How to get a good deal

Buying a PC online can be challenging

By Harold Glicken

 

Buying a PC can be like buying a car. You can go to a dealership armed with information from the Auto Club about how much the vehicle cost the dealer. You also can blast dealers with website queries about their best deals. Armed with your research, you start playing the dealership two-step.

 

Based on your research, you make an offer, the dealer counters, and it goes back and forth for the better part of an afternoon. Or you can just pay sticker price, with add-ons such as fancy mud flaps, wheel locks, cargo tray, and special wax jobs for an extra $700 and drive away. I almost envy people like that.  No one gets insulted, and there’s no back and forth. But it’s just not me.

Buying a computer has many of the same elements. You can go to a big-box store and buy last season’s PCs at a discount, or you can pay nearly full price for the latest-generation processor. If you just need a PC for Internet surfing and word processing, last season’s PCs might be a great deal. Shopping online at manufacturers’ websites can be confusing, at best, even though all the specs are listed for their PCs.

I’m a shopper. It took me years to find a car salesman who gives me a set price, which is better than I could get anywhere else, and he doesn’t drive me crazy with expensive options like fancy wax jobs and mud flaps, wheel locks and cargo trays. He calls me every two years to see how I’m doing, I tell him what color I want, and counting drive time, in two hours I have the keys to the car I want. Since I’ve done my research, he always matches the best price I can get from other dealers.

You may not get that kind of experience from a computer website or a big-box store. Here’s a recent experience I had with Dell.

I chose to communicate by chat. I knew exactly what kind of computer I wanted, and asked the salesman for the best deal he could give me. After some haggling, and checking with his supervisor, he offered me 2 percent off, but only if he could call me. Against my better judgment, I gave him my number, and in a flash he had me on the line.

“I can only give you 2 percent off if you buy premium tech support, and I can give you that for $119 for two years.” I knew from experience that basic support is worthless. Techs are not knowledgeable, and if there’s a hardware failure, the PC has to be mailed in. But I tell him that he has to sharpen his pencil. “That’s the best I can do,” he says.

Undaunted, I have chats with two other salesmen. Same thing: 2 percent off, but only if he can call me. Each time, the salesman offered premium tech support for $119 for two years – and accidental coverage for another $58 for two years.

Finally, on the fourth try, I get the salesman I’m looking for. It’s one hour before closing time. Just as car salesmen have quotas to fill, I’ve found that getting a deal on a car is more likely at the end of the month. With PCs, it’s the end of the day.

“We have one model on sale for 15 percent off,” he tells me via chat.

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch. I’ll call you, if you wish.”

He introduces himself, and gives me the bottom-line price, which truly is 15 percent less than the online price. And then, it starts:

Basic support, which comes with the computer, offers only hardware support, no software support. Mail-in turnaround is at least two weeks. Premium support has 24/7 techs and onsite service for $69 a year, $119 for two years. “But you really should get accidental coverage, too.” “Do you need a mouse?” He has mice.” A carrying case?” He has backpacks, messenger bags – all kinds of bags. “You know, it’s always a good idea to have an external backup drive.” Yes, I know. “I can give you Microsoft Office for a special price of $299.” It’s the old custom mud flaps, wheel locks, fancy wax job routine.  But I’m not buying it.

 

I realize that Dell has cut prices on its PCs nearly to the bone – it’s the add-ons that put their ledgers in the black. I take the two years of premium support, the salesman sighs and takes my credit card. Before I give him my credit card information, I add, “Shipping is free, right?” He thinks about his commission and sighs again. “Right.”

I buy at least one computer each year, but only if I can get a major discount. When Amazon offers a one-day discount, I have a list of things I need, and take advantage of the offer. When Best Buy had an iPad Air on sale in a four-hour flash deal, I pounced. Each holiday season, Apple has a one-day discount on its products. Still, I have lots to learn about shopping. My daughter and her friends subscribe to websites that offer myriads of deals – especially steep discounts on air fare.

I’m not always a careful shopper. Sometimes, in my rush to buy something that could have waited for a special deal, I pay retail, tax and shipping. But I do know one thing: There is a salesman on a website who is hungry to meet his sales quota. He understands after a few minutes that I’m not about to pay for accessories that I don’t need. He makes his sale quickly, I’m a happy camper, and the economy just got stronger. It’s one reason why the Fed is so optimistic about the state of economy that it raised interest rates.

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