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Online, Catalog and Mail Order Sources
Mail-order and catalog PCs have been around for a long time--around as long as the PC itself has existed. Some of these companies traditionally sold from ads in computer magazines; others sold from catalogs; some did both. They have always been more popular with computer enthusiasts and those in the industry than they were with the general public.
Over the last few years, this market has been revolutionized by companies selling online, using the World Wide Web. Realizing the power of the Internet, companies that used to primarily sell by mail order have rapidly moved to establish an online presence, and for obvious reasons: the Web offers significant advantages to both seller and buyer compared to catalog mail order. This has resulted in the lines between online, catalog and mail order sources becoming so blurry now as to make the difference between them hard to determine: online sellers usually also take orders by phone or fax, and they all advertise in a variety of ways, both online and off.
In the end, all these companies use the same basic business model: customers submit orders to them, and they procure or build the hardware and ship it to the customer. The distinction of how the orders are submitted isn't that important anyway, which is why I discuss all of them here in this section. It is in fact more appropriate to distinguish them on the basis of their size and what they sell, rather than how they get their orders.
Here are some of the more important advantages that apply to all of the different sources in this category (also see the individual online source pages for more advantages specific to each source type):
Warning: Be advised that
some states require you to pay sales tax even on items purchased from other states--you
are supposed to declare the items and pay the sales tax voluntarily. Check and follow all
local laws that are applicable to you.
There are actually many more advantages to these sources, but they vary by the type of source, so they are listed in the individual sub-category pages. Here are some disadvantages that apply to all online or mail-order sources (again, see the individual pages for disadvantages that are specific to a sub-type):
For many people, ordering online or by mail order compared to buying retail boils down to this: retail costs more but is faster and more convenient. Certainly, there is a kernel of truth to this, but it's a bit of an oversimplification. You'll also notice, as you read the individual sections on online and mail order sources, that the bottom line depends on what source type you are looking at.
Note: Many retail stores are
also now introducing web sites for online ordering of what they sell in their stores. In
some cases these are full-featured, but just as often, they are more "we need to have
a web site" web sites than anything else. :^) I do not consider these companies to be
in the same category as the online sources discussed here; they are described in the section on retail sources.