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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Vendor Evaluation Factors | Guarantees and Return Policies ]

Guarantees and Return Periods

One of the most important distinguishing characteristics that I look for when choosing a new vendor is the type of guarantee they provide on the sale of their products. A guarantee is a statement by a vendor that they will, well, guarantee your satisfaction for a period of time after the sale. If you are not satisfied with the product they will offer you some form of return recourse, usually a refund or exchange, depending on their particular policies. This is sometimes called a "money-back guarantee" or "satisfaction guarantee".

It's important to realize that a guarantee is not the same as a warranty. A guarantee is usually a short-term policy offered by vendors to ensure the satisfaction of customers with the products they buy and with the buying process. A warrantee is usually longer in term and is offered by the manufacturer of a product to cover the quality of the product. Warranties are discussed in detail in this section.

Note: Some people think that if they buy an item with a manufacturer's warranty, they don't need to worry about a vendor guarantee. This is not really true, however. Dealing with having an item repaired or replaced under warranty can be a hassle and can leave you without the item for weeks. If you shell out $300 for something, you expect the correct item to show up, and you expect it to work properly. You don't want to have to be forced to deal with a manufacturer's warranty on an item that was "DOA" or developed problems within a few days. Guarantees let you avoid getting stuck with "lemons".

The guarantees provided by vendors vary greatly. The most common term for a guarantee is 30 days. Most larger vendors with guarantees will allow you to return an item with which you are not satisfied for refund or exchange within this time frame. Some only offer a 14-day guarantee. (Others offer none at all: they expect you to go to the manufacturer if there is any kind of problem with the product. I do not shop from these stores.)

The most important thing to remember about guarantees is to find out in advance exactly what the terms are. Read the vendor's web site, or call for assistance. Here are some things to look for:

  • Guarantee Type: Is it a "no-questions asked" guarantee? That is the best type, as it means you will be allowed to return the product for any reason, or no reason. Remember that there are reasons other than defects that may cause you to want to return a product: accidentally ordering the wrong product, incompatibility, and so on. Some companies will only offer guarantees covering certain situations, some will only let you return defective items, and others will practically interrogate you before they let you send something back.
  • Length: What is the term of the guarantee?
  • Coverage: Are all items covered, or only some of them? (See here for more.)
  • Your Job: What are your responsibilities as a customer to take advantage of the guarantee?

When using a guarantee you will also need to know the companies policies and procedures for returning items, which are closely related; see here.

A mistake that many people make when dealing with guarantees--including me, sometimes--is buying something from a vendor with a guarantee but then "sitting" on the product for a while because they get busy. If you do not fully exercise the product to ensure it does what it is supposed to before the guarantee period expires, then the guarantee doesn't do you any good. It's best to buy items when you are going to have the time to test them out fully.

Tip: Some companies will actually honor guarantees past their "official" time deadline. It doesn't hurt to ask.

The most important area where you should look for a 30-day money-back guarantee is when you are buying a complete PC system. A company willing to offer such a guarantee is making a strong statement about their commitment to quality and your satisfaction--as well as their overall stability. Some smaller companies may still have good equipment despite not offering such guarantees, but it's always better to have one.

Note: Even if a company does not explicitly offer a money-back guarantee, they are still responsible for sending you the correct product, and one that works properly. If you are sent the wrong item, or within 30 days a product you are sent fails, you should insist upon a refund or exchange regardless of the company's posted policies. See here for more assistance.

Next: Product Return Policies and Procedures

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