Purchasing Equipment via Mail Order: Rules of Thumb...
A while back a friend of mine asked me the following question. As usual, my response was long-winded rambling and hopefully useful. In the hopes of it being useful to others it is presented, more or less in original form, here... -- Chuck
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sds> Would you buy a CPU from the back of macweek? (A whole mac,
sds> not just the chip.) I've seen the nice prices on 'Apu's
sds> House of Mac', etc., and I understand that if it breaks I
sds> have only Apple Support to fall back on, but what's the
sds> current rule of thumb from ordering whole machines from the
sds> classified? (I know that we used to always herald the
sds> mainstays for parts, like ChipMerchant, as the best
sds> around, and I still buy all my memory from them, but
sds> sometimes boxes are a different deal.)
I have done so in the past...
The minuses are that for the most part you only have Apple's phone Support to fall back on. These days that runs out 90 days after the first call on the machine. After that you are left to your own resources. The machine is warranted for a year still but it has to have a definite hardware problem or you'll pay for the support (they won't give you the time of day without a credit card number). The potential also exists that they could try to pull a fast one on you and slip you a Refurbished product with a 90-day warrantee, but that's pretty rare especially if you sound like you know which end of a soldering iron to pick up and you make sure you are buying new in the box, fully warranted equipment.
The pluses are that you can generally get a better price and sometimes even get a custom configuration. You may wish to consider the Apple Store as well as sometimes they throw in things to sweeten the pot so to speak.
Actually the last several times I've bought RAM I didn't go with Chip Merchant as they weren't as price competitive and any more Mac RAM and PC RAM are pretty much the same.
Also realize that the kind of tech support you are going to get with a local store is likely not going to be that good anyway... I'd take a look at the folks that I'm thinking about buying from. Make sure that they've been advertising in MacWeek pretty constantly, their ad's are the same size or getting bigger (meaning they are getting repeat business and are growing), check out their web site, does it seem professional? etc.
I really haven't had any huge problems. I've have a few bumps here and there but for the most part the experiences have been average or above. Better than the Retail experience has been up until about December 1997 that's for sure.
If you are a technically savvy person you shouldn't have any trouble. But here are some tips:





Research, Research, Research!

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Make sure you know what you want and the alternatives you'll "entertain".

Salesmen's job's are to sell you things... Things they have... If they don't have something you want they will try to sell you what they have. Know what you'll consider, at what price and stick to that. Otherwise you might end up with something you don't want, and buy something they have on hand and want to unload anyway they can...


Know what the product you want costs, and who else has it for a comparable price.

By having a good idea who is selling what for how much you have leverage when trying to make a deal with one firm... If you are looking for CPU #1, Monitor #2 and Printer #3 and Sellers A, B and C have the best price for each of them you have a pretty good idea what you might be able to pursuade one of the three to put together a package with everything for a quite competitive price.


Document, Document, Document! Take notes as to who you called and all of the details. You may find them vital in tracking things down.

Use a Word Processor, Database, Spreadsheet, Newton, Steno Pad, whatever you feel most comfortable with but if the guy (or gal) you talk with hears you typing away they assume that you are taking copious notes...


Be sure to ask what the DOA return policy is, who pays for shipping of DOA's

"Why should I have to pay to ship their defective merchandise back to them?"


Specify that the machine is New in the Box and not a Refurbished product.

Unless of course you're in the market for a Refurbished unit... Otherwise realize that there are a large number of "Pre-Owned" unit's out there that sales people are looking to sell. Usually with only a 90-day warrantee (or less).


Ask what the restocking fee is.

Of course, no one expects to have to return the product, but...


Inquire about the warrantee.
Else you might not like the warrantee (if any) you get...


Determine the surcharge for using a Credit Card, and if there is sales tax.
Most places quote cash prices, most charge a 3% surcharge for Credit Cards, some even charge extra for American Express. But if you have extended warrantee coverage on your AMEX it can be well worth it...


Ask if there is any special procedure for shipping to a work location.
Most of us can't afford to stay at home and wait for delivery, so delivery to the workplace is a necessity... However due to "Cases of Credit Card Fraud" some places will not ship to an address that is different than the Bill To Address unless you register with your credit card a secondary ship to address. This can be done and done reasonably quickly (20 minutes) but it is a hassle.


Ask them how soon do you need to get damaged items back to them for credit or exchange.
Some places expect you to get a damaged item back to them in as little as 3 days... I can't guarantee that if I'm in Chicago, they're in San Diego and the airport is closed due to a blizzard... If you are ordering items "Over the Border" there are often Customs issues that may need to be handled...


Make sure it's in stock and when it will ship...
Nothing is worse than not getting your package and finding out that it wasn't in stock when you ordered it...


Avoid Ground Shipping or "unspecified delivery" as much as possible... I always try to have something shipped to me 2 or 3 day air as opposed to ground...
With x-Day shipping you are quoted a definite delivery date as opposed to a vague "window" of delivery like 4-5 days. I like to know when I'm going to get my purchase. That way I know when it's late...


Make sure you know who the shipping company is (FedEX, UPS, etc.), and what time during the day they guarantee delivery by...
This way you know which day and roughly which time the machine is going to arrive. If you are having it delivered at home you can arrange for someone to be there, or you can arrange to bring in a luggage cart to help cart it home.


Ask when you can get a tracking number, and get it so that you know when it's coming...
If you have net access it is usually far easier to track it yourself than to have them do it... Especially when you have links to:
Airborne Express, AE Tracking;
DHL Worldwide, DHL Tracking;
Emery Worldwide, Emery Tracking;
FedEx, FedEX US Tracking;
Roadway, Rodeway Tracking;
UPS, UPS Tracking; right here...


Realize that all electronic equipment is a commodity these days... The prices
change on a weekly, sometimes daily basis and that Ad's even in MacWeek are placed a week or two in advance. The Web is usually the best place for up to date prices. I have most of the sites referenced in MacWeek on my Mac Page under Equipment... Best Bargains is a godsend!
Most places have a HTML guy on hand and make daily if not hourly updates... With the ability to do this (instant updates) they become the prime source for pricing, not a weekly or monthly magazine...


Try to Avoid Airborne Express whenever possible...
Why? They are based out of an old Air Force base in Ohio. The reason the AFB closed: Frequent foggy and bad weather conditions that were below FAA minimums. Hence it is quite reasonable to expect delays in shipment of stuff sent via AE... Airborne also tends to take a more casual attitude about getting things delivered on time than UPS or FedEx. They usually only promise delivery by 5:30pm versus 10:30am, Noon or 3:30pm. I mean they do get the stuff to you but you have a much greater chance of delays with AE than most if not all other carriers.


Inquire if there are any other "Gotcha's"...
They probably won't admit to any but it puts them on guard, and they can't say you didn't ask.

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