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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Sources For PC Systems and Components | Retail Sources ]

Membership Warehouse Stores

Another type of store that now sells a limited variety of PC systems and components is the warehouse store. These chains, the most popular of which are Price-Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's Wholesale (though there may be others) basically consist of huge warehouses of products on large shelves that are sold with no frills at low prices, and usually, in large quantities. They typically require an annual membership fee and may have requirements or conditions for joining.

These stores have most of the same advantages and disadvantages as department stores. They are better than department stores in some important ways, though overall it's a similar shopping experience. The advantages of warehouse stores include:

  • Personalized Shopping, No Shipping Costs, No Order Tracking Hassles, Relatively Easy Returns, Speed and "Instant Gratification": See the general discussion of retail sources for details.
  • Generally Very Good Prices: If one of these stores has what you are looking for, you will find their prices on what they do carry pretty hard to beat. This makes them an excellent choice for buying some types of components and supplies, if you know what you are looking for.

Disadvantages of membership warehouse stores include:

  • Sales Tax, Overhead and Pricing: See the general discussion of retail sources for details. Pricing is usually relatively good for a retail source, but you may still pay more than in other places. You also have to consider the cost of a membership if you aren't already a member.
  • Poor Quality Systems, Imbalanced Systems, Outdated Systems: See the discussion of department stores for more details. These attributes certainly apply here as well.
  • Very Low Variety: These stores are notorious for offering little variety in most products. This is done intentionally to keep costs down, and is a great idea when selling commodity items like ketchup or ground beef, but not what you want when shopping for computers.
  • No Component Choices or Configurability: As with department stores, you have no choice over what is in the box; you get whatever the manufacturer supplied with the system.
  • Utterly Clueless Salespeople: The people in these stores know nothing about computers--but at least the store is up front about this. They make no attempt to pretend that they know anything about anything at these places. :^) You're on your own: it's strictly "self-serve" shopping, and at least you know what you're getting. As well, there are no commissions or annoying high-pressure sales tactics.
  • No Technical Support: Unsurprisingly, all support is provided by the manufacturer of the PC or component. Be sure to research that company's technical support record before buying.
  • No Service: Ditto what I just said about technical support.

Please, don't get me wrong; I love warehouse stores and feel they can't be beat for many household and grocery items. There are whole categories of products I refuse to buy anywhere else. (Compare the price of baker's yeast at a warehouse store to the price at a grocery store--it costs one-tenth as much, literally.) But they are all simple or commodity items. A warehouse store is a great place to buy dishwasher soap, or batteries, or canned goods, or a frying pan. It's not a good place to buy a PC. The only exception would be this: if you know exactly what you want, and they have exactly what you want, and you don't need support or service from the vendor, and you are going to get a great deal, you might consider buying from a warehouse store. That's a rare set of conditions indeed.

That said, these stores can be a great place to buy some peripherals and media. For example, they will often have excellent deals on printers--if you know what you're shopping for, it's worth checking their prices on the models they carry. Warehouse stores often also have the best prices in town on media such as CD-R/CD-RW blanks, printer paper, and inkjet cartridges. If you use a lot of these consumables, a membership at one of these chains should be considered a worthwhile investment!

Tip: Most of these stores will let you shop there without a membership if you agree to pay 5% above the listed price. Some will waive this 5% and give you a "trial day" if you ask; if they won't, and you are buying a big-ticket item, consider joining for a year to save on the 5%; you will make back the membership fee if you shop there regularly anyway.

Next: Office Stores

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