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The Buying Game 2

Finding a Good Dealer Can be a Big Deal

by Jim Bray

You've done your homework, set your budget, and decided that you can no longer live without that new PC with the DVD RAM drive, or that wonderful new big screen TV.

Now what?

You need a place to buy it, which could be anywhere from "Whacko Willie's" to "Gadgets R"

You can have a good buying experience at any of the various retailers, but keep in mind that they're all very different, with different areas of focus and expertise.

I've always had a soft spot for "The Little Guys," the small, local dealers owned by people who love the stuff they sell (as opposed to those who see customers as walking wallets). You may be quoted a higher initial price, but competition being what it is they'll generally do the best they can to match other retailers.

And what they may lack in price can usually be made up for in product knowledge and after sale service; some even have their own, on site repair depot.

These are also good places to get product information, though you should remember that they still have a vested interest in representing their brands.

Department stores like Sears usually have an electronics section, and some even carry a reasonable selection. They're often about as price competitive as the Little Guys, though they have sales and promotions and sometimes (if you find a clerk with guts) you can wheedle them into matching competitors' prices. They're also generally pretty good with after sale service.

Be careful about comparison shopping these places; sometimes the manufacturers make special models (or at least special model numbers) that make them appear exclusive to the retailer. This can be confusing if you're looking for model "110CS" and they only have model "112CS" instead. In this situation, be guided by comparing features and price, not the model number.

"Superstores" and "warehouses" are usually junky and noisy and you may have to beat the salespeople off with a stick. They're also lousy places to demo equipment, especially audio equipment (which can't be heard over the din).

You can't get a good idea of a TV's true quality, either, because that huge wall of screens are all fed from one cable outlet or DVD.

Product knowledge often takes a back seat to - well, let's call it "enthusiasm." After sale service can also be spotty, 'cause you're often just a face to these places (which face you are depends on the face on the greenbacks you leave) and they're so busy your service could get lost in the shuffle.

Despite that, these places usually offer a decent selection of mainstream equipment and you can get a good deal if price is your primary consideration (as long as you don't mind packing that 53 inch TV home on your back).

They're also good places to pick up consumables, like blank tape and disks and accessories.

The "Junior Department Stores" include the Kmarts and Wal-Marts of the world and are generally excellent places to avoid if you're looking for anything other than a throwaway device. Couple this with a staff that's more interested in talking on the phone than boning up on their products, and you have a good chance of buying something whose ultimate resting place will be a landfill.

Okay, that's probably an overstatement, but this is the last type of store one should look if you're serious about equipment.

Mail Order Catalogues and Online stores can be good for price, but you can't audition the product. Don't forget shipping charges, too, especially if something goes wonky and you have to send the product back.

You may have qualms about putting multiple thousands of dollars on your charge card online, too; on the other hand it's exciting to see the courier show up at your door with your shiny new toy.

My personal recommendation is that, if you're unsure of yourself and need to find a place you can assume won't jerk you around, give the little guys a chance first.

Don't be a jerk to them, though: it isn't fair to pick their brains, waste their time, audition their equipment, make your decision, and then head back to "Whacko Willie's" to save twenty bucks. All things being equal, do your best to make your purchase where you do your research.

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