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Computer Buying Experiences at B&M Stores 449

bob gnosh writes "The team over at [H] Consumer go into Best Buy, Fry's, CompUSA, and Circuit City and buy a computer at each store. They relate exactly what happened at each store, talk about warranties, and what to do to protect yourself or your friends when buying at these places." From the article: "Navigating these retail stores isn't for the faint of heart or those not armed with the right knowledge beforehand. As much as you'd like to go to your closest strip mall, have a salesperson discern your hardware needs, and walk out with a shiny new computer that does everything but load your dishwasher, such an experience is just not going to happen. Most retail sales people are simply not going to possess the necessary knowledge to correctly recommend or explain every nuance of a piece of hardware."
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Computer Buying Experiences at B&M Stores

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  • re (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alex P Keaton in da ( 882660 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:48AM (#15196615) Homepage
    Um- this sounds like buying most things, from washing machines to cars. Salespeople that aren't knowledgable? No way! You need to research things yourself....
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:49AM (#15196620) Homepage Journal
    I usually go into Best Buy because I don't want to be bothered by salesman. Alas, my last major experience with them was less than impressive. While I was browsing for a new home router, a salesperson decided to help out. While he did eventually point me toward a nice Netgear Wifi/Switch combo that was well-priced, his technical information left a lot to be desired. He informed me on no uncertain terms that the unit I had been looking at "wouldn't be full speed" because it was "a switch instead of a router." According to him, a switch was a network device that simply splits the signal, thereby allowing only one port to talk at a time. I shook my head and tried to explain that he was thinking of a hub, and that a switch gives full performance on each port. Unfortunately, I had a head cold at the time and probably wasn't very persuasive. He just sort of gave me a look like, "Whatever, dude".

    All in all, Best Buy "geeks" (*cough* *sputter*) tend to have the computer knowledge of a third grader who's been throwing around factoids with his friends at lunch in a desparate attempt to arrive at a miniscule of real knowledge. It used to be amusing to ask the sales staff complex questions just to hear their wonderfully made-up answers, but these days I'm far too busy for that sort of nonsense. They would honestly be a lot more helpful if they just gave their recommendation (the same "here's the popular product" one they give everyone) and went away. For everything else they need to either profess ignorance or point the buyer to websites where they can do their own research. (Not that they're actually going to do that. They need to sell overpriced "Geek Squad" cables and useless warranties somehow.) *sigh*

    That being said, I feel sorry for the well-intentioned geeks who spend some small portion of their lives with a Best Buy name tag affixed below their lapel. It must be horrifying to be expected to be so disinformative just to sell warranties and accessories.
  • by Dlugar ( 124619 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:51AM (#15196652) Homepage
    Most retail sales people are simply not going to possess the necessary knowledge to correctly recommend or explain every nuance of a piece of hardware.

    Not only that, but that's typically not their goal. They're typically on commission, so if grandma comes in looking for a computer, they're not going to try to find a computer to fit her modest needs--they're going to try and give her the biggest, most expensive computer with all the add-ons and extras they can manage. Buying a computer at one of these stores involves (a) knowing what you want, and (b) dodging the sales team's efforts to saddle you with extra stuff that you don't want.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:55AM (#15196689)
    ...get suckered whether they are buying a car, home, or major appliance. Consumers must be informed to get a deal or merely an adequate system. This will not change unless some volunteer collection of geeks is setup to help norms make buying decisions.
  • Olds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:56AM (#15196700) Homepage Journal
    This ain't news, this is olds. At best. It was like that 10 years ago and more, except that back then you also had the small computer shops where the people who actually knew a thing or two built your machine to custom specs if you asked for it. Almost all of those have been driven out of business by WalMart, BestBuy, whatever-large-retailer-you-have due to aggressive pricing and, of course, your average Joe "no clue" Doe shopping there because it's $5 cheaper.

