HobbyKing are a large on-line model retailer, based in Hong Kong. They sell a very wide range of (mostly Chinese made) products at very low prices.
They have previously traded under the names United Hobbies and Hobby City (They are also hexTronik at PayPal and 1hobby also appears on their customs invoices). United Hobbies.com, HobbyCity.com and 1hobby.com all redirect to the HobbyKing site. These name changes were due to legal action from US retailers with similar names.
Many of their products of good quality, and most are excellent value, however they offer a range of different quality parts and some are a false economy. Most items have dozens of reviews so it's easy to spot anything that doesn't work, fails early or has unexpected flaws. The reviews are also a good source of information that may be missing from the product description, such as dimensions or performance figures for motors; this is because it's possible to earn a small discount by posting a review that is useful to other people.
HobbyKing have warehouses in Germany (Serving EU countries), the USA and Australia. Each of these carries a reduced range of stock at higher prices, but ordering from your local warehouse avoids import duty/vat bills, provides faster shipping and avoids the problems some people have experienced with Lipo batteries being rejected by some airmail carriers. You can see the lines stocked by a warehouse by clicking the links on the right at the home page. Items that are stocked in more than one location usually have a link to the same product at the other locations, which are listed separately. You cannot mix items from different warehouses in the same order.
Don't buy anything on back order unless you're prepared to wait for your entire order
If your basket contains one item that is back-ordered, they will charge you immediately but hold the entire order until they have that one thing, which could take months. They do this to avoid charging you more than once for the postage, which is good. If an item is out of stock, you can put it in a seperate order, or in your wish-list. If you put it in your wish-list, you will be emailed when it arrives, but if it's a popular item it may have sold out before you can order it. Some very popular items have so many back-orders that they regularly sell out before the number in stock is ever reported as above-zero! Due to the structure of postage pricing, it is often no more expensive to place out of stock items in their own order, avoiding this issue.
They do provide support, there is a busy forum and you can email, on-line chat or phone - but their English is not always perfect and you may have problems with time-zones. Many people are willing to write off the occasional faulty item because it's so much cheaper than buying locally. OTOH some of their most popular products are now being stocked by local retailers, so for a little more you can obtain better support and faster postage buy buying the same thing locally.
Long-term members are rewarded with bronze, silver, gold and finally platinum membership, which offers a slight discount on future orders. The exact thresholds are not clear and there is some debate over whether it is based on the number of orders, the total value or the length of time you have been a customer.
When they first started, they used to fill in the customs declaration in chinese, making it hard for your customs people to calculate your tax bill. Now they give you the option of committing fraud by entering a lower amount or declaring your package to be a gift. They don't always put the correct amount even when 100% is checked, however.
Avoiding Customs Charges (UK)
If shipping to the UK, keeping the order value under £15 guarantees that you will have no tax or other fees to pay under the low value consignment exemption. The postage charging structure is such that splitting orders into seperate packages to keep under this threshold doesn't add much, if anything, to postage charges. Before the LVCR limit was decreased from £18 to £15 on 1 November 2011, in practice orders under £25 were usually not affected by fees if delivered by Royal Mail. It remains to be seen what value of packages will be allowed through under the new regime.
It seems that EMS shipping (delivered by Parcel Farce in the UK) leads to high customs charges - £13.50 handling fee on top of the 20% VAT imposed on the value of the parcel and postage! For example, a package costing US$32.64 with EMS postage of US$29.55 can lead to a customs bill of £20.15! Better to go with the air mail option thatn EMS. It isn't much slower and you may avoid getting hit with charges, and if you do the handling charge is slighlty less unreasonable.