Radio Shack Will Now Stock Cellphones, Cellphone Accessories, Arduinos

A few months ago, we covered Radio Shack’s efforts to suck less, and the Radio Shack DIY team has now come back with the top ten suggestions submitted. Of course Arduinos make the list at number 1, which we somewhat expected for beginner projects.  Here’s the entire list in order:

  1. Arduino
  2. More kits and project suggestions
  3. More introduction/instructional books
  4. Larger LED selection
  5. Larger resistor selection
  6. TONS more capacitors
  7. DIY audio and speaker equipment
  8. HAM radio gear
  9. More competitive pricing
  10. Stronger sales force

For all the jest of the headline, we know we’re coming down too hard on Radio Shack. We tried pricing out individual components on Digikey matching what was in a 150 in 1 electronics kit, and learned the profit margin on these kits are razor-thin. That being said, we long for the days when our local, independent Radio Shack – staffed entirely by really weird and awesome people – was still in business. They couldn’t turn a profit because of the 3 corporate Radio Shacks less than 10 miles away.

Tell us what Radio Shack got wrong in the comments section. We’ll put “There aren’t any individual AVR and PIC microcontrollers” down as our complaint.

123 thoughts on “Radio Shack Will Now Stock Cellphones, Cellphone Accessories, Arduinos

  1. FIRST!

    haha, just kidding.

    While I am a little disappointed that there aren’t individual PICs and AVRs, I’m happy there are at least arduinos.

    I talked to my other (almost, 45 minutes away) electronics store about discrete controllers and they said that they would never carry them because they can’t get them any cheaper than I can (Digi-Key) so they could never afford to keep a stock of them. The problem is that there are way too many assholes saying “I can save a dollar by ordering online” and don’t buy locally.

  2. Where Radio Shack really went off the track was when it became a consumer audio/video store.

    It can get back if it even started stocking discrete components again. Thing like, hookup wire, solder, good soldering stations, Panavise, etc.

    Then maybe some transistors to switch those LED’s on and off. In essence, become a local MakerShed.

  3. omg cell phones??!!! AND accessories???!!!

    wait, that was the joke, right?

    the last time I was in one (about a year ago) the kid working there (probably 18-22yo) couldn’t explain to a customer what HDMI was.

    i’ll say Radio Shack did wrong by putting people in the stores that don’t even know the most basic thing about current technology let alone what those 2 small cabinets in the back had inside them… hint: all that was left of what “Radio Shack” should be, a few pull-out drawers of pieces, parts, and maybe a resistor or two…

    this is in Indianapolis, IN. I can only hope it’s different elsewhere.

  4. Radioshack’s big problem always was that they stocked big items (such as ultrasonic range finders and basic stamps) without any of the important supporting components. This is _absolutely not_ what you want in a retail outlet. People go retail when they need something right away — like if you need a shift register or 2n7000 in a pinch.
    Two other big problems were outrageous pricing (bulk pricing should be available) and stocking tiny amounts of each part (try building a BLDC driver with only two IRF510!).

  5. and the arduinos will only cost $69.99!
    wouldn’t surprise me XP
    i use radioshack when im to impatient to wait for or or newark or whoever to ship

  6. I just remember radio shack of the old, 1/5th of the store had beepers, and rc cards, the rest were just drawers of components. Now MAYBE 1/5th is componets and the rest is laptops and tv’s and stereos and gaming consoles and ugh.

    I dont mind paying a little more for having the item i need day of, not having to wait for shipping and to support a local business. But if they dont carry it then im left with no choice.

  7. this is nice.. I have been disappointed with RS for many years… I can’t wait to buy all my gismos and parts locally were I can pick it up, look at it and buy it… its a step in the right directions…

  8. * Inconsistent parts selection between stores

    * Poor overall parts selection

    What should they carry? A good start would be to carry a lot of the component inventory their on-line competitors carry – I’m not talking about Mouser, or Digikey, but more like SparkFun, Adafruit, etc.

    They obviously need to carry some microcontrollers, but I think the support components are much more important – as those are the things you’re most likely to need/want IMMEDIATELY when working on a partly completed project.

    They do have some cool prototyping circuit boards, but I’d like to see some more still.

    Lastly, we don’t need no fancy packaging if all it does is make the product more expensive.