    The thing is, for the margins of your average retailer, you can't afford quality staff. And that's not just computers, that's everything.
  • Re:re (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:58AM (#15196720) Homepage Journal
    Um- this sounds like buying most things, from washing machines to cars. Salespeople that aren't knowledgable? No way! You need to research things yourself....

    Salespeople in many industries are very knowledgable, and are actually capable of listening to your needs and making informed, educated choices to guide you to the right purchase. The primary problem with electronics, however, is that many of the shops they visited pay their employees close to minimum wage, possibly with a marginal commission enticement. Given that, who do you think will fill those roles? I don't intend to demean workers at those shops, but it's inevitable: You're not finding the brightest stars of the tech world toiling away, with terrible hours, for $8 an hour at the local Best Buy.

    Compare this to real estate where an agent might make $20,000+ on the sale of a single home. While there are exceptions, the financial draw does entice more intelligent, more motivated, more capable individuals. The same can be said for many other sales industries where representatives can actually make enough to earn a decent living, and to credibly call it a real career.
  • by jacobcaz ( 91509 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @10:59AM (#15196737) Homepage
    Most retail sales people are simply not going to possess the necessary knowledge to correctly recommend or explain every nuance of a piece of hardware

    I think a better way to say it is; Most shoppers won't pay the prices needed to ensure that retail sales people posses the necessary knowledge to correct recommend and expllain every nuance of a piece of hardware.

    I used to have some friends who ran a small computer store. They built machines and sold hardware. They were friendly and knowledgable and did at-home-at-office service calls. Their target was a small but fairly affluent town and they did well for those customers who realized that "cheap" and "quality service" are often words not uttered in the same sentence.

    When they saturatued their small town they were not effective at finding more customers that fit their demographic. The tried to compete with Best Buy and Dell and they failed miserably because at the end of the day they couldn't justify selling a computer for $20 profit.

    They could answer a customer's question knowledgably and spend the time needed to make sure the customer ended up with a very good fit for their needs. They just couldn't find enough customers who were willing to pay for this level of knowledge and personal service.

  • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:00AM (#15196747) Homepage
    A friend of mine once said, after I told him about some bad experiences with computer salesmen: "If you know anything about computers, you're not going to work in a computer shop." He's right of course; you can make much more money elsewhere if you know anything about computers.
  • Re:re (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alex P Keaton in da ( 882660 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:03AM (#15196778) Homepage
    My point is that many b to c (retail) salespeople are horrid.
    Obviously professional salespeople who sell B to B are different.
    The salesperson who sells million dollar computer systems to industries and pulls in 500k in commisions each year is going to be more knowledgeable/professional that the guy at Best Buy making $8 an hour.
  • by IflyRC ( 956454 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:08AM (#15196844)
    Back in college I worked at Circuit City. I was a sales person in the computer department.

    We wore a tie, blue blazer and had a name tag with stickers based on our certifications. They actually sent us for week long training at different times or when new products came out. We were tested and didn't receive each "icon" without passing the tests.

    Granted, most of it wasn't difficult but it did require some general understanding of what you were doing! I was the only person in my store certified to handle the installs - I used to make so much money just installing graphics cards, etc. These days - how do you know the person knows what to do?

    Best Buy introduced the "no hassle" shopping experience. They looked at things from a perspective of "everyone is an hourly employee, no specialized training - all you need to know how to do is work a cash register".

    People who were in a hurry (most of the US these days) seemed to like the Best Buy way of shopping better than dealing with someone who could actually help them so Circuit City ended up switching over to the same business model. Notice the blue blazers and ties are gone? Replaced with kids in red polo style shirts who can barely point you in the right direction to find a product.

    But hey, this is what America wanted. They didn't want to be bothered by someone asking them questions about what they needed.

