Finding a bargain on computers and equipment for the office means knowing the ins and outs of online and offline retailers.
Is 2007 the year your business will buy new hardware?
Despite this year’s twin Microsoft releases of Office 2007 software and the Vista operating system, there’s no evidence that 2007 will be a banner year for small and mid-size businesses in terms of hardware purchases, says Michael Speyer, senior analyst with Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass.
“It depends very much on where companies are in their hardware cycle,” he says. “In certain areas, we might see an uptick over last year, like in purchases of storage and PCs,” or laptops, which continue to grow in popularity. But for many companies, he points out, upgrading to Vista won’t require new hardware. Moreover, small and mid-size businesses often take a wait-and-see approach to new technology purchases.
But if 2007 is your company’s year to buy, where should you look?
Shop Around Online and Offline
The number of options for buying hardware for business use is overwhelming. In addition to traditional brick-and-mortar electronics stores, Web-based shopping venues hawking computer equipment have mushroomed. Meanwhile, small businesses continue to show a strong preference for buying direct from manufacturers like Dell. Value-added resellers (VARs) are an alternative for those who seek customized hardware. But prepare to pay more for this option.
You’d better shop around, as the old song goes, and preferably online first, to get the best price and selection. In fact, some hardware items may be hard to find anywhere but in cyberspace.
While the venues for buying hardware seem nearly endless, here are some to consider:
Online Comparison Shopping
Try sites such as Yahoo Shopping, Amazon, CNET Shopper, or Pricegrabber to sniff out the bargains. Relatively easy to use, these sites allow for easy price comparisons of like products from literally hundreds of vendors, and include vendor reviews, which may or may not prove reliable.
Online Computer Stores
Newegg, a computer geek’s paradise, has won a slew of awards for its prices and selection, including Forbes’ Best of the Web 2004 and Computer Shopper Shopper’s Choice awards in both 2004 and 2005. Other popular e-tailers include TigerDirect and CDW.
Circuit City, Best Buy or CompUSA. All three have locations nationwide, the option of eyeballing the merchandise before buying, and in-store warranties for those who desire them. Moreover, it’s often easier to return items or seek repairs through a traditional store. Computer Shopper readers rated Best Buy their favorite brick-and-mortar electronics store; many of its locations now feature Geek Squad 24/7 on-site troubleshooting services. CompUSA offers TechPro on-site service.
If bargain-basement prices are a top priority, don’t rule out sites like Overstock.com or Buy.com. Because they are often reselling overstocked items or cancelled shipments from other retailers, they can offer real bargains, especially to those who already know what they want.
Going straight to the source remains a very popular option: according to a February 2006 survey by Forrester Research, Dell was named as the most popular computer and equipment vendor by the 700-plus small and mid-size businesses surveyed.
VARs are companies that take computer components and build unique, customized units for their clients. Often, they link hardware and software from different vendors to do this. Since VARs specialize in custom design, they can also design training programs, database development, and consulting and research services. In fact, the line between services offered by VARs and big-name consulting firms, such as Accenture, is quickly blurring. However, VARs are more likely than consultants to work for smaller businesses. And, according to a June 2006 Forrester Research report, small and mid-size businesses are increasingly seeking out VARs instead of consultants to meet their needs.