Which computer stores offer the best advice and service?

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As if we weren’t already constantly connected, the pandemic has made us even more attached to our screens. From executive meetings to birthdays, our computers are more essential than ever.

If you need to replace or add a device, think carefully about what you want, what you really need, and most importantly, what you don’t need.

In order to have something to sell to a wide range of buyers, most manufacturers have a dizzying array of options, with a wide range of capacities (and prices) in each type.

Start by getting expert advice. Several websites, including CNET, PCMag, and Wirecutter, provide great buying advice, as well as helpful product overviews. Consumer Reports also rates various models of computers, tablets, printers, wireless routers, and certain types of software. And big sellers like Amazon and Best Buy provide hundreds of consumer reviews.

You can also seek advice from salespeople in local stores. Checkbook reviews will help you find retailers that employ helpful sales staff. Until March 10, Checkbook is offering free access to its local computer store reviews to Inquirer readers at Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Computer-Stores.

If you are buying a laptop or desktop computer because there are not big differences in reliability between major brands, compare the performance, features and prices offered by several manufacturers. Once you’ve decided what you want, shop for the price. You will only find modest price variations for some Apple products and most software. But for most purchases and brands, if you shop around you will encounter substantial price variations between brands and considerable price differences from store to store for specific models.

When Checkbook’s undercover shoppers surveyed prices at popular online retailers for 36 devices, they found that some outlets were, on average, charging up to 20% more than their competitors for the same product. Checkbook seekers most often found the lowest prices by searching Google Shopping, Wikibuy, and Yahoo! Purchases; at Costco; and on the direct-to-consumer websites of certain manufacturers (Asus, Acer, Lenovo, HP and Microsoft Store).

If you need advice, buy from a store with staff who can help you choose the products that will serve you best, help you start using new things, and help you solve problems. You also want low prices. Unfortunately, Checkbook has found that the lowest prices are mostly offered by online retailers only. If you need a store with staff who can offer expert advice, you may have to pay more to get it.

Checkbook ratings show how computer outlets were rated by consumers surveyed. Some stores received very high ratings, but others received woefully low ratings. The range of scores for a survey question on the “overall quality” of stores, for example, ranged from less than 40% to over 90%.

When discussing options with salespeople in stores or reading product descriptions while shopping online, it’s okay to be skeptical. It’s a salesperson’s job to sell you merchandise the store offers, and the store makes more when you spend more.

The best way to know if a product really meets your needs is of course to try it. Many stores offer one-month trial periods for the hardware, which allows you to return products if you don’t like them. Stores have much less liberal return policies for software. Since policies vary by company and product, find out how much time you have and specifically inquire about restocking fees that may apply if you return a device after opening the box.

While you can save a lot by buying used technology over new technology, a lot of used products still come at a high price. The stakes can be higher than, say, grabbing a $ 10 tennis racquet. And for computers, smartphones, TVs, etc., it can be very difficult to determine if your offer involves a defective product.

While Checkbook’s view is that buying refurbished devices sold by manufacturers is probably okay, buying used items from other (even well-known) retailers can be risky. You just can’t tell where they got their products from, or what (if anything) has been done to refurbish them.

Whatever you decide to buy, pay with a credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act and the policies of the credit card companies allow you to refuse payment made with a credit card for unsatisfactory or undelivered merchandise.

Most retailers offer extended warranties. Avoid buying these plans. While you should purchase insurance to protect yourself against risks that could be financially catastrophic – home fires, car accidents, medical care – you shouldn’t bother paying to cover the risk of paying for repairs or replacing devices. electronic. These policies are fantastic, easy sources of income for the retailers who sell them and for the insurance companies who administer them and pay infrequent claims. But these are generally bad business for consumers.

Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and does not take money from reviewed service providers.

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