Often when I buy an electronics book, or more recently a physical computing book, there is a section detailing where to purchase components, however they’re almost exclusively in the US and details of UK electronics retailers are difficult to come by for beginners and even more experienced people. In this post I intend to detail some of the electronics component retails who I like which sell a range of components from basic resistors and wire to expensive test equipment and embedded computers.
General Component Retailers
These are the retailers I most commonly order parts from and like, there are many others who may also be good but these are my favourites, as they stock the basics they’re used more than any other category here.
Bitsbox is a small retailer with a large following, it sells mainly simple components: capacitors, resistors, basic connectors, basic tools all for very reasonable prices when ordering in small quantities, something which is not common among many bigger suppliers. Also standard postage is only 1.50 on any order. I’ve bought here many times and always had a great experience, quick dispatch and good communication.
Farnell is about the most furthest away from Bitsbox it’s possible to get in size and product selection, it stocks hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of products from the mundane basics to the high end exotica and offers free next day delivery on any order. If you need something, almost anything in electronics quickly this is where to go. They are also the only retailer I’ve found in the UK which stock Texas Instruments components. Service is another area in which farnell is great. Prices can be high on some items but not unreasonable, my recent Agilent multimeter was 20% cheaper than any other UK retailer. Beware of items marked in stock in US which attract a 15 pound postage fee.
A point worthy of note is that if you want you can pick up orders from the trade counter at their international distribution centre in Leeds, West Yorkshire, something I’ve done a few times. You have to phone to order this way but the order can be collected after 2hrs and is within walking distance of Leeds Station and also is easy to drive to/park at. This makes them my 2nd favourite retailer on this list after NewIT (below).
Rapid are a retailer smaller than Farnell but still quite large, they stock some products which Farnell do not but the catch is that orders under 35 pounds are changed 5 pounds postage. Redeeming factors are the postage is quick and service is generally good.
If you wish to buy low quality components in bulk then eBay is the place, often from China but usually reliable but usually cheap enough to risk it, especially with the protection provided by Paypal.
Maplin only deserve a mention as they are the last high street retailer which sells any kind of electronic components, otherwise they provide inconsistent service, have sometimes stupid staff and charge lots for bad quality products. But if you need some wire quick then it’s the only option really! A sad summary to give considering it was maplin and tandy (radioshack) which have been with me since my childhood electronics fad which never quite went away.
Mouser not based in the UK but from my experience have proved the best retailer in the IS to order from if you have to, I ordered 2 panavice bits which are hard to find in the UK and they arrived within 2 days. Amazing, and delivery on orders over 50 pounds and they sort out the VAT in advance so you don’t get caught out later. These guys are amazing. They also stock some cool bits like beagle boards.
A big factor in reigniting my interest in electronics, which had faded since I discovered computers, was micro controllers such as the arduino, these are quite easy to come by in the UK but I have two preferred retailers:
Oomlout are another small company based in Leeds, they stock the Arduino and associated accessories at reasonable prices, including quite a few nice bits of their own making: the arduino prototyping board is a simple piece of laser cut acrylic with holes to bolt the arduino and a small breadboard to fix next to it. They also stock a small range of products designed by Adafruit (which would be on this list if I was in the US!) which is nice as it saves shipping from the US. Service is, as with most small specialist retailers, exemplary. I’ve made a few queries both for information and to resolve a problem and both were dealt with quickly. My definite first choice for Arduino related stuff. Oh and shipping is cheap and quick too.
I have mixed feelings about Cool Components, they sell a much larger range of products than oomlout, offering more advanced microcontrollers and accessories, they’re almost the Sparkfun of the UK (and they do stock some Sparkfun products). However I feel they seem expensive and VAT is not included in the displayed prices which I feel can be slightly misleading (even though it is stated). I have however bought from them when they had what I wanted and the service they provided was good.
Seeed Studio are not based in the UK but in Hong Kong, however they ship to the UK for cheap prices and offer a lot of components at very cheap prices, like sparkfun style RF transceiver for $4 and the arduino clone Seeeduino. More recently they have started to retail open source test equipment which is attracting quite a lot of interest.
If you’ve read my blog before you may know I’m a fan of the sheevaplug. I’ve had mine several months now but when I first found the product I knew of no retailer in the UK, at around the same time New IT was started acting as a European distributor, saving me the hassle of high prices and long waits of ordering from GlobalScale in the US.
New IT only currently sell Sheevaplugs, Guruplugs and the OpenRD and associated accessories and offer free shipping on all items. Despite the small product range shopping at New IT was possibly the best online shopping experience I’ve ever had, the online shop is just a typical shop but after ordering I received personal emails on order status and a check to see if it had arrived and if I needed any further help. In this day and age, nothing short of amazing.