Monday, February 14, 2011

Consumer electronics purchasing advice

Having helped many clients with their technology purchases, use and troubleshooting, I feel a duty to warn my readers and the internet at large about the tricks technology salespeople use to connive you out of your money. Your mileage may vary.

For starters, a salesperson can spot a technophobe a mile away. They prey upon consumer ignorance and uncertainty. When you go to the store not having any specific selections in mind, I caution you to never buy on the first visit. The first visit should be for scouting the intended product only, unless all research is already complete and decisions are made. Don't fall for "You had better buy now, the sale ends today." Even if the sale does end today, that's still not a good enough reason to buy something you don't know if you want or need.

Salespeople will attempt to dazzle you with their knowledge of the technology. In some cases they know their stuff, but that doesn't mean that everything they say is truth or even relevant. They may be pushing you toward a certain model for many reasons, but seldom is it because it is in fact the best choice for your needs. They should be able to explain in simple terms why their recommendation should be trusted and if you cannot understand their explanation, run away. If you don't understand the technology very well, it is a good idea to bring a trusted friend for moral support. You are less likely to be coerced when there are more of you, especially if you agree beforehand on a plan. If this is the scouting visit, take notes and leave to evaluate your options. If you stay in the store to consider, the sales staff know a purchase is likely with just a little more motivation on their part. Also, if you still feel the same about your preferred choice in 24 hours, it is much more likely you have made the right choice. In other words - avoid the impulse buy. If you have nobody to help you evaluate your candidate product, take advantage of internet review sites like epinions, or just do a search on the make and model with the added word 'review' in your search terms. You'll likely find dozens if not hundreds of sites with real consumer feedback on what you're contemplating.

Another thing to consider when evaluating candidate products are the added cost of necessary consumables. By this I refer to things like toner or ink for printers, batteries for portable devices, and so forth. For example, a $70 printer may seem like a great deal, but if the replacement cartridges only last a couple of months and cost $80, then you really didn't save any money.

If you have done your research and are coming to the store with a brand and model in mind, stick with the plan. Don't fall for "I can't seem to find any in stock. Why not try this more expensive model instead." If they have none of what you want, ask if they can call other outlets to check their stock or try a competing store. Never accept a suggested alternative without more research (away from the store). Maybe they are pushing a model that isn't selling well. Why isn't it selling? Is it last year's model? Is there a known flaw with this model? Is it a less popular colour?

Once a purchase is imminent, this is when the salesperson usually goes into high sales gear. Because it's not the product that makes the store the most money, it's everything else. So they will try to add cables, or toner or ink, or cases or whatever accessory can be added to the bill. Those are the money makers.

Then there's the extended warranty. Or consumer protection insurance. Or product replacement plan. Whatever they're calling it these days. Cheap enough to sound worthwhile - but is it? The plan will be touted using words like "If the product fails for any reason, even normal wear and tear, we will replace it for free." Then they'll paint a horrific picture of the alternative - you'll have to send the product back to the manufacturer yourself, at your own expense. You may never see your product again - devices get lost in transit all the time. Products tend to go bad as soon as the warranty expires. If you don't get the extra protection, alien robot attack drones will find your device via the internet and remotely disable the thing in the middle of the night for crying out loud!

Here are my thoughts on extended warranties. Let's assume the device breaks in one year. If the store actually honours the extra warranty, if they don't find a loophole to weasel their way out of it, they'll give you a replacement product alright. You'll get whatever is on the shelf at that time, that they deem of the same value as your original product. It probably will not be the same product - models rarely stay on the shelf for more than 9 months before a new model comes out. It may not even be what you want or need and you know what? They don't care. By the way, it's all in the fine print and you certainly won't read it before you agree to buy the protection. Even if you did, you'd need a lawyer to understand it. Long story short - skip the extended warranty. But wait. They might not even tell you about it and slip it onto the bill anyway. I've seen it done and the poor consumer didn't even realize it had happened until they got home and looked at the receipt. Or if they did notice, they were too intimidated (or lazy) to go back and insist it be refunded.

Caveat emptor.


Consumer Protection Acts said...

This is really interesting take on the concept that is advice about consumer electronic purchasing. The contents are very informative. Thanks a lot....

Karl Plesz said...

You are very welcome. I would be happy if you were to link to this article somewhere on your site.