Last Minute Christmas Shopping Tips

In the U.S., at least, the heat is on for Christmas. Computer sales are slow (though not add-ons, like CD-RWs). You’ve waited until the last minute. What should you do?

Just Say No?

Mind you, I’m talking about computer equipment. Usually pretty unsentimental stuff, one step above washing machines. Don’t try this for gold bracelets or engagement rings or even computer equipment if it has even the slightest potential sentimental value. Unless your loved one has specifically approved of this
in writing, if you are male, and your idea of a romantic Christmas gift is to murmur into the ear of a loved one, “I love you, here’s a CPU,” consult any living, breathing adult female immediately.:)

Who says you have to buy by December 25th? Not like Jesus is going to get offended if you don’t. Almighty Goods Sellers might, but believe or not, they can’t touch you.

If you are dealing with anybody over the age of 12, that person should be able to cope with a rain check. Tell them it’s part of your “extended Christmas” policy. Recite
the “Twelve Days of Christmas” and point out that all the good stuff didn’t show up until early January. Print out every ecommerce nightmare you can find. Buy time.

Yeah, Right, and What Planet Do You Live On: Vulcan?

(OK, OK, it works sometimes, and if it really comes down to an adult saying “Give Out or Get Out,” make it a New Year’s Resolution to consider that that person views you like the guy in the toll booth on the highway; he wants it now and doesn’t take rain checks, either.)

Anyhow, the core principle is:


When do most people damage or destroy computer equipment? When they panic. When do most soldiers die in combat? When they panic and run; hard to shoot back when you’re looking in the wrong direction.

When do people make bad purchases? When they panic.

So don’t panic.

So if you have to buy something, and buy it soon, this is what you should do:

  1. Figure out what you want to buy, and stick to it: The last thing in the world you want is to have some salesman become your computer consultant. Unlike you, he knows what he wants from you for Christmas. He wants to sell
    you the store’s merchandise, particularly the slow-moving stuff. If you look clueless, and some item isn’t moving, guess what you’re likely to end up with.

    So do your homework first, and if you don’t have the time, ask somebody. Ask me, ask somebody who actually knows what he or she is talking about, not your next door neighbor, not the hairdresser (I swear, I’ve had people tell me they bought stuff ’cause their hairdresser knew for sure). And for God’s sake, ask before you buy, not after. I have so many
    people who buy first, then ask me. What can I do about changing a bad decision at that point?

    Salesmen hate me. I walk into a place knowing exactly what I want, and if at all possible, I try to ascertain availability and price without their help. If it’s there at a reasonable price, I buy. If it isn’t, I don’t. If the salesperson insists on human contact, I ask those two questions, and if I don’t like what I hear, I say thank you, and I walk out, whether it be a physical store, or a website. (I also sometimes ask
    questions before I buy that they have never heard before in their lives, but that’s another story. :))

    You might find that rude, or abrupt, but what is ruder in the long run, disengaging, or wasting both my time and the salesperson’s? I’m giving him more time to practice Early Twenty First Century Salesmanship on a more likely sucker errr, customer.

    (I’m sure there are good conscientious salespeople, but from my perspective, they’ve got a couple strikes against them. First, it’s unlikely somebody getting paid $8 or $10 an hour and likely to be working temporarily for the holidays is going to know more than me. Second, they
    have that inherent conflict of interest, just on general principle, and possibly because they partially get paid by commission. Third, and most importantly, if I don’t do my homework beforehand, I have no way of telling the good one from the bad one.)

    I probably research a purchase more than you, but even if you don’t go as far as me, you should know enough to be able to tell if some salesperson is BSing you or not.

    How To Research?

    Presuming you have to do this fast, you should do two things. First look at reviews (especially general ones reviewing a number of boards) to see which ones come out on top.

    Then check a source like Deja to see how real people are faring with it.

    The Family Feud Approach

    The best approach to take when looking at Deja is the Family Feud approach. Nothing is going to be considered perfect. Few products are going to be considered universally lousy, either.

    So see what proportion of people are complaining about real problems compared to people saying how wonderful the product is. If there’s a lot more people doing the first, cross it off your list. If it’s the second, odds are you got a winner.

    That’s very rough and crude, but, hey, the clock is ticking.

  2. Find Out How Much It’s Worth

    Even if you’re going to a store to buy it, check Pricewatch for a price.

    If you’re going to buy over the Internet, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check Reseller Ratings to see their ratings, and ALWAYS read at least the recent comments. If the store doesn’t have
    a rating anywhere near 5.0, DON’T BUY FROM THERE. That tells you people are really unhappy with them. If the rating is close to 5.0, read and pay close attention to the comments. The rating may be on the low side for reasons you don’t find important.

