If you collect RC vehicles, whether they be planes, cars, trucks, jeeps, or anything else, you've at least heard of HobbyKing. For years, HobbyKing has been the go-to online shop for many RC enthusiasts. Others vehemently state that HobbyKing is the devil.
HobbyKing was founded in 2001 in Hong Kong and has a business model that is equally popular and unpopular. They flood the market with cheap equipment, models, and parts. Unfortunately, this means that it is difficult for others to compete. Also, many parts arrive broken or non-functioning, according to reviews. Since opening, HobbyKing has expanded. They now have warehouses in Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, USA, Netherlands, United Kingdom and China.
What's the Deal with HobbyKing?
HobbyKing has its share of issues. Not only does it have a problem maintaining an adequate level of customer satisfaction, but the company has some ongoing legal problems. Also, the manufacturer has repeatedly angered U.S. companies. Nevertheless, HobbyKing has a die-hard fan base who swear by their products and service.
Customer Reviews Aren't So Hot
While a hefty number of customers swear by HobbyKing, many more seem to have issues. The company's rating on TrustPilot, a Danish website that publishes consumer reviews, for example, manages a level of disapproval that makes the U.S. Congressional approval rating over the last 10 years look impressive.
One user at TrustPilot says that they have been a customer for years. But their satisfaction with HobbyKing has dropped substantially over time. They accuse the company of having “lost sight of their core vision.”
“It's true I'm afraid,” another writes. “They really are as bad as everybody claims.” One customer writes that he verified that parts were in stock in a U.S. warehouse and paid for expedited shipping. Ten days later, tracking showed the item coming from China and due to arrive in 30 days.
HobbyKing doesn't fare much better on the Better Business Bureau's website, where 93 percent of customer reviews are negative. One unhappy camper wrote that a battery he purchased exploded. This led to the destruction of one of his drones. Customer service, he writes, didn't reply to his concerns.
HobbyKing customers on review website P*ssed Consumer reflect that the consumers are indeed irritated. In only 49 reviews on the website, customers claimed $2.7-thousand in losses with an average loss of $149.
“The absolute, and I mean the absolute worst company I've ever dealt with,” a customer writes. “And I've dealt with some bad companies, but this one takes the cake!” He says he spent three hours in a chat with customer service. After he provided them with all the details they requested concerning faulty parts, they denied his claim.
The most common customer complaints are related to poor customer service, faulty parts, the cost of returns, and months of waiting for deliveries.
In addition to customer service issues, HobbyKing also has some ongoing legal issues related to its business in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed a $2.8 million fine against HobbyKing for selling drone-attachable audio/video transmitters that operate on banned frequencies.
The company allegedly offered UAS-attachable AV devices that operate on amateur radio frequencies. However, those devices also run on other frequencies that require certification and at power levels that exceed what is permitted in amateur equipment. Twelve of the devices operated on frequencies used by the Federal Aviation Administration, which can create a risk to the public health.
HobbyKing argued that they did not market those devices in the United States. But the FCC found that the company had a record of sale in the United States and did not bother to place limitations on shipping to the U.S. HobbyKing attempted to argue that the burden to comply with local laws was on the customer. But the FCC disagreed — especially as HobbyKing incurred additional violations after they were notified of the compliance issues.
HobbyKing has also incurred the wrath of some U.S. based R.C. manufacturers. Traxxas, for example, filed a lawsuit in 2014 accusing HobbyKing of infringing on patents related to electrical connectors.
It's Not All Bad Though
While HobbyKing has generated a lot of bad buzz in recent years, many customers continue to swear by them. Though 68 percent of reviews on TrustPilot are not so great, 21 percent of those are excellent. Many recent reviews praise the company's customer service. They also signal improvements that may not be widely known as of yet.
“Amazing customer support and live chat. Fast shipping (if you choose express shipping),” writes a customer who had an issue with faulty autopilot. “I saw some negative comments about customer service, but I think they have improved that by 100%.” He says his purchase was refunded within hours. Numerous other recent customers praise the company's customer service.
A customer writes on SiteJabber that they are “pleasantly surprised with the battery replacement process” and noted that maybe HobbyKing is “trying harder.”
Generally, customers praise the prices and the products they ordered. Even many otherwise negative reviews make mention of the great prices at HobbyKing. Many issues seem to be isolated to buyers who live in the United States. Overseas reviews are typically more kind to the company. Though people have had issues returning products in the past, recent HobbyKing reviews indicate that the company is fixing the issue slowly but surely.
“Just advising everyone that HK now has a new service and support center in the US with vastly improved assistance for any concerns,” a reviewer on P*ssedConsumer wrote in February. He says that the company now responds adequately to U.S. customer complaints.
So while many reviews in the past have been negative, it is possible that HobbyKing has fixed their biggest customer service issues.
What Is the Culture Like at Hobby King?
Drones Magazine explored the company in-depth after hearing the numerous complaints about Hobby King. They found that the company is comprised of modelers who “are as passionate about the hobby as you and I.”
In 2014, the magazine's crew visited the New York location, which is located in the office space of an airplane hangar. The management and employees take great care to keep the “corporate” feel out of the office by choosing colorful and bold decorations. They work to make sure the environment is fun.
While the company is headquartered in Hong Kong, the majority of management is not Chinese. They come from all over the world — especially the United States, Australia, and Europe. According to the magazine, employees move to Hong Kong to be closer to the product so they can make improvements faster.
In the 2014 interview, HobbyKing management admitted their support was not what they wanted it to be. They vowed to focus resources on fixing that issue. Perhaps recent reviews reflect success in this venture.
The company earned a well-deserved reputation for poor customer service and issues with returns. But Drones says that HobbyKing staffs people who genuinely care about what they market. This doesn't excuse the numerous problems, but it's good to know that the people behind them care.
Alternatives to HobbyKing
If you need to do some shopping, but don't want to risk dealing with HobbyKing, you'll be glad to know that many alternatives exist. Numerous businesses are ready to help you with your RC model needs. This is just a short list of alternatives to HobbyKing:
What's The Verdict?
Should you trust HobbyKing? Despite all their issues, they are still among the top sellers of RC vehicles and RC vehicle paraphernalia. It's true that the company has had problems in the past with customer service. Though HobbyKing still seems to have difficulty satisfactorily fulfilling orders, recent reviews indicate that this is happening less frequently. Even if a customer has a problem, HobbyKing has done a much better job recently than they previously have.
With HobbyKing, it's all about weighing the pros and cons. If you want affordable parts to support your hobby, they provide those. If you don't mind possibly waiting a while for something to ship, they are a great choice.
Customers warn that you should not buy anything on backorder. This is because it is not always clear when the product will be available. But if you see something you like, HobbyKing's recent efforts in improving the customer experience give you a reason to give them a chance. Also, even positive reviews mention nonworking parts or other issues. However, the company is much better at addressing problems that arise as of late, according to reviews.
In any case, HobbyKing has a massive assortment of parts and models to suit your needs. Sometimes they run out of stock for variable and unreliable time periods. But if you are looking to buy something without breaking the bank, HobbyKing is a great go-to.
No matter how you slice it, HobbyKing is a well-established company. They have a massive following and are, depending on who you ask, trusted among hobbyists. Check them out, but proceed with caution.