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The Buying Game

How to Get What You Want

by Jim Bray

You've put it off long enough. That old 21 inch TV just has to go.

So you open the daily newspaper to Whacko Willie's Discount Audio/Video ad, with hundreds of little pictures describing everything from TV's to bulk floppy disks. The one constant is the promise of the moon and stars if you leave a few dollars (and only a few - they'll beat all the competitors' prices!) in Willie's till.

You pass through the pearly gates (which are actually anti-shoplifting sensors) into Willie's Garden of Bedlam, immediately to be assaulted by walls upon walls of screeching and woofing and tweeting. Bells and whistles start going off in your head and a glazed look comes over your eyes.

A salesperson, seeing that telltale look, approaches, mouth watering.

This is what happens to many people when they decide to buy some new electronics. It doesn't have to, though, as long as you do a little homework.

In this and my next column I'll outline a few opinions that I've formed over my years as a consumer, pundit and retailer. Feel free to use them as "rules of thumb for the retail-challenged."

Remember, these are only my opinions! Your experiences may differ.

Anyway, when you've decided what you want, be it DVD player, PC, or whatever, the next step is to figure out your budget. You can get really good bang for your bucks these days, so a small budget doesn't necessarily mean doing without. You won't get all the esoteric features, and your purchase may be a touch more - shall we say, economically - built than a higher end model or brand, but you may be surprised by how much you can get on a limited budget.

That said, always include a "lust margin" for that really nice gadget you didn't know existed, but which you discover has your name written all over it. Add ten or fifteen percent above your budget for this - and stick to it!

You may also have the happy surprise of discovering you can save ten or fifteen percent, thanks to sales and promotions that let you buy more than you expected. Don't count on it, however; consider this an unexpected bonus.

Figure out the features you want and keep them as a guideline. Whatever you buy, you'll probably end up with more features than you'll ever use, so concentrate on what's important to you.

Why? Salespeople will sometimes "ping pong" you between virtually identical products with only slight, and possibly meaningless, differences - like "30 radio tuner presets instead of 20" on a receiver. They want you to be thinking about "Receiver A or Receiver B?" instead of "Whacko Willie's or the Video Emporium?," thereby ensuring their children remain shod.

When you've found the model you want, don't be afraid to dicker. The dealer may not be set up for such exercises in conscious thought, but it may; you don't know if you don't try.

Money talks, and cash talks the loudest. It's liquid, and it warms the hearts of all whose palms it crosses. This makes it your best dickering tool.

A major credit card's okay, but dealers can get dinged a percentage off the top for accepting them, so a credit card purchase is already discounted - just not to you.

Markups on hardware can be pretty slim, so even waving cash under a salesperson's nose won't get you a magical 50 per cent off, except under unusual circumstances like a clearance. Take what you can get - or walk!

"No Interest" sales and similar promotions can make it easy to get your dream equipment at a payment you can afford, but somebody's paying for that special deal and you can bet it isn't the dealer, the manufacturer, or the bank.

That leaves you.

The interest (or whatever) is built into the price so you're better off, financially, waiting until you can pay cash - and then dickering.

Suggested List Prices are good as guidelines, though with the heavy price discounting that often happens they can end up being almost meaningless other than as a reference point.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and while you should always try to get the best deal possible, remember that you will never get something for nothing. Keep in mind, too, that these dealers need to eat.



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January 31, 2006