On ordering and receiving things from various places through the questionable magic of eBay

A project log for The AnyTop

The laptop that *anyone* can build!

Starhawk 6 days ago0 Comments

I confess to ordering all the parts I needed for the AnyTop proof-of-concept build before creating the project formally on Hackaday[dot]io. Several components had to come from China for economical reasons (I have been rather unsuccessful in my attempts to grow a literal dollar tree from coins in the ground... just kidding, I'm not that stupid).

Let's talk about that -- ordering from Far Far Away on eBay -- for a minute, actually, because there's something of an art to it.

Upon perusing eBay, if you're good enough with the keywords (or bad enough, depending on one's perspective and goals), you'll see a lot of cheap trinkets come up that are shipped from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, or Malaysia. My first piece of advice: ignore anything from the last three places. Only purchase from China or Hong Kong, if you're going to purchase directly from Asia to begin with. There's a reason for this, and it has to do with shipping.

There are essentially three shipping services available from China and Hong Kong, and only really one from Taiwan/Singapore/Malaysia/etc. Unfortunately, the one common to all five countries is the /worst/ of the services -- I call it the "someday maybe" service.

Let's go over /that/ service first. It's typically labeled simply as "Economy Shipping" on eBay, although sometimes it pops up as "Economy Shipping from China/Japan/Hong Kong". If you see the word "economy" in the shipping category, you're getting the "someday maybe" service, and you're in for a real trip. This shipping option takes one to three /months/ for your gadget or trinket or whatever to wend its way from Asia to America... /if/ it arrives at all! There is neither tracking nor any official guarantee that what you ordered will ever actually show up. After forty-five days of tapping your foot for a package that will never show, you can go back to the eBay seller, and if they're nice, they'll send you a replacement... but they'll send it the exact same way, because eBay sellers in Asia make Uncle Scrooge look positively generous with his money...

On the other end of the scale is "EMS" -- which is usually labeled as "Expedited Shipping" for somewhere between us$20 and us$35... tending towards the higher end of the scale. I've never used this service, given the truly exorbitant expenditure it requires, but my understanding is that it's something like USPS' Priority Mail Express (formerly known as Express Mail) where they get it to you pretty much as fast as they can without flying over your house and dropping it out the back of the plane on their way by.

If neither of these services sound terribly awesome to you -- you'll be fine, because China Post has one trick up its sleeve that no other postal service in the world seems to have -- yet. (The rest of the world -- especially here in the US -- ought to get on that, you're getting your butts all collectively kicked by China here, badly...) It's called ePacket, and it's /fantastic/. Most sellers, even if they don't offer it in the listing, will send you your trinket ePacket if you "Contact Seller" and ask nicely. Some will refuse unless the merch is worth a certain amount (usually us$5) and all will tack on the extra charge (usually us$2) -- but /most/ sellers will do this without too much haggling.

ePacket is cheap as dirt (as I said, it runs about us$2 an item, sometimes less) and it has both tracking and a guarantee that your item will show up in usually somewhere around ten to fourteen calendar days. Sometimes sellers will drag their feet (I can't count how many times I've had to bug a seller for printing the shipping label and then not actually shipping the package, multiple days after I've paid up...) but that's largely a cost of doing business, and if you're paying attention you won't get burnt by it.

That's about all you need to know. If you insist on ePacket, you'll be fine.