Buying a Computer: 4 Things to Know Before You Go Shopping
By Kelly Potter Markham
It's prime holiday shopping season and like many people, you may be ready to buy a computer. If so, you've probably thought about the features you'll need; however, purchasing a computer that is right for you involves more than simply deciding what size monitor or how much memory you'll need. With so many types of computers, features, stores, and prices, you will have to make many decisions before you are ready to head to the cash register.
Here are four tips to help you before and during this important shopping trip:
- Educate Yourself. Many stores have knowledgeable salespeople that can give you useful information about the products, but a lot of this computer information is product-specific. Keep in mind that the salesperson's primary goal is to make a sale, therefore, it is important that you spend the time to educate yourself about the computer features you need including the operating system, processor, hard drive, and memory. You may want to read our article Choosing a Computer That's Right for You to help you determine your needs.
- Choose Where You Shop Wisely. There are many locations to buy a computer; however, it is not just which computer you buy, but where you choose to buy it. Some of your options include:
- Local "mom & pop" computer retailers
- Chain electronics stores (e.g., Best Buy & Circuit City)
- Office supply stores
- All-purpose superstores (e.g., Walmart & Target)
- Discount online retailers
- Classified ads or resellers
- Primarily web-based manufacturers (e.g., Dell & Gateway)
With all of these options, how do you choose? Think about the advantages and disadvantages of each. What type of store will give you the lowest price? Which store will you give you the most personal experience? Is purchasing a used or rebuilt computer a good idea considering how many inexpensive new computers are available? Where will you find the most knowledgeable salespeople? And finally, which location will best assist you according to your needs?
For example, if you've never purchased a computer before, you may want the extra support that informed salespeople can offer at local computer retailers, chain electronics stores, and primarily web-based manufacturers. Discount online retailers and all-purpose superstores may not give you enough support in this big decision. It is important that you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each location and choose the one that will best meet your needs.
- Understand Pricing and Advertisements. Advertisements are designed to appeal to the reader, but they are not necessarily easy to understand. Spend time looking at advertisements before you start shopping. Jump into detective-mode and ask yourself, what does this price include?
You may find that the advertised rate of the really low-priced items do not include the monitor, or some other necessary component. The advertised price sometimes may be the "after-rebate" amount. This is important to remember because regardless of the final price, "after-rebate" sales mean that you must have the full dollar amount with you at the time of purchase. Read the ads and price tags closely - you will often find these details in the fine print.
- Beware of "Hidden" Costs. Recently I decided to purchase a laptop computer. I determined how much money I could spend, researched the product choices, reviewed stores ads, and narrowed down the possible choices to two products. I went to a chain electronics store and I made the big decision. What I forgot to factor in was the laptop bag, extra battery, and external speakers. All of that put me well over my price range. The same thing can happen with your computer purchase if you are not careful.
Think through the things you will need to go along with the item. Some common "hidden" costs:
- Extended warranties
- Software upgrades
- Necessary memory upgrades
- Anti-virus software
- Fee to configure computer and install anti-virus software
Once you are in the store, don't be afraid to ask the salesperson exactly what is and is not covered in the price. Also, ask the salesperson what he recommends you purchase - remember that this is only a recommendation! Be sure to ask all your questions before you walk to the cash register. Most consumers find it difficult to change to a different product once they have made a decision to purchase a particular computer.
Choosing and buying a computer can be an overwhelming process, but if you keep these four tips in mind before and during your shopping adventure, you will be able to bring home a computer that meets your needs and is withing your price range. Remember that although stores run sales and deals that are time-limited, you should not feel rushed into making a decision. The computer marketplace is competitive and there will always be another sale somewhere. Keep your eyes on the ads and happy shopping!