[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC
Sources, Vendors and Prices | Sources For PC Systems and
Components | Online, Catalog and Mail Order Sources ]
Small Online PC Shops
If large online vendors are the Internet equivalent of
computer superstores like CompUSA, online PC shops
are the Internet equivalent of local PC shops. :^) Like
local PC shops, these are small stores that are often run by a family or an individual.
Like local PC shops, they offer custom-built PCs
using standard components at good prices. And like local PC shops, they are virtually
unknown to most PC buyers. They differ from local shops in that, of course, they aren't
usually local! They also tend to be a better place to buy individual components than most
Here are the advantages of these companies:
- Very Good Prices and Selection, No Sales Tax, "Shop At Home" Convenience:
See the general discussion of online and mail order sources for
details. These shops can usually get just about any component you might wish, though
sometimes with delays. Prices, especially for components, are better than most retail
establishments, but not as good as the huge online sellers.
- Good to Very Good Quality Systems: These companies often sell their own
"house brand" PCs, and they usually are of very good quality. It all depends on
how much you are willing to spend on the components.
- Choice of Components and Configurations: You have the ability to choose most of
the components used in PCs built by these shops.
- Expandable and Upgradeable Systems: These PCs are made from standard components,
and thus are easier to upgrade or expand than
proprietary retail-packaged PCs.
- Knowledgeable Salespeople: The people who run these shops often have a technical
background, and are among the most experienced of all persons who sell PC hardware. The
better ones are the exception to the "don't expect help from salespeople" rule.
- Personalized Service: These companies won't be local to most of their customers,
but they still provide much more personal service than do large vendors. They will answer
questions, respond to email, and work for your satisfaction. They will provide technical
support and service for their systems, with a minimum of corporate red tape.
The disadvantages of this type of vendor include:
- Shipping Costs, Order Tracking Hassles, No Personalized Shopping, Delays and No
"Instant Gratification", More Difficult Returns, Potential Service Hassles: See the general discussion of online and mail order sources for details.
These shops have less of these problems than most online vendors do, mostly because they
are smaller and they deal with their customers on a more personal level. For example,
order tracking problems are less common, and returns are usually easier than they are with
- Variability: As is the case with local PC shops, the quality of these companies,
and the PCs they build, can vary greatly. You need to shop around and get a referral or recommendation to be sure of avoiding the bad
- Sometimes Poor Quality "Standard" Systems: Again, as with local PC
shops, these companies may resort to corner-cutting in their base or "standard
configuration" systems to keep down their advertised prices. You have to carefully
check what is included in standard configurations and customize where appropriate to
ensure you get a good quality unit. (This isn't true of all of these shops, but it is true
of many of them.)
- Poor Software Packages: These companies, lacking the buying power of the big
national retail and mail-order manufacturers, often do not provide the same quality and
quantity of software with their machines. This can
be significant if you don't already own the software you need.
I personally often use this type of vendor when I need to purchase components,
especially when I want some assistance in choosing what I need. Prices are a bit higher
than the huge online discounters, but I feel the personalized service is worth it. It's
important to remember that as with all small businesses, these companies get most of their
customers from word of mouth; you similarly should select a
company of this type based on a personal reference or testimonial.
Note: As I mentioned in the
note at the end of the section on computer superstores,
it's not very nice to use the expertise and time of these small vendors unless you are
going to buy from them. As always, if their prices are totally out of line then walk, but
don't use their services and then buy from a big online discount house just to save a few
dollars; if everyone does that, these small vendors will end up going out of business.
Next: Group Buying Clubs
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