    Granted, some of the guys at CC did seem like used car salesmen but there were some that were very good at their job.
  • by towsonu2003 ( 928663 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:19AM (#15196966)
    Is that I can only go on the weekends and it is so crowded at these places that it is impossible to get a salesperson. Same goes for all products, not just computers. And this is tough when you are holding a crying kid.
    the keyword to your experience: crying kid.
  • Re:re (Score:4, Insightful)

    by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:21AM (#15196984) Homepage
    I actually live close to a Lowes in a small midwestern town. They are employing people there who actually KNOW STUFF. Really! There are people there who have abandoned the lean midwest rural plumbing and construction trade for more steady income. For instance, the plumbing department guy actually used to be a plumber, likes plumbing and helping people DIY, but is sick of doing it for a living. Now, a Lowes in a large urban area won't be like that. The plumbers and construction guys make more money doing it in TRW, and a Lowes there will be stuck with the typical inexperienced people.
  • by corellon13 ( 922091 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:38AM (#15197151)
    I've read all the slams on the "stupid" people that work at these retail stores and the greedy ones that are just selling you the most expensive thing because they are on commission. Let's face it. If they knew what we know (yes, I'm generalizing but I think it applies to most everyone reading this), then they wouldn't be working for minimum wage at a retail store. I think everyone needs to give these kids working their way through school, in most cases, a break and use some common sense when setting expectations. When you walk into one of these stores, you shouldn't expect that you are dealing with a computer engineer or skilled programmer who is intimate with the technology.

    Am I making excuses for those who BS or lie? No. But try looking at this from their perspective. I'm sure we were all new to technology at one point and it isn't easy to be working in technology (even just selling it) and admitting you don't know much, if anything, about it. It is what it is and unless we are willing to pay $5K for a computer so these stores can hire engineers to sell them to us, we will just have to set our expectations accordingly.
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:55AM (#15197313) Homepage Journal
    Two words: laptop trouble. That's when buying an extended warranty is a good thing. If you go and buy a laptop, best to spring for the little bit extra for the warranty.
  • by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:04PM (#15197404) Journal
    While not with babies (who don't seem to me to be that fussy unless they are sick or a basic need isn't being met), toddlers are generally the fussier ones. The trick there is consistency and aligning their incentives with yours. Look at the problem of inconsistent enforcement of the rules (speeding). Almost everyone I know (and most of the cars on the beltway) go very different speeds on the highway. Almost all above the posted speed limit. Humans naturally test their boundries all the time, if parents are inconsistent with their toddlers, than they will be tested all the time. If you say no, mean no, not ask me again in five minutes and I might say yes then. This is free advice (and common sense) but pretty costly to impliment so it gets frequently ignored.
    One of the best ways to align incentives is to give kids an allowance. Even little kids are ruthless utilitarians. They know exactly the order of things that they want (or can usually reach it with a bit of coaxing). Consistentcy and aligned incentives makes going to the store not a chance to get a toy, but similar to your trip, the potential to exchange a limited medium of exchange for a potential needed or desired item and they are much less stressful.
  • by Codename46 ( 889058 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:06PM (#15197411)
    Although the read was very interesting, I'll have to say that the reviewers didn't get to review Micro Center, which is another computer store. Thats understandable, considering that Micro Center only has 20 locations in like 14 states, but they could have driven to North Dallas and went to one there. I mean, if they took the time to create an extensive analysis about these B&M stores, they should have included all of the major companies, not just the ones in a local area. Austin isn't even that much electronically competitive compared to Dallas-Fort Worth, which is arguably the 2nd most electronically competitive area (I believe Tokyo, Japan, is first) in the world.

    I've always had good experiences at Micro Center. Their sales staff are very informed, they don't push you too much to buy something, they offer excellent extended warranties, and their merchandise is very easy to find. MC is probably one of few stores I've been in that has a very good PC components section (including a dedicated case mod section for the leet). Their technicians are all certified, and even some of their sales staff have COMPTIA or Cisco certs. Their book department is HUGE.