  9. I can tell you exactly where they went off track! I was a 10 year veteran of their sales force. They started to lose customers when they instructed their sales force to sell cell phones and push them on EVERY customer. My regulars that came to me for the handfull of caps, and relays, and solder didn’t want these. They know about them, some asked about them. But when management started asking WHY? arent you selling a phone to that guy? Thats the start of it. Next was the branding….Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Micronta, brands that were sold and stood behind by trained sales staff. I understand them changing around a bit with PC’s. Big guys like Dell, Hp, and IBM could crush Tandy and did. We all know that other manufacturers made their hardware, Pioneer made their stereos, sony made a few of their walkmans. But the first RCA TV that showed up on the shelf was the end. Radio Shack wanted to compete with Best Buy and tried carrying the brands, but didn’t have the prices or the indepth training like their own brand. Lastly, (sorry for the rant, they really screwed up a fun job) management assaulted the sales people that took pride in knowing the difference between a pc mount connector and a wire mount. Knowing that a 555 timer wasn’t for 555 eggs. They completely frowned upon salespeople taking time with customers to find that exact part they were looking for, the exact resistor value they needed, the exact wire to hook up their project, or god forbid, everything they would need to get started soldering. To spend 1/2 hour with a customer to help them out to get what they need and have a $12 sale made their heads explode. But cram a cell phone down somebody’s throat that doesn’t really want one and lock them into a 2 year contract they can’t get out of with an extended warranty they’ll never use….stand back they’ll love ya forever. In short…you HAD experienced salespeople that could help, you HAD customers that would cross a desert to get the part they needed and pay a bit extra to get it now, and you stuck it in everybody’s a$$ because you wanted to be Best Buy.

  10. The Radio Shack in my town has had Arduinos and a few “project” type things for a couple months now. They are kind of pricey and they are only sold in kits but it is a big step in the right direction

  11. @madcows – I do still use them for the occasional capacitor, 5v regulator and protoboards.

    Everyone is right though, they need a wider selection of common parts and more sane pricing. I’m not sure why they’re going to chase the HAM thing, but I guess it’s better than more cellphones and crappy RC cars.

  12. Our radio shack will not be stocking arduinos and they only stock mostly cell phone related items. I wouldn’t buy anything from RS unless it was a must have right now item. I’ll stick to online ordering, at least then I don’t get asked by the sales person “What does this do”.

  13. “The problem is that there are way too many assholes saying “I can save a dollar by ordering online” and don’t buy locally.”

    It’s a global open market, why would you buy locally when you can buy cheaper elsewhere. What possible benefit does buying locally give you? It’s not like buying a bike where you might want it fitting and servicing, they either have it or they don’t and if they don’t you go elsewhere and get it posted.

    1. For the “Need it Now” factory. I have had those 7pm moments where I suddenly need a regulator R.F.N! I usually end up buying something with the part I need and then salvaging it in the parking lot. We don’t have Radio Shack in Canada anymore… it’s called “The Source” and actually sucks worse than what passes for Radio Shack. Sad, sad…

  14. @ James- I agree it’s not as if these components are manufactured in the building down the street. However I would shop there more often if they knew what “I” was talking about and, had a greater selection of parts and kits. I haven’t checked so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I would like to see RS ship free to their stores, as I said I haven’t ordered from them online so I don’t know if they do this, but it would make me more inclined to buy from them.

  15. I recently compared costing at the end of a project write up,
    If I buy resistors online, I can buy 100 for 68p

    If I go to the uk’s radio shack equivellant they are 25p each, I’m not being an ass hole for not shopping locally, I’m being sane, reasonable and stocking my parts bin, if I need three resistors in a project then it’s cheaper to buy 100 online and possibly never use 97 of them.

    I’m not the ass hole, the store and it’s 5,000% mark up are the ones being ass holes here.

    That’s the only thing that they got wrong in my opinion.

    (our uk version of rs (maplin) already stocks pic programmers and USB breakout boards, as well as lots of belle an kits. But the price is still the thing that stops people from going there).

  16. Lol @ Arduino topping that list.

    They should sell padded tools and Fisher Price My First Electronics kits given their target demographics.

    The one down the street from me sells slide pots and touch sensor kits, so if they’re going to get even cooler stuff I’m game.

  17. “Stronger sales force”? They already accost me at the door with “Can I help you find something?” instead of letting me look which is why I do a U-turn and leave.

