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Shopping Online and In Person
Online and "brick and
mortar" sources differ in many respects, since they are so different in terms of
how they operate, and how they attract and keep customers. This difference is certainly
the case when it comes to price shopping and checking out equipment.
Since the sources are so different, most people should compare at least one online and
one "offline" source for any purchase being considered. This means doing price
comparisons and shopping in both environments. How enjoyable shopping online is compared
to in person depends very much on the individual. For some folks, nothing beats shopping
in a "real store", while surfing from site to site is a "hassle";
others hate the "hassle" of driving and parking and walking, but are very happy
to spend hours online researching prices and specifications. Obviously, you should tailor
your plans to match your personality.
Here are some tips to help you when shopping retail stores:
- Assess The Vendor: As you shop, check the vendor out to assess its quality level,
how helpful the salespeople are, and so on. This is part of what you are shopping for.
Refer to the vendor evaluation factors.
- Check The Item Out Carefully: Particularly for items that are best examined in
person, be sure you thoroughly look them over and think about how they will suit your
needs. If it's a keyboard, try typing on it. If it's a printer, check out the sample
prints, remembering to look at the samples most similar to what you will usually be
printing. See the comments on specifying individual components
- Take Notes: Use a notebook and record the model number and price of the different
alternatives that interest you, along with other pertinent information (such as your likes
or dislikes about the model). If you try to keep it all in your head, you'll get all the
models and prices mixed up pretty quickly, believe me. (If a salesperson gives you a hard
time due to the notebook--some seem to think anyone taking notes is an international spy
or something--ask to see a manager. If the manager is the one being a pain, take your
- Use The Phone: If there is one specific item of interest at a store far from you,
give them a call and ask for the price. (Again here, sometimes companies will not be as
helpful on the phone as you might like, but usually a single item price is not a problem.
If you try to ask for the prices on a dozen models, don't be surprised if they refuse to
assist--you're taking time away from customers who went to the store in person, which
isn't really fair to those customers or the salespeople.)
- Beware The Floor Model: Realize that many items on display in retail stores have
been tweaked, handled, manipulated and modified almost to the point of near-destruction.
People change the settings on PC systems, delete application icons, modify the screen
resolution and so on, sometime making it seem the PC is much worse than it really is.
Printers often produce streaky output due to being low on ink, or companies saving money
by using the cheapest available paper, or people manhandling the print heads. If you are
really interested in an item whose display model is acting strangely, ask a manager for
- Verify Posted Prices: Prices sometimes change too rapidly for tags to be updated,
or mistakes are made. Be sure to ask if you want to avoid a surprise at the checkout,
especially if the prices seems surprisingly high or low.
Here are some suggestions to help when shopping online:
- Check Out Company Policies: Find the company's online "help" or
"customer service" section, and read up on their policies. You may find
something to immediately convince you to pass this company by.
- Use Bookmarks: This is the Internet equivalent of a paper notebook when shopping
in person. Put bookmarks from different vendors in a folder so you can compare prices and
- Use Manufacturer Web Sites: Online vendors usually include only a small photo and
a few lines of description about items. Go to the web site of the manufacturer to get more
information about an item of interest.
- Use Email For Smaller Vendors: If dealing with a smaller online vendor, you may
have better luck using email to ask questions. Assess how quickly, and how well, the email
- Be Fair: You can get some very useful assistance from small online vendors, but
don't take up hours of their time having them answer all your questions and then buy from
a huge online vendor to save a few bucks. Nobody can stay in business giving away their
Since some companies have both a retail store and an online presence, you may be
able to do some shopping online even for retail stores, if you prefer shopping that way.
Just remember that web sites aren't always 100% up to date, especially if the company does
most of its business over the counter and not online.
One more important thing: when considering a PC system from a direct-market PC manufacturer, be sure to make a
pre-sales call to the company. You will usually be connected to a fairly knowledgeable
sales person who will help you configure a system to meet your needs, and answer most of
your questions. And if that person isn't treating you well, that may be a good sign that
you should go to a different company.
Next: Offline Independent Research Resources
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