    I absolutely despise Frys Electronics, which treats you as a number rather as a person. They have too much off-brand products and their sales staff turnover rate is one of the highest in the nation (rate of firing people and hiring people). The only thing Frys is good for is to attract those damn cheap-skates who think 20 bucks for a wireless keyboard and mouse combo isn't cheap enough. I can't stand those people.
  • by fak3r ( 917687 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:15PM (#15197518) Homepage
    Funny, I used to live in Austin, so I have shopped at all three of these stores. Out of all of them Fry's pertends to be the most 'geeky' but if you ask any technical question you don't get an answer. This is true when I asked in the Computer section, the hardware section, wireless and yes, Apple. Not trying to sound 'glib' but I knew more than these folks, so when I had a question of something I didn't know, they didn't either. This was frustrating, but since I know how to 'use the internet' I am able to learn/get advice from there, and then go buy.

    That way when they try to 'upsell' you, you know it's just a sales pitch and that you really don't need ${FEATURE} since you'll never have any use to ${FEATURE_DESC}.

    This does point to 'regular' folks going to buy computers; they're not going to get what they want, because they don't know what they want. I've walked a few friends/relatives thru computer purchases to insure they get what they need, and not more. Of course I think this is going to be true of anything; refridgerators, power saw, car...so I don't think this is a big revelation. Fun article though, I could just hear the subwoofers from the car audio section while I was reading!
  • by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMstango.org> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:30PM (#15197651) Homepage Journal
    Micro Center is great. I live 5 minutes from a Circuit City, and 15-20 minutes away from a Best Buy and a CompUSA. But when I need something and don't want to or can't wait for it to be shipped from one of my usual mail order vendors, I drive an for hour to the Philadelphia-area Micro Center.

    It's clean, well-stocked, well-staffed, and they have a good Mac department (though that's less important now that Apple has their own retail stores). I usually end up browsing for at least 30-45 minutes, and I seldom leave with just the item I came for.

    The only time I'll shop at the other chains is if I desperately need an item, or I'm spending other people's money.

  • Re:re (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:39PM (#15197726) Homepage Journal
    "My point is that many b to c (retail) salespeople are horrid."

    The trouble is....the service industry in the US has gone to hell!! This was not the case in recent past...(ok, I'm getting older, but, doesn't seem THAT long ago to me). You actually DID used to expect knowledgeable sales people in most any area of sales. People who sold clothes used to know a bit about clothes...used to people selling consumer electronics DID know a bit about the products they sold.

    But, for some reason, this along with courtesy all went downhill.....and unfortunately, it has been with us long enough that the newer generations accept this sub-par level of service as the 'standard'.

    Geez, even a few years back, most any waiter in a restaurant could explain a dish on the menu or special..of late, I've asked about a special, and they didn't have a fucking clue....had to go back and ask every time. This was not a new trainee either from what I could tell...just lazy. I'm a generous tipper...very generous, but, shit like that really does hurt what I give.

    You used to have people that took pride in their work...no matter what level of pay it was...I dunno what happened to that work ethic...

  • by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @12:43PM (#15197766)

    I'm saying that they should probably keep the kid at home to care for it... espeically given the kids condition. He threw in that his kid has downs for a sympothy ploy.

    Reading some of these comments is just depressing.

    I was friends with someone that had MS for a few years. We stopped being friends when he died. Its a pretty horrific disease to live through, and while he did have some happy times, most of the time he was pretty upset. He was aware of what was going on you know.

    Whats depressing is bringing a person into the world who's life will be mostly suffering, misery and not getting to do all the things that they see everyone else doing. It isn't always better to be alive you know.
  • by sremick ( 91371 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @01:03PM (#15197963)
    I worked at just such a place for many years. We were king in our day (early 90s) but as more people discovered Gateway, and saw low-end HP and Compaq junk in retail stores, it became harder to compete. It's hard to sell someone on something they don't realize they need yet (service) or explain to them why YOUR hard drive (faster RPMs, lower ms access time, bigger cache, better rep for longevity) is better than Gateway's when both are the same # of MBs but Gateway's is cheaper.