    I like to do my own thinking or I can’t be happy and they only bother me.

    1. LOL your bank account mist be pretty healthy from not buying merchandise because of all those U turns you must be making. I don’t know of any successful retail store don’t train their staff to great everyone who enters the store with some version of may I help you?

  18. Remember that there are company stores and franchise stores. Many of the franchise stores (like the one across form O’Reilly and the Maker’s Shed in Sebastopol) have a bunch offp off the wall stuff like Arduinos and shields. It will be nice that the corporate owned stores will start carrying better stock.

    Also, I thin what was meant by “stronger sales force..” was knowledgeable people, not pushy people. I remember some guys that worked at the store in Mountain View that would just sketch out a class AB amp for you and help you pull the parts.

    Good move RS!

  19. I don’t know that they need a stronger sales force (I too can’t get more than five feet in the store before I’m attacked by people asking how they can help), but rather a smarter force. My last trip there I just needed some contact cleaner/lubricant. When I asked about it, explaining that I needed to free a seized rotary switch on a B&K 707, I thought drool was going to come out of agape mouth. After explaining it was a 25-position rotary switch with several amps capacity on each terminal, and that they don’t have anything close to what I’d need to replace it, and that I don’t want to replace it anyways, he led me to the shelf with the contact cleaner I was already looking at and informed me he had never used any of it so he didn’t have any suggestions.

    Also, they should start carrying more potentiometers. Their selection around here is a couple weird value trimmers, and a couple long-shaft 1/4w linear pots. Forget logarithmic ones all together.

  20. I was quite pleasantly surprised when I walked into RS recently, and saw that they had trebled or quadrupled the size of the tool/components section. They added things like board etching supplies, IC sockets, project boxes, higher quality soldering equipment, kits from velleman, IC test leads (the tiny clip on ones, that fit side by side on a dip IC’s leads), what looks like the whole line of Forrest Mims’ books, just lots of actually useful stuff.
    Resistors still come in something like a 20 pack for 3 bucks, and pots are like $4 each, so that sucks, but I think they are actually putting some serious effort into pulling us hobbyists back in.
    I have my fingers crossed, hoping that they stick to it, but it looks like quite a good start.

  21. When I was a young kid I got a “Build it Yourself” Motion detector from the Shack. It came with a naked PCB , Manual with Instructions, Schematic and tips, and a few bags filled with the needed components.

    I grabbed my soldering iron and finished it in 2 days (reminded me of a Lego set). I was very happy when I put it in it’s enclosure, added batteries, and it rang it’s door bell chime.

    My Point is, Kids are smarter then they seem. Vex robotics were a step in the right direction, and I’m sure most kids would rather build there R/C toy car from scratch then buy a “ready-to-roll” model. Didn’t they learn anything from there ZipZap craze. (More Vex, much cheaper please)

  22. I understand the higher cost associated with stocking parts in house and can deal with that for the few items I need now. But if they could expand their selection of online parts, price them at a reasonable rate and ship to store I would buy more from them than other online sources. Even the less technical sales force in the store will be able to offer better customer service to regular customers by knowing that I don’t want another phone right now.

  23. After abandoning the hobbyist for years and finally reducing the parts down to 4 square feet of floor space RS finally realizes they can’t compete with Best Buy, and WalMart much less the online sellers. Wait, Hobbyist, We love you, We want you back now! Never mind that you can pay a third of what we charge to get your stuff online. We know you still love us!
    I’m glad I sold my stock last year.

  24. A few years ago, I needed some parts for a project and went to my local RS. The guy that rang me up was an older gent and just looked at me in astonishment and then looked at the items I put on the counter and yelled “Parts! Someone’s actually buying parts!” (he was the ‘stronger sales force’ of yesteryear.

    The next day, I realized I picked up the wrong caps and had to return to the store to get the right ones. When I went to the counter, the employee was some kid still in high school and he just stared at me in bewilderment because he had no idea what a capacitor was and didn’t even know they sold them (the ‘not-so-strong’ sales force)

    I really do hope they push this stuff and have more kid-friendly kits, and maybe even advertise it. Only good will come of it. I see RS as the beginner’s corner for hacking – not for the price, but for the convenience of it.