    For Christmas shopping, the factors that are the most important are updated inventory and getting the product out the door fast. If you see more than a couple complaints about a place offering product they don’t have, and not shipping for a long time, that’s hardly what you want for a Christmas delivery, is it?

    If you’re looking at pre-tested CPUs/systems, PCNut has an extraordinarily high 6.8 ResellerRating. Outside Loop comes in just behind with a 6.7 rating. Advanced Design of Kentucky comes in with a pretty good 5.7 rating.

    For other things, three stores I’ve personally found that were able to consistently get the goods out the door fast are Allstar Computer Service (rating of 6.1), Bunta (rating of 6.0), and Multiwave (rating of 5.5). I’m sure there are others, those are the ones I can personally recommend based on my own experience.

    Any place you buy from should let you know what shipping will be before you hand them a credit card number. If they don’t, don’t buy. Many times, a low-ball price comes with a sky-high shipping fee.

    That being said, with few exceptions, it’s pretty tough buying anything and not pay in the neighborhood of a $10 shipping and handling fee. There’s some exceptions, and if places offer free shipping, that’s a bonus, but free shipping isn’t going to help a lot if they don’t get the right things out the door.

    Ground freight is cheapest, but it takes up to a week to get to where it’s going, especially if it’s West Coast to East Coast. Check how much two or three day air costs, often, it’s just a few dollars more than ground; it’s overnight that’s usually very expensive.

    At Least Don’t Get Rooked Too Much

    If you’re going to a store, you still should go through the Pricewatch routine just so you have an idea as to what something’s worth. You’ll probably pay more than an Internet purchase no matter what you do, but if you have no idea what something’s worth, you are Little Red Riding Hood to the saleswolf.

    Get on the telephone and call the places. Ask them if they have it, and how much it costs. That will let you eliminate the places that don’t have what you want, saving everybody’s time.

    Those a bit more adventurous walking into a store with a “we’ll beat any price” motto can use Pricewatch to test that. Just print out the Pricewatch page and the page of the place offering the product and its price.

    They may beat the price. They may not, but at least you may be able to negotiate a lower price than they’re offering it for. At the least, you’ve given the salesperson something to do that benefits you.

  3. Stick To The Game Plan

    The salesperson is not your friend, he or she is not your buddy, or your mother. You have money and he or she wants it.

    It’s your job to get the best realistic deal you can for your money, and no one else is going to do it for you. The salesfolks have all kinds of persuasive weapons, you got to get yourself some defenses against them.

    Your ultimate defense is to know what you want and what you are willing to pay for it. Know those two items, and you can unleash the ultimate weapon if a place doesn’t meet your criteria.

    Walk away. No one’s ever sold anything to a person not there to listen.

    When I say “walk away,” I mean walk away, don’t bluff walking away. There’s only one way to bluff. Don’t. Call his bluff, don’t give him the chance to call yours.

    But be realistic. The guy in the store, especially a small one, isn’t going to be able to match an Internet warehouse. He’s got expenses the warehouse doesn’t have. So if he charges you $10 or $15 more for a motherboard or hard drive, take it.

  4. Don’t Wait Until the 24th

    You got a week. You have plenty of alternatives now, and in the next day or two. After that, your options dwindle, especially if this is “do or die.”

    When All Else Fails, Throw The Ball Out Of Bounds And Stop The Clock

    If you’ve dawdled, it’s Christmas Eve, not even Santa could deliver on time, and your local merchants should all be indicted for criminal extortion, you have one last prayer. Order anyway, and print the invoice.

    This may save you. It may well not. But even to the most mercenary recipient, it at least proves you shelled out and it’s coming. That should at least limit the damage.

    Depending on the recipient’s ignorance of computer hardware, you can reinforce your failure with a story of woe and persevering through impossible odds to do what you did. The less they know, the more inventive you can get. After all, they are going to get it, and it’s their chronological challenge that’s the root problem.

    I strongly suggest something along the lines of “I wanted to buy you the very best, and wouldn’t settle for less.” Don’t try this with a ten dollar mouse, though, nor anything the recipient could quickly ascertain is not world-class.

    Of course, if this person carries on the tradition of Doubting Thomas, and demands to see the bill (probably due to your previous lack of veracity), you’re really in trouble if you didn’t, and maybe in just as much trouble when they find out what you paid for it.

    Beware of trying this for commonly available items. If the person goes to the store the next day and finds overflowing stocks of the item; this could easily turn into “he wasn’t willing to pay (price difference) for me.” Should that happen, doesn’t matter if it’s a thousand dollar item; it now becomes a matter of ten or twenty dollars.

    This is a desperation defense, far better not to have to use it. 🙂 So get to work!

Email Ed

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