2003 Tech Buying Guide

As you attempt to squeeze the most from your technology dollar, there are ways to eliminate as many purchasing steps and middlemen as possible. While some work places might consider employing a value-added reseller (VAR) to bridge the gap between their offices and the big, bad technology world, that's probably overkill for most of the commodity-level products here.

The Net offers an unprecedented opportunity to glean information from those truly in the know -- people who have already made a purchasing decision and are now, for better or for worse, living with it. Sites such as Epinions.com provide user-authored reviews on PCs, peripherals, and accessories. Taking another approach, Computershopper.com saves legwork with its comparative database system. Simply plug in a product category, a desired price range, and principal features, and you'll get a comparison chart of all the products meeting your criteria -- with links, when available, to their online storefronts.

Buying direct, whether it's online or by phone, is bound to save time and money. In addition to the typical cost savings you'll find at a lower-overhead Net retailer, there's a savings on products purchased out of a seller's nexus state (home location), since these goods are not subject to sales tax. However, this little workaround is ripe for a challenge, as retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target begin charging sales tax online. Their goal? To force their online peers to also charge tax, thus limiting the effect of e-commerce on in-store sales.

Finally, many consumers work both the retail and e-commerce angles. They browse stores to try out products and tap a salesperson's knowledge, then go online to make the purchase. Our advice if you opt for this approach: Do your walks down the aisle and chat with salespeople, then research the Web for the best price you can find. Bring proof of the offer to the retailer, so he can have the opportunity to match the price. In doing this, you not only open yourself up to an immediate deal, but you also give the store an opportunity to compete in an increasingly wide-open and complex market.

2003 Tech Buying Guide
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