Where to find your new PC
The best deal may not be the cheapest
There are dozens of PC suppliers out there, all trying to persuade you that theirs is the best offer. Only one of them will be telling the truth... but which one?
Direct selling - mail order, or buying over the internet - typically offers the best combination of price, capability and security. Pay by credit card, and your purchase is protected from fraud or disputes. But in any case, most of the bigger-name suppliers are keen to protect their reputations for online trading.
Suppliers like direct selling because of the relatively low cost of doing business this way. In particular they don't have to invest heavily in retail premises; and most will assemble your particular computer only when you order it, which means they don't have to keep large stocks of ready-built computers on the shelves. Both of these translate into cost savings, which should be reflected in the price you have to pay.
�Suppliers' cost savings should be reflected in the price you pay.�
What you don't get is the chance to see and try the computer before you buy it. That matters, for instance, if you are trying to compare the feel of keyboards or the viewing performance of displays. But if you know what you want, direct purchase is the best way to get a high-specification PC for a good price.
The success of direct selling has done considerable damage to the 'corner PC shop', who simply can't compete. Inevitably, their prices are much less attractive. But against that you have to set the most knowledgeable salesperson, someone you might want to develop a long-term business relationship with. It can be valuable to draw upon the knowledge and advice of a real person who knows you, understands your needs, and is committed to retaining you as a customer.
Specialist superstores like PC World and Staples have a reasonable range on show - and you can go into the store and play around with different models to see which you prefer. This really won't tell you very much, but at least it's a reassurance.
�You can discuss the options and walk away with your purchase.�
Prices aren't the greatest, though there's often a Manager's Special or a shop-soiled bargain. But you can discuss the options with a moderately knowledgeable sales assistant, and you can walk away immediately with your purchase. Besides, you know the store will still be there if you need to complain.
Tesco and other supermarkets and High Street chain stores occasionally stock computers. No-one at the store will be able to advise you on the purchase, so you'd better be sure you know what you're doing. Chances are, the price will probably be excellent - as long as it's what you're looking for.
Unless you are highly PC-literate, avoid all secondhand computers - with the possible exception of those offered as 'reconditioned' and with a full warranty. Online auction site eBay is good for this. Start by seeing what models are on offer, then check elsewhere on the web to ensure they are relatively recent.
Then it's time to enter the bidding - keeping in mind, of course, your personal budget limit and the price you would pay in other channels. Computers bought this way often lack manuals and may be missing a cable or two, but they should have a guarantee that will protect you against dodgy dealers.
Time to pay
When it's time to pay, use a card. Even if you have the cash to pay outright, it makes sense to use a credit card - especially if you're buying mail-order or from the web. That's because the law provides a useful degree of protection: under the 1974 Consumer Credit Act, credit card companies are held jointly liable for transactions over �100. In practice this means the credit card company should cover the debt if the supplier goes belly-up or if the goods never arrived.
�They might be prepared to split the saving with you.�
The best argument for paying in cash is the possibility that you may be able to swing a discount, or at least get a few extras thrown in. When you pay with a credit card, the retailer has to pay the card company a handling charge which could be between 1.5 and 4 per cent of the total of the sale. They might be prepared to split the saving with you.
There are plenty of 'buy now, pay later' or credit deals out there, but beware the interest rate. You might find it works out cheaper just to put it on your credit card - and if that isn't an option, you should be able to get a better interest rate if you shop around for a personal loan.
Computers come with at least a 12-month 'return-to-base' warranty as standard, which means that any problems in manufacture will be fixed within 12 months of purchase if the customer returns the faulty goods to a specified location.
�You can often invalidate the warranty by doing trivial things.�
There are a couple of catches. It isn't always obvious that a problem is due to a defect in manufacture. In the small print you'll find that you can often invalidate the warranty by doing quite trivial things - opening the PC case to install more memory, perhaps. And it can be quite tricky (not to mention expensive) to parcel up a PC and send it back: you did hang on to those foam chips, didn't you?
A 'collection' warranty will ease most of that pain: a courier will come and pick it up. Even better is an 'on site' warranty - which sounds as though an engineer will turn up and fix your computer; and yes, that might happen. But in practice you'll first have to spend a lot of time (on premium-rate phone lines) explaining the problem to the manufacturer's helpline operator.
Watch out for the 'extended warranties' that PC superstores in particular are keen to sell you. Component failures in computers are quite rare - if it works OK on day one, it will probably carry on doing so. If you do suffer a problem, you'll often find it cheaper to take the computer into a shop for a one-off repair.