of the business ecosystem will quickly find a way to attract the customer base from Maplin.

I am actually surprised Maplin managed to survive to this day. That is not to say I won’t miss them.

It is sad that another business is collapsing. Toys R Us announced the same that day.

There is also a human aspect to it, as Maplin employed 2300 staff.

Many will feel a loss, not only in financial sense, but because they will loose the environment, that allowed them to combine passion with work.

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