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Stretching Your Tech Dollar: Part 3- Finding the Best Price from a Source You Can Trust

Dec 27 '11 Hardware & Networks, Purchasing, Software Comments Off

This is the third of a four part series on how to get the best tech for your needs at the best price. If you haven’t already, you might want to read Part 1- Figure Out What You Need or Part 2 -Find the Best Items for Your Needs .

Part 3 – Find the Best Price from a Source You Can Trust
Once you’ve decided what you need, the next step is to figure out where to buy it. But how do you find the best price? And how do you find a vendor you can trust? This post will give you some ideas on how to do both and some resources to get you started.

The process for gettign the best price frrom a vendor you can trust

Finding the Best Price
There are many price comparison sites available, and you can now even search directly for products from most major search engines. Check our resources page for links.  Here are some suggestions to make sure you get the best price:

  • Use more than one search tool: Different methods will search a different set of vendors. This is especially important if you’re searching for older or more obscure products.
  • Sort by lowest total price for new items: Often the results aren’t sorted by price. Sometimes used  items are included in the results. Be careful of prices that seem too good to be true, though. They usually are! See below for more hints.
  • Don’t forget shipping and tax: Many sites offer free shipping (often with a minimum purchase) and taxes, of course, will vary based on where you purchase.
  • Search for specific models, not for product names: There are often many slightly different models of the same product, especially for things like laptops. You want to compare prices for exactly the same model.
  • Make sure that the product is the same one you searched for: Often when you go from your search results to the vendor’s product page you will find it’s for  a different product. Verify before purchasing!
  • Be sure that everything included: To undercut prices, some disreputable vendors will remove accessories that are supposed to come with an item and try to sell them to you at additional cost. Do you really want to buy a digital camera without a battery?
  • Make sure that the item has a full warranty: Sometimes the cheapest prices are for “gray market” or imported items that don’t come with the full manufacturer’s warranty, but are warrantied only directly through the vendor. Look  for terms like “Authorized Dealer”, “US Warranty” or “Full Manufacturer’s Warranty” to make sure you’re covered.

Finding a Vendor You Can Trust
If you are searching for a popular product, your search will probably return a large number of potential suppliers, often with widely varying prices. How do you choose the one with the lowest price that will send you what’s advertised without a lot of hassles? Here are some tips (again, see the resources page for links):

  • Ask folks who buy a lot of tech stuff: Any one who has been purchasing a lot has definite go-to sources. Most of them do a search and go with whichever of their regular suppliers has the lowest price.
  • Look for vendors with large numbers of positive reviews: Most price comparison sites have a snapshot of user reviews posted along with the results. Look for established vendors that have a lot (at least thousands) of reviews that are rated 4 star or above. It’s no guarantee, but it’s one of the best tools you have to determine if a dealer is legit.
  • Check out unfamiliar vendors with ratings agencies: You can also check with agencies like the Better Business Bureau and Reseller Ratings (see our resources page for links) if you are ordering from someone for the first time.
  • Consider “Virtual Malls”: Online sites like Amazon and Buy.com offer ways for smaller vendors to provide their products to a larger market. Consumers benefit as well, since these vendors agree to abide by the terms of the hosting site. You often can resolve disputes through the hosting site. Since the affiliates don’t want to jeopardize their position with their host, they are usually more accommodating.

Making Your Purchase
Once you’ve found the product you want from a trustworthy source, there are still a few things you can do to make sure your purchase goes smoothly:

  • Whenever possible, use a credit card: This is the best protection against fraud and makes returns much simpler.
  • Ship to the billing address of the card or add it as an approved address: Online tech companies are often sticklers when it comes to verifying addresses, so save yourself some hassles.
  • Make sure that you are ordering from a secure encrypted site: Look for https in the URL or the lock icon in your browser.
  • Get a tracking number:If a merchant can’t give you a tracking number, chances are it really hasn’t shipped. Make sure you know when things are set to arrive.
  • Make sure you know the return policy: The return windows for many tech items are notoriously short; many returns are hit with restocking fees, and some items like software can’t be returned at all once opened.
  • Open it like you’re going to return it: Returns are MUCH easier if the merchant can resell any non-defective item without having to repackage it. Save everything in the original box and don’t cut out any UPC codes for rebates until you know you’re going to keep it.
  • Keep track of all the details including who you talked to and when: You’ll need this info to resolve any issues that arise or if you need to file a complaint.

Other Ways to Find Great Deals
There are several other ways to get the best deals, but some of them require a little more work or that you subscribe or provide some personal information in return for access to special deals. Here are some things you may want to take advantage of (see the resources page for links):

  • Subscribe to email lists: Most vendors will send you special offers that can sometimes include some very good deals. The volume of these messages can quickly get overwhelming, so you might want to limit it to a few trusted vendors or use an alternative email address.
  • Price Alerts: Some sites or services will notify you when the price on an item you’re watching drops.
  • Sites that post discounts or special coupon or promo codes: In theory this sounds great, but the search results often promise much more that they deliver so you’ll visit their site. Sometimes worth a quick search, but not a lot of time or effort. You’ll quickly get a sense if your regular vendors participate.
  • Daily deal sites: Once the province of restaurants and entertainment, these social buying sites are moving into retail products, including tech items.
  • Smartphone shopping apps: Allow you to check prices in the store to see if you’re getting a good deal, often by scanning the bar code before you buy.
  • Rebates: These can be quite rewarding for tech purchases, but you need to proceed with caution. Make sure that both the product and the vendor are eligible and be sure that your both you purchase and rebate submission are within the allowed time period. Follow all instructions to the letter, make copies of everything you submit, and make sure to redeem any checks, gift cards, or credits before they expire.

What About Academic, Institutional, and Volume