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Where to Buy: Getting the Right Deal on Computers and Equipment

The pros and cons of buying at online and offline retailers, including some tips on how to get the best price.
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To keep up with the fast-paced changes in technology that are impacting U.S. companies, allowing workers to become more mobile and commerce to be conducted 24/7, business owners are going on a shopping spree. A survey published in February 2006 by Forrester Research of 700 IT decision makers at small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. found that they plan on replacing an average of 26 percent of their PCs in 2006. More than a quarter of those new PCs will be laptops and many will represent a major upgrade over the firms' current technology, the report found.

The question is: where to buy?

There are value-added resellers, a discount electronics stores or and a plethora of computer websites. The options are greater than ever before, but a growing number of computer sales will be researched and completed over the Internet. But even online, shopping requires multiple visits, specs checks, engine searches, slogging through peripheral paraphernalia, and eye-catching prices for products that may no longer be on store shelves.

Before you start browsing for new PCs, check out these ten options.

  1. Yahoo Shopping filters sort price and offer "highest ranked" items on the search engine. While some "reviews" are written by ax grinders, they give a sense of whether a seller is legit. One key asset: ability to compare products side-by-side.
  2. Amazon or eBay are both great resources and a way to double-check prices. Amazon has better product pictures, but too many links. With eBay, it's let the buyer beware - if inspection is out of the question, purchases are only as good as online promises. At the least, stick with sellers who garner the most positive feedback.
  3. Best Buy has brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, and online prices are backed up by in-store warranties. Online purchasers can pickup goods at store branches near you. The website has few filters, so have your hardware in mind before logging on.
  4. Circuit City offers to have online orders in a local store branch within 24 minutes of checking out. If not, you get a free $24 gift card. Not exactly free pizza, but with current gas prices, it amounts to a free trip home. Offers free shipping and "lowest price" guarantees. It's worth giving their Web page a look to compare prices.
  5. Staples and Office Depot can both be found offline in malls across America. From furniture to hardware, their value is the weekly deal. Both websites are a bit of a slog, with too much information to make an easy decision online. It's worth visiting the stores, if only to take a test drive.
  6. Frys, located in nine states, has been a cornucopia for gamers and tech geeks for years. What was once a parts store has turned into a bona fide bargain basement.
  7. Costco is a membership-only store offering everything from gas to bulk grapes, but it occasionally has tech bargains ripe for picking. The website offers more gear than offline stores. The trick is navigating to find them on a website that leaves much to be desired.
  8. CompUSA is a mega-retailer with stores nationwide, featuring Mac and PC deals and on-site repairs in many locations. Encountering epic repair lines makes you long for the Westinghouse repairman. But they frequently offer "package" deals on computer products that may suit your business needs.
  9. MacMall has only three locations nationwide, but its website bills itself as the '#1 Apple Direct reseller. Its sister site is PCMall, which offers 40,000 items online.
  10. Dell Computer was listed in the Forrester survey as the most popular computer and equipment vendor by small and medium-sized business IT executives. Dell, by and large, offers low prices on wide ranges of computer items. But many grumble about returns. However, they wouldn't be one of the most successful online retailers if they didn't deliver.
Last updated: Sep 1, 2006




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