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In the discussion of the different sources for PC systems and components, I talked about the "cluefulness" of the salespeople at different types of stores. You probably will have noticed that for many categories of sources, I said that the salespeople didn't know much about PCs and shouldn't be counted upon to provide you with much help, at least, beyond the level of helping you locate items and answering questions related to the store.
This is particularly the case for most retail sources. The workers at most retail stores are generally underpaid and undertrained, and often overworked. The less a store specializes in computer equipment and related technology, the less likely the employees are to know about PCs, because they are often rotated through departments and the week prior may have been selling vacuum cleaners. If you are buying media or simple components, this doesn't matter too much, but if you are buying PC systems it can be a real hindrance.
On the other hand, many smaller shops have great salespeople. So do most direct-sale PC manufacturers and smaller online vendors. If you know something about PCs, you can usually tell fairly rapidly if you are speaking to someone who is knowledgeable, or someone who is bluffing their way along. The best way to arm yourself is to learn as much about PCs as you can through independent research. Then you can assess the salespeople by how well they discuss subjects with which you are already familiar.
When shopping at a retail store, be sure to use the salespeople to your advantage. If approached by a salesperson when you prefer to shop by yourself, thank the person for the offer, and say you'll ask for help when you have questions. If you do want advice on the best equipment for your needs, let the salesperson assist you, but be sure that he or she focuses on what you want and need, not what he or she thinks you said or what the manager wants sold that week. Be polite, but stick to your guns: you are the customer, after all.
If you are finding the salespeople uncooperative or surly at a store, don't immediately conclude that the store is the problem--you might have just gotten a bad apple (or a good apple having a bad day, for that matter.) Ask to speak to a manager; that will usually resolve the problem. If the manager is obnoxious too, well, then you'd be smart to vote with your feet.
When working over the phone with a new salesperson, always get the person's name and extension: this makes it easier to contact them again in the future, without having to wade through the voice menus a second time. You also may get better service in the future if you continue to go through the same salesperson on subsequent purchases. This is especially important when dealing with large online vendors or manufacturers.
Finally, when configuring a system or negotiating a deal over the phone, be sure to get everything in writing. You know the old saw about the value of verbal contracts... a quote is a very good idea for a PC system.
Warning: Avoid retail stores
that employ high-pressure salespeople, especially if they are paid by commission. These
salespeople generally do not share your goal, which is usually to get the best system that
fits your needs for the least amount of money. If you shop at such a place, expect to have
these "friendly" salespeople tell you all sorts of interesting things about
computers that you'd be very wise to ignore. You will also frequently find them trying to
convince you to buy overpriced accessories or extended warranties. (Many direct-sale
companies use commissioned salespeople as well, but in my experience they do not usually
behave the same way that retail store commissioned salespeople do. This is probably
because they realize how easy it is for you to just hang up the phone and call someone
else if they push you.)
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