Don't Be A Sucker: Avoiding Retail Trickery

Best BuySeems there’s a new epidemic going around at big box retailers that involves bilking people out of $30. Sales reps at Best Buy and Circuit City have been telling digitally impotent customers that they’d be wise to pony up some extra dough for recovery CDs — CDs that would cost twice as much from the manufacturer and can’t be made by the customers themselves. Birdshit. You can make the CDs yourself and it’s as easy as falling in love.

As someone who’s worked in sales and/or tech support for Best Buy, Circuit City, and CompUSA, I feel qualified to speak on the subject of how retailers encourage their salespeople to go about cheating you out of your hard earned money. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting ripped off at stores like these.

1. Don’t go a foot past the pickup counter.

All the big stores have an in-store pickup feature on their website that shows exactly what’s in stock at the store. Order your computer online and pick it up while you’re out and about running errands. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, hire an independent computer support technician or ask a friend or family member to pick something out for you on the website. Nobody hassles you when you’re doing in-store pickup because they assume you already know what the hell you’re doing.

2. You will be lied to about the extended warranty.

Any salesperson who tells you that “the warranty covers everything, and I mean everything” is a liar. Just to make sure, ask if the warranty covers software, drops, and/or spills. It doesn’t. If your salesperson tells you it does, you’re looking at a liar. No store-bought extended warranty covers “everything” but salespeople use this line all the time to sell peace of mind.

The warranty covers something weird happening like a hard drive malfunctioning or a video card blowing out for no reason. Computer parts are made with such precision nowadays that such catastrophes are few and far between. If you really want to purchase an extended warranty, get one for the monitor. It’s the one piece of equipment you might use for a long time.

3. When being pressured, fight lies with lies.

My recent CompUSA laptop purchase ended with the salesman throwing a semi-controlled tantrum laced with a fair amount of Woody Allen-like sputtering. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to “protect the screen” on my MacBook. Ah, the extended warranty’s one last shred of value. It protects the screen going out for no reason, whereas the manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t (actually, it does for the first year). I finally shut the guy up by agreeing to buy the warranty and then said, “It works in Switzerland, right? Because I’m moving there for work and I’ll literally be there for the next five years without coming home.” An extended warranty is a hard sell where no stores exist and warranties, in general, don’t work in other countries.

Another option is to tell the salesperson that you work for whatever company makes the computer you’re buying and that, if something happens, you’ll handle it at work.

4. They’re not on commission, but they (sort of) are.

I almost think it’s worse now that everyone’s gone commission-free. The stores will tell you that it’s to provide you with a low-pressure shopping environment. Again, birdshit. Ask anyone who used to make a decent living on commission and they’ll tell you that their salary got cut in half. It saves the stores a bundle. Also, when’s the last time you noticed an adult selling computers? About ten years ago, right? Non-commissioned salespeople can’t support a family on $10 an hour.

Salespeople used to be knowledgeable and helpful — they had to be or they wouldn’t have made any real money. True, you did get people here and there that would sell customers stuff they didn’t need but it was no worse back then than it is today. In fact, it’s much worse today.

You’ve got low-paid, unenthusiastic salespeople who don’t take the time to learn about any of the products they’re selling but who are rewarded for selling extended warranties, overpriced cables, and in-store tech service. Many, many years ago when I worked at Best Buy we’d get in-store dollars for selling certain high-margin items. It did nothing except make people come up with creative ways to lie to customers (see #2).

5. Good salespeople acknowledge weaknesses.

If you find a salesperson who tells you that the store offers an extended warranty but advises you not to purchase it, that means I’m working in retail again because that person is me. If it turns out that it’s not me, you’re probably dealing with a knowledgeable, helpful individual who really, sincerely enjoys working with technology. That person isn’t going to be working there for too long, though. It can be a real soul-sucking job.

Best Buy, Circuit City Reps Push Unnecessary Recovery Discs