Thursday, December 18, 2003

This Christmas I decided to buy myself a gift. After looking for computer games, I decided that none of the games I found (Railroad Tycoon 3, SimCity 4, Age of Mythology:Titans were my top choices) were something I wanted. Perhaps I'll look harder after Christmas. Instead of buying a computer game, I decided to buy a Geomag set. The Geomags are high-quality magnetic building toys that come with metal spheres and 1-inch magnetic rods. You can build all sorts of cool things with them. (There are also some other brands that are cheaper and easier to find but have weaker magnets, but I wanted the strongest magnets I could find.) A friend of mine has several sets and I've found that I spend time in his office playing with them.

I started my search on Google. After poking around, I got the impression that Geomags are being phased out, and Supermags are the replacement. I haven't yet found any good information about the strength of Geomag vs. Supermag, but as they come from the same company, I assume they're similar in strength. The main differences are:

  1. Geomag comes with spheres and 1-inch rods. Supermag comes with spheres, 1/2-inch rods, and 1-inch rods. This allows them to give you the same amount of material with a higher count on the box. The set I was interested in, the Geomag 184, comes with 64 spheres and 120 long rods. The similarly priced Supermag 244 comes with 64 spheres, 108 short rods, and 72 long rods. If you consider each short rod as 1/2 of a long rod, then that's 108/2 + 72 = 54 + 72 = 126 long rods' worth. So it's the same amount but the box says "244" instead of "184", which probably helps them sell more. In practice, it seems that having the short rods won't hurt―you can build more interesting shapes with them, and you can just hook up two of them to form a long rod if you need to.
  2. Geomag's rods are flat-ended, whereas Supermag's rods are tapered. They claim you can attach more Supermags to a sphere this way (24 per sphere). ToyMagnets has a picture showing lots of rods attached to a sphere. Ben's Spot has an even better picture. I guess tapered ends sound good, but I wonder if it affects the magnet's strength.

Once I decided to buy these, I wanted to do some research. Google's ads gave me a list of stores that had the Supermags available. The ads were:

  • hi-dow.com had a 10% off coupon for Magnastix. Not what I wanted (they don't offer Supermag, but a competing brand). But I think it's a good idea for companies to offer coupons in their ads, just as they do in newspapers and mailers.
  • svgames.com took me to a page listing their Geomag and Supermag products. Good. They have a $7 off coupon. Also good. They have a gallery showing off various things you can build. Excellent! Their price was $110 for the Supermag 244 set. You can select your color with a drop-down box.
  • toyscamp.com took me to a page showing their very limited selection of Geomag/Supermag products. They have free shipping (yay), but they're out of stock. They do not however carry the Supermag 244. (Interestingly, when I Google search for supermag 244, their ad doesn't show up, but when I search for supermag, their ad does show up. This is good.)
  • walmart.com carries the product but it's out of stock. And it's $120.
  • officeplayground.com takes me to a page about desk toys. They don't carry Geomag or Supermag! Like hi-dow.com, they are selling competing products.
  • An Amazon.com affiliate has an ad that takes me to the home page of Amazon.com. This is useless!! Why should this affiliate get a cut of the sale when they won't even point the ad at the right page!? I hit the back button right away.
  • toysrus.com has an ad that takes me to toysrus.com's search results for what I had searched for on Google. That's a little annoying. The page however showed me that not only do they not carry the Supermag 244, they're out of stock of all the Supermag sets they do carry.
  • geomags.net takes me to a page listing their Geomag and Supermag sets. They have a good selection, including the product I want. The page is really bright and ugly, with plenty of animation. Ick. But they do seem to have a good knowledge of the products, and they include a picture gallery. Plus, they have a $5 off coupon, and until recently they offered free shipping. The price is $90 - $5 = $85.

Next I looked at Google's "shopping" results that are shown a the top of the search results page.

  • Amazon.com has the Supermag 244 for $100. However, they're out of stock.
  • The Exploratorium store lists the Supermag 244 for $125. I didn't bother going to their site, since I had seen Ben's Spot for $85.

I also looked on EBay and found several that were going for $70 + $12 shipping = $82. However they didn't seem to offer a choice of colors, and I definitely wanted red.

In Google's regular search results I found ToyMagnets.com. The search results took me to the right page―not the page listing all the sets, but the page with the specific set I wanted. I then explored more of their site and found that they had a nice picture gallery (no thumbnails though). They also showed their inventory for each set and each color. I could see that they're nearly out of blue but they have plenty of red. (This is a really cool feature!) ToyMagnets.com is a nice looking site, has a good description of the products, and (as you can guess from the name) specializes in magnets. They offer the red Supermag 244 for $95, free shipping. Interestingly, they offer the yellow and white sets for $85 (because they have more yellow and white in stock, so they probably want to steer people who don't really care about color to buy those).

I also took a look at Froogle, but didn't really find that much that was useful given the information I had already found. Epinions and Bizrate were useless for such a specialized product.

Something I'd like to see from all the stores is an easy way to find out shipping costs. I shouldn't have to put in my name and address and phone number to get shipping costs. Zip/postal code and country should be enough.

I ended up buying from ToyMagnets.com. I could have gotten it cheaper at Ben's Spot, but I would have had to wait until after Christmas to get free shipping. Also, the real-time inventory on ToyMagnets.com impressed me. Plus, after spending some time exploring ToyMagnets.com, I was impressed with their expertise and professional look.

I also visited Plastwood.com, home of the makers of Geomag and Supermag. Unfortunately their site is totally useless. It starts out with a flash "intro" movie that can't be skipped and has no useful information. The site lists their products but doesn't tell you anything about them! I was hoping to get a comparison between Geomag and Supermag, the strength of the magnets, etc., but the site is useless. I don't even know why they bothered putting it up.

My order's estimated arrival date is December 23. Whee!

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