  25. North of Baltimore we have a local shop called Baynesville Elecronic where I go for all my last minute capacitors, resistors, fuses, connectors, etc. However, I recently wen there only to find someone had bought EVERY 100K pot in the store: Linear, Audio, Stepped, 1/4 watt, 1 watt, switched, whatever! With a bit of trepidation I stopped at the Radio Shack on my way home and wonder of wonders – they had two left! Of course damn near every other time I went there I got skunked…

  26. Radio Shack is epic fail. You can’t have a chain of stores where 1% of the sales force is knowledgeable about the products you sell. Not even basic training. If SparkFun had a brick and mortar store, now that would be something.

  27. I think that one of the biggest disappointments for me when it comes to Radio Shack is their lack USB connectors. They have every single connector that you can think of, but they don’t have a single USB female jack connector, or male plug connector. You’d think that with the popularity and usefulness of USB technology, then Radio Shack would support that more.

  28. They’re a little late. Futile attempt if you ask me. Starting to carry Arduino now is at least a couple years late. They used to carry basic stamp kits back before Arduino (I bought one). Why Hosannas now at this “leap forward”? Arduino has evolved a few steps over the years and I don’t see RS keeping up with the changes too well while the online sellers seem to add the newest ones almost immediately.
    But any steps in this direction are welcome since they’ve appeared to give up on it almost totally in recent years.
    I’m very skeptical that they’ll be supporting significant changes in their sales force. They may train them a bit about available products but don’t expect anything like the days of yore when there used to be a resident nerd or few in most every store.
    Honestly I wouldn’t want to be a radio shack corporate strategist these days. Times have simply changed and chasing this shadow may ultimately just be too much cost and effort for the payoff. We’ll see.
    Like I said though, any steps in this direction will be welcome in my book. But I won’t be removing my internet sources from the bookmarks any time soon, hehe.

  29. How the hell they tell that it is not proffitable to sell single microcontrollers? ATmega328P (Arduino) is 5$ in Digikey and when you get 100 of them they are only 2.70. You can charge 100% more and still be cheaper (shipping cost)!

  30. If “Stronger sales force” means that they’ll be more knowledgeable, there isn’t much more I could hope for. I once went in there needed help finding some parts, the guy there didn’t know what I was talking about. Something as simple as a capacitor and he couldn’t help me find it.

  31. I tried to get a job there when I was a 16 year old kid…they turned me down because they said I knew too much, and their sales staff should only know exactly what they were told to know.

    I surprised them by being very calm and then buying several project boards and matching project boxes. As I left the store I mentioned that I had been buying about $50 worth of components a week for the last couple of years, and that this purchase was the last I would ever make there.

    That was almost a lie, as I returned there several times over the next couple of years looking for components that I couldn’t wait to have shipped…thankfully for my conscience, they never had anything in stock.

    If RadioShack wants to get me back, they are not going to do it by selling something that I can get online for less money (and without dealing with their moron sales staff). They need an in-house brand that really excels at something…something that would give me a reason to deal with them. They also need to stock the basic consumables…they don’t even sell Arctic Silver 5!!!

  32. Anybody remember TechAmerica (Tandy). Basically Radio Shack parts corner on steroids. Not to pricey but had a large selection. I shopped there a lot and mail ordered harder to find parts and items I needed a lot of. Well they’re gone. All I have locally(within 20miles) is Radio Shack and Fry’s. I very rarely step in Radio Shack and when I do they either are out of stock or do not have it period (they do try to sell me a phone). If they would at least keep the most basic parts in stock I would use them. Otherwise To try them first takes me in the wrong direction to get to Fry’s. So what happens is I build these huge list of common parts and micros and I stock up online. Example. My monitor died. Needed 4-470uF caps. They did not have 4. Solution $60.00 order from Digi-Key. I am stocked now. They abandoned the hobbyist market a long time ago, now they want us back. Well that list of theirs would be a good start.
    If it weren’t for the Old Radio Shack of the late 70s with books and components, I would not have gotten interested in electronics.

  33. Fry’s has way more electronic components. I was actually surprised at them BECAUSE of my experiences with radioshack.

    Microcenter at least has SOME stuff. RS only has a few harder to find a/v connectors and thermal paste. Face it, most specialized things HAVE to be ordered online, they’ll be cheaper too. Everything at all the stores is jacked up.

    And I don’t know about the golden days of ratshack. They still didn’t know shit and always asked for your dox.

