I seldom complain about online retailers. When operating at a scale, a business needs to make tough calls to keep fraudsters and unreasonable customers at bay. In this spirit, I let most small grievances slide — and if I’m fed up, I vote with my money without making a fuss.
Today, I’d like to make an exception. I’m disappointed with a company I admired and recommended for two decades: Mouser Electronics. They are one of the two preeminent online component retailers in the United States. As an avid hobbyist, I must’ve spent over $20,000 with them — and after a CS rep accidentally forwarded me some account stats, I know the margins on the account were pretty fat:
For years, I steered fellow hobbyists toward Mouser because I felt they had transparent pricing, maintained a snappy website, and had policies that were friendly to retail customers — including no order minimums. But their main competitor — DigiKey — has made strides. Meanwhile, a series of comical mishaps with Mouser over the past 10 months make me seriously doubt their focus on the customer.
My misadventures with Mouser started last year. I noticed that in addition to standard UPS and FedEx shipping choices that cost around $10, the company added an economy option down the list:
This is an attractive choice if you need to make small revisions to your projects, or are running low on a single type of a commodity part that costs just a couple of bucks per bag. I started using this option with some regularity.
Behind the scenes, it appeared that the packages were deprioritized in the warehouse: non-economy orders almost always shipped within 24 hours, while the economy option would sometimes take 2-3 days. But eventually, you’d receive a UPS Mail Innovations tracking number, the package would be tendered to UPS, and you’d have the goods at your doorstep in under a week (for Mail Innovations, USPS does the last mile).
But then, in September 2022, I noticed that one of the packages was never tendered to UPS. It had a tracking number, but there was absolutely no scan activity in the nearly two weeks following the supposed ship date.
I contacted Mouser to report the issue — and received this reply:
“Due to the ship via method USPS Economy, it will take an estimated 7-10 business days for your order to arrive. “
I know that CS reps have a lot of tickets to go through quickly, so I replied matter-of-factly that we’re past the 10 day mark, and that the package isn’t merely delayed in transit: the carrier has no record of receiving it. After that, the CS rep went radio silent.
Fine, stuff happens — perhaps they misclicked something in the CRM, or were out of the office. I started another ticket and was able to get in touch with another person. They replied with:
“Due to shipping method Economy the post office does not provide tracking information. Please allow up to 15 business days for delivery. “
But we did have a tracking number, and at that point, we were at the 15 day mark! Again, the package wasn’t merely making its way through the shipping network, it never left the warehouse. The rep didn’t address that, but ultimately offered a replacement. OK, easy enough.
Except, that replacement wasn’t coming. Instead, I started getting phone calls asking me to provide credit card information for the CS-created order. I explained that the new shipment was meant to be a replacement; the rep seemed befuddled, but eventually offered a refund instead. Several days later, the money showed up in my account, I manually reordered the parts, and moved on.
A week later, the UPS guy showed up not just with my reordered parts, but with a mystery collect-on-delivery package from Mouser. I refused that second delivery and promptly emailed Mouser, telling them that they shipped the COD package in error. This was getting weird, but still — no harm done.
Then, about two months later, I started getting urgent calls from their collections department. They demanded payment for the “unpaid invoice” for the COD shipment. How? Why? I don’t know, but I had to spend some time on the phone to clear it up.
Another $20 “economy shipping” package went AWOL in the meantime. I footed the bill and I didn’t even bother reaching out.
For the next couple of months, I decided to stick to the more expensive but dependable FedEx / UPS shipping options, and encountered no issues to speak of. But in April 2023, the allure of low-cost shipping once again proved to be too strong to resist — and I figured that whatever transient issues they had with this shipping option or with CS, it must be in the rearview mirror by now.
Well, not so: a couple of packages arrived on time — but then, two orders vanished down the same warehouse black hole, never tendered to the carrier and seemingly gone for good:
I waited a good while before contacting Mouser. I noted that this was a recurring issue and that there’s something clearly wrong with that shipping option. The rep ignored all that, incorrectly asserted that UPS Mail Innovations is not trackable, and then gave an out-of-whack delivery estimate of four weeks:
“This transit method can possibly take 4 Weeks from the date shipped to be delivered. […] Unfortunately, the order is not traceable.”
After a bit of back-and-forth, the rep finally offered a refund, but only for one of the two missing packages. It took another request to get the remainder, but I noticed that the amounts are a couple of bucks short. Why? Well, here’s the kicker:
“We do not refund shipping charges only merchandise value.”
For a business, there are circumstances where you want the customer to share some of the cost of frivolous refunds or returns. But in this case, I can’t imagine why I’m being made to hold the bag — and I’m starting to think that abusive and inattentive customer service is a consistent pattern, not a one-off.
To my surprise, I received this email:
Apparently, after my last CS interaction, they reviewed my account and classified it as a “distributor”. This might sound innocent, but it’s a punitive label: it’s designed to prevent eBay scalpers from purchasing certain hard-to-obtain components and flipping them for profit. Of course, if you follow this Substack, you know I’m not doing any of that. I’m a serious hobbyist — and the hobby is a money sink, not a source of any revenue. I did have a spike in orders in 2023, but this had to do with projects such as building several dozen Sir Box-a-Lot consoles for family and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, mistakes happen — but it’s a pattern, not a fluke, and it is inexcusable for a specialty, high-margin business. It seems that you can get slapped with this label as a consequence of being a bother to a rep — with no advance notification, no recourse, and no way to know which parts of your order might be canceled down the line. At a time when most other retailers are trying to attract DIYers, Mouser will throw you under the bus if you’re not important enough — and four figures a year still keep you a bus-worthy customer.
But the best part? They charged my PayPal account for all line items on that order, canceled some — and so far, have not refunded the rest. There goes another $10?
Mouser is not a scam, and you might shop with them for years and never run into issues. But there’s something to be said about not patronizing businesses like that when you do have a choice. If you can, go with DigiKey.