    When they walk in, they look at MHz, GBs, and maybe screen size... and price. That's it. If even that (we had plenty who wouldn't know the difference and just wanted "a good computer"). Most people don't even notice warranty details... you know, little things, like LENGTH. Try and explain the nuances that distinguish quality from crap, and their eyes glaze over.... THEY DON'T CARE. Until later, when the crap they bought from Gateway shits the bed and they come crying to you for help.

  • Re:One thing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard Steiner ( 1585 ) <rsteiner@visi.com> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @01:11PM (#15198047) Homepage Journal
    It's far better for him to indicate uncertainty (in my opinion) than to spout on about stuff that he really isn't sure of. Cut him some slack.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @01:20PM (#15198137) Homepage Journal
    "Yes. Where a parent chooses to take their children is none of your business. If you don't like it, don't go out. It's my right, as a parent, to take my annoying, screaming child wherever I please and there isn't a damned thing you can do about it."

    No it is NOT!! Since when did common courtesy disappear? You do not have a right to impinge on MY rights to enjoy a quiet meal, or be out in public without your sceaming, annoying, undisciplined offspring YOU chose to have. You don't have any more of a right to thrust them upon the general public than you would of yelling constantly through a bullhorn at full volumne, or spontaneously whacking someone on the head....

    Why would you want to annoy people out there who did nothing to you? YOU chose to have kids...and as such, it is your responsibility to keep them at home till they can behave, while you are teaching them TO behave in public.

    Your rights end where my nose begins as the old saying goes....

  • Re:re (Score:5, Insightful)

    by johneee ( 626549 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @02:11PM (#15198609)
    We're the problem.

    No, really...

    Yes people used to have pride in their work, but the problem is that for someone to have pride in their work, and to actually know something, they need to be able to stay there for a while, and for them to stay there for a while, they need to be paid a living wage. If you don't pay a living wage, you're going to get either those who stay there only until they can get a job somewhere else, or the people who are unemployable anywhere else.

    And the reason, of course, that people aren't paid a living wage is that we the consumer are drawn to the lowest cost. There are still electronics and computer stores where the people who own the store run it, who are in there as a career, and those are the places I shop. Unfortunately, to support that, the prices must be higher. I'm fine with paying an extra 5-10% (or more) to get good service from intelligent people who know what they're talking about. Most people arent, so the minimum wage big-box stores with retail drones are taking over the landscape.

    If people actually want better service, they should be willing to pay a bit extra to get it. You can only have one or the other, not both.
  • by 0xA ( 71424 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @05:35PM (#15200459)
    ANY GENERIC RETAIL SALESFORCE IS CLUELESS! This holds for kitchen appliances (Target), or power tools (Home Depot), bicycles, televisions, etc. I re-realized this when I was shopping for a table saw: The Home Depot doesn't know shit, they sell volume; but the Contracter Tool Supply store spent two hours with two staff members teaching me everything, in explicit detail.

    This is absolutely true. I took a little time out of IT and worked in my friend's aquarium shop. He specializes in high end and unusual fish as well as the standard ones you would see in big box pet store. This meant we had customers that were both rabid enthusiast types and average people.

    What took me a while to realize was that I could do very well with the enthusiasts I was about 50/50 with the average people. Many people truly do not care about anything but price and don't even seem to want to understand what they are buying and why they need it. I could sell them the biggest piece of junk in the place, after telling them it is junk, as long as I stuck a 25% off sticker on it. Hell, I don't know how many times I managed to turn a sale by offering a 5% discount. It didn't matter if that was $2, if they could tell their buddies about the great deal they got it was sold. I hated doing it though, you can't keep customers if their only loyalty is to the price. It doesn't matter if they get advice from someone with 20 years experience or not if the guy across the street is $.50 cheaper.

    Truly a sad state of affairs.

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