Adafruit is an online store synonymous with the word “maker”. They sell electronic parts and kits to “make” gadgets that in most cases you can buy fully built. For example their MintyBoost is a $20 AA to USB charger you “make” yourself and it doesn’t work on all phones. However for $5, You can buy an already-assembled similar gadget on Ebay (screenshot).
Another example is this WiFi adapter designed to work with Linux systems like the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone Black. A quick search on Ebay for the chipset, 8188CUS, shows one can be purchased for about $3 including shipping. Adafruit, on the other hand, charges extra for shipping starting at around $6 or so.
I understand that Adafruit has to make a profit and, unlike most Ebay sellers, have fast shipping with easy returns and exchanges. However, that doesn’t justify 3x - 4x markups. If an Ebay item does not work as advertised then I’d simply order another one, it is very unlikely I’d get 3 or 4 bad ones in a row. Plus the threat of a PayPal chargeback coupled a bad review and subsequent loss in sales keeps most Ebay sellers honest.
So how can the frugal semi-literate techie work around these incredibly high markups?
Look on Ebay - Find the actual part number and search for it on Ebay. You’ll be surprised at what you find. Ebay sellers often include shipping and sometimes throw in extras. For example right now Adafruit has the Raspberry Pi 2 for $40. The Ebay seller loverpi has the Pi 2 for **$38 **(screenshot), with two heatsinks for overclocking, a two year warranty, and includes shipping.
Make your own - Judicious reverse engineering often reveals what is on an Adafruit board and it helps that they open-source many of their designs. Building them is somewhat tricky - many of Adafruit’s PCBs can be replicated on a prototype board. For PCB designs under 10x10cm you can easily get 10 PCBs through DirtyPcbs at $15 for 5x5cm or $25 for 10x10cm.
Find alternatives - Adafruit has some neat stuff. For example this potentiometer with a big knob is nice. But, Ebay seller cell.expert has 10 potentiometers for $1 with free shipping (screenshot). You could have a 90% fail rate and still come out ahead and for that price I’ll get a tiny screwdriver set from the dollar store to turn that screw!