  34. yamy local radio shack has allot of this stuff, some of the kits are priced ok, $10 – $13 for simple flashing led hearts, Christmas trees and just blinking led kits. the only other kit i saw was a build your own tv pong kit, but for $40 its a rip off considering you can just go to think geek and get what appears to be the same kit for $20

  35. Why aren’t USB adapters on that list? You know how many times I wanted to add a USB connection to my project and couldn’t? USB is the best source of regulated, protected, and abundant 5V power known to man. They REALLY need USB connectors in the parts drawer.

  36. I think that it will be nice to have quick access to a few more odds & ends close to home but I can’t imagine RS turning into a place where I would go buy all(or most) of the hardware for a project. I can’t handle standing in line, waiting to get robbed, behind people pissing and moaning about their first cell phone bill.

  37. Yeah…radioshack cannot compete on a level playing field; they need to build up their playing field if they want a chance.

    A long time ago, they sold electronic project kits that taught kids the basics of electronics…they need to bring this back if they ever hope to get the next generation in the door (the current generation and all previous generations are not coming back so easily).

    Actually, they need to sell a kit with an Arduino pro mini with pins, an FTDI cable, a large breadboard, and 20-30 of the most popular DIP ICs. Throw in a bunch of LEDs, jumper wires, caps, a couple pots, and a 16×2 display as well…and include detailed instructions for working with every part on a DVD…that should be the “Kiddie” kit. Hopefully the DVD would prevent kids from getting discouraged, the large size (and cost) of the kit would make them more money when parents buy the kit for XMAS and the kid never uses it, and there would be enough there that once the kid starts to get a hang of it, they can create their own things easily, and without needing to order from digikey.

    For the current generation that they already lost, the only thing I can think of is that they need to offer something that you can’t get anywhere else…maybe an Arduino Pro Mini, but with A4 and A5 placed so they can be used with a breadboard, and with a 32PIN ATMega328P so that there you also have A6 and A7 (also located for easy breadboard use). They could also make up a kind of fPGA-duino…if they made both of those things for fair prices, even I would stop in (or at least order online).

  38. I’m kinda surprised they didn’t start selling beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Helluva markup on that stuff, and a constant revenue stream in the economically-depressed areas.

    Echoing many of you, I’ve had those experiences at RS where I wanted to scream, gouge my eyes out, and spit hot nails at the same time…but this is an opportunity for RS to at least get back toward the right direction. I kinda knew it was ‘the end’ of my love for RS back when I was about 12 or so (I’m guessing lol), and those goddamned gray cabinets for the discrete parts started showing up in their stores. Can’t recall whether I actually cried or not ;) but I do remember a distinct feeling of disappointment. Then the f$*king cell phone displays showed up….

    Now that they’re finally realizing that they’ve gotten so far away from their core customers’ expectations, and at last listened to the public (how many retailers actually do that?!), I think I can give them another shot. If there’s something I need, RIGHT NOW, and they have it for a *respectable* price, I won’t have a problem buying it from RS. For that, they’ll need a much larger variety of parts, and more than one or two of each (economy of scale and availability, anyone?); seems they’ve addressed this, so kudos, and here’s to hoping it happens.

    The men & women working at my local RS are good people, IMO; they’re just not as technically-minded as most of US believe they should be. To *some* extent, I’m all right with that. But they should sure as heck know someone who DOES know the answers, or at least have one or two people on staff with in-depth knowledge of electronics. I’m not expecting an EE professor (ugh…bad memories…), but not Lenny from “Of Mice and Men,” either.

    Heck, if they’re looking for knowledgeable people, maybe I’ll walk on over (literally, as it’s less than 500m away) and see if I can’t land a part-time position, educating their current staff if nothing else!

  39. If RadioShack wants to succeed, they need to realize that they cant win by trying to beat Best Buy, Wal-Mart, AT&T stores, Sprint stores, T-Mobile stores and Verizon stores in the sale of cellphones and plans and get out of that market. Or at the very least, decrease the amount they stock.

    Also, they need to end any and all requirements that sales staff must be pushy and must push particular products or services (i.e. cellphone plans)

    If you replace the pushy salespeople who know nothing about the products they sell except what it says on their scripted “checklists” with salespeople who dont try to push you into buying stuff but who do know what they sell and can answer those questions you do have, that would be a great way to draw more customers.

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