[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC
Sources, Vendors and Prices | Sources For PC Systems and
Components | Retail Sources ]
Computer "superstores" are basically huge stores dedicated to the sale of
just computers and computer-related products. They often have thousands of different
hardware and software products, and while they may dabble in other products, computers are
their bread and butter. The most well-known chain of this type in the United States is
These stores are, frankly, usually the best place to buy pre-packaged PCs, and are also
a great place to shop for peripherals--though prices are not always the best, selection is
usually excellent. Here are the advantages of these stores:
- 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.
- Large Company Support: As with office stores, you can buy from one store and
return the item at another store, and these companies often have good return policies.
(But watch out for their software return policies.)
- Generally Good Prices: These stores usually have competitive prices on many types
of components and systems, though they are rarely the best, or as good as you can do online.
- Very Good Selection: Of all the retail store types, you'll find the best
selection at this type of store. Usually they carry an extensive range of different types
of computers, peripherals, media, software and even items like computer books that you
won't find in other stores that sell computers. Selection is still less than you can find
- "Hands-On" Evaluation: Items like monitors are often displayed in a
rack for easy comparison; printers have test print buttons so you can see what their
output looks like. You can usually find a salesperson to demonstrate the capabilities of
- Reasonably Clueful Salespeople: They aren't computer experts by any means, and
sometimes their recommendations may be a bit dubious, but they are a step above what
you'll find in office or electronics stores, and almost always more knowledgeable than
anyone who works in a department or warehouse store. Some people at these stores know
little about PCs, but usually at least one or two employees there knows at least something
about the products being sold. You may have to "go through" at least one
clueless person to get to someone who knows what they are talking about, but that's more
than can be said for most retail sources!. Note that it also varies greatly from one store
- In-Store Service and Support: Many of these stores have their own service and
support departments. However, be sure to find out in advance what you get if you
buy a pre-made PC there. Some stores only offer service and support for a fee; warranty
coverage is still provided by the manufacturer of the PC as it is for other retail
sources, largely negating this advantage during the warranty period.
- Training, Assembly and Other Services: Some of these companies offer training
programs, or will assemble your PC for you in your home. Others offer certification
courses or other services. You of course will pay for these programs, but at least they
are available, which is not the case for most other PC sources.
And of course, here are the disadvantages of these types of stores:
- Sales Tax, Overhead and Pricing: See the general discussion
of retail sources for details. Pricing is usually relatively good for a retail source,
but not always. In some cases pricing can be rather poor, particularly for components and
accessories like cables, which are often very overpriced compared to their online costs.
- Poor to Moderate Quality Systems, Often Imbalanced Systems: These companies
generally only sell prepackaged retail PCs, so they suffer from the limitations of these
systems. Computer superstores generally have the highest quality retail PCs, but they are
still retail PCs and most are not generally as good as the best PCs on the market. While
at the low end you will still find the inferior systems sold in department stores (see that section for details) you at least have the choice here
of buying more quality (albeit at sometimes unsavory prices). These stores do usually have
good turnover and hence up-to-date systems.
- No Component Choices or Configurability: As with other retail PC sources, you
have no choice over what is in the box; you get whatever the manufacturer supplied with
- Crowds: These stores can get unbelievably crowded at times, resulting in long
lines and sometimes making it impossible to get any assistance from employees! Stay away
from computer superstores during their busiest times, especially during weekend days. The
entire month of December is also usually a write-off unless you shop during periods when
others are generally not shopping: weekday mornings may be the best. If you go into one of
these stores to buy something on the Saturday before Christmas, bring a sleeping bag and a
- Varying Technical Support and Service: As I mentioned above, these companies
actually have support and service departments, but often they are not at your disposal
unless you pay for them.
Overall, if you are going to buy a pre-packaged PC, you should try to buy it from one
of these stores if they are at all price-competitive. I don't think you can get as good
value or support as you can from a good local PC shop, but there are situations where a
retail PC makes sense, and these stores have the best selection and at least some ability
to help you with your choice.
These stores are also a great place to buy components that require you to get your
"hands on" to make a good choice. If you are building your own PC, these are usually the best
stores to buy monitors, printers, and input devices. They also sell other components such
as hard disk drives and memory, but usually at prices far in excess of what online sources
charge, so I don't recommend them for this. Similarly, if you are looking to buy
components for an upgrade you can usually do better online.
Note: Some people who write
buyer's guides recommend shopping in person at one of these stores to select what you
like, and then buying it online (or at a warehouse store) for a lower price. This is of
course a good "tactic" for figuring out what you want and getting it for the
lowest possible cost. I can't fault the logic, but I don't recommend it for the simple
reason that I consider it mildly unethical: the very reason that these stores charge more
is that they have to cover all the costs of providing these "hands on"
evaluation features that people find so valuable. TANSTAAFL:
someone has to pay for the electricity, salaries, rent, paper, ink, "shrinkage"
(read: theft) and damaged equipment that comes with running a retail store where the
customers can interact with the products. If you find this service useful, shouldn't you
give the store your business, assuming they are at least reasonable in price? If
their prices are ludicrous that's one thing, and of course your decision is up to you, but
consider that if you go into such a store with no intention of purchasing there,
you are just taking advantage of them to save yourself a few bucks.
Next: Local PC Shops
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