When I first started repairing computers I noticed that each region had a specific machine or series of machines that were prevalent in that particular area. At first I thought it was for economic reasons, then I realized machines that dominated one particular region came from specific retailers.
I define a region as a small group of towns, maybe 10-15 miles in radius. Basically a region could be made up of 3-4 towns or cities and all border each other. Because I was working alone when I started and was covering a huge part of the state I could pretty much guess the generic make and type of a machine by the town I was visiting.
Really what it boiled down to was the retail locations near that group of towns. If the only store easily available was a Walmart then I knew to expect a lower end HP. However, if there was a Best Buy nearby I could expect a full featured Toshiba or Sony. In the early days I’d sometimes get lucky and cross an Acer which typically came from BJ’s or Costco.
Online marketing has made my job somewhat more difficult because I can’t keep specific parts inventoried. If I were to keep fans on hand for every laptop we could potentially see, I’d literally have thousands of different fans. In years past it was common for me to have a specific fan or other laptop component inventoried.
Websites have increased our ability to purchase tenfold. We have choice after choice of what we can purchase and use. With many of the online vendors we can typically have the device delivered to us within a couple days, and sometimes we can have it the next day.
Shopping online is awesome; however, there are some things on my end that I’ve noticed as a repair guy. Actually, they’re things that make my job much more difficult because I’m the one having to look at customers and explain why the parts are difficult to find. Even more difficult is facing a customer and explaining their really expensive machine is almost as expensive to fix.
First off, the biggest headache with online shopping is not being able to see and touch the product before it’s purchased. Laptops are very personal devices, meaning they become part of us. If there’s anything from a poor quality keyboard to an improperly weighted or balanced laptop (yes, this is an issue), it will change how and if it’s used by us.
Many times electronic devices we purchase online are refurbished. Manufacturers will reserve online vendors as gateways for their refurbished devices. It’s easy to sell a refurbished device online because this type of sale is faceless. Before purchasing online, it’s always a good idea to read the item description and avoid items marketed as refurbished.
Not all online sales are deals. Last week a customer showed me the laptop they purchased. It was an obscure brand with great specifications. Actually, the laptop was a really beautiful machine. The big problem was they overpaid for the technology inside the machine. Had they taken the time to shop chain stores they would have found a nicer laptop for less money.
Finding parts for some of the online purchases is very hard. Many times I find myself opening machines to determine what’s actually inside. A very common repair part is the internal jack that connects the power adapter to the motherboard. If the laptop isn’t common enough to be listed in my database I have to dig through hundreds of parts until I find a match. Luckily we have several hundred in stock.
Although retail salespeople today are pretty much useless, occasionally there’s a good one. Unfortunately there are no salespeople online. On the rare occasion we stumble across a good salesperson we can sometimes get their opinion about what not to buy. Many times reviews and questions about products online are answered by dolts who know nothing about what they’re commenting.
So, what does someone do who absolutely must make an online purchase? Maybe the person can’t leave the house or maybe they live too far from a retailer. Here are a couple things I suggest.
Absolutely first, it’s a good idea to talk to someone in the know. Find out what to look for and what to avoid. We always make recommendations based on what the customer is using their laptop for. We also try and match generic specifications to the customer’s budget.
We suggest taking the list of generic specifications and shopping a few different sites for competitive machines before adding it to your cart. Customers come to us all the time with print outs of competing machines that meet their budget and we give them our opinions as the repair guys. People sometimes forget that we see machines after they’ve failed.
Read the company’s return policy before buying the device. Some companies don’t accept electronics that have been opened. Some vendors accept open boxes but charge a restocking fee. If you do need to return your device in accordance with the policy make sure your data is erased and all original packaging is included.
Make sure the item is stocked and sold by the online vendor you’re making the purchase from. It’s not uncommon for a company to sell the item and only list it with the online vendor. Shipping will typically take longer than expected from that company and will make returns (if offered) significantly more painstaking.
Pay the extra few dollars for expedited shipping. So many times customers show me their broken screens and bad hard drives that didn’t survive the 18 times it was loaded and unloaded from a delivery truck before it arrived broken. Faster shipping means less handling time; for a device that contains many fragile parts the quicker shipping means less chance of breaking before it arrives.
There you have it. Online shopping is good for many things, but laptops and fragile electronics are a few things that should be purchased at retail. It may be a pain to have to drive, but you’ll be happier with your purchase if you have the opportunity to touch and use the laptop before you swipe your credit card.
(Jeromy Patriquin is the President of Laptop & Computer Repair, Inc. www.LocalComputerWiz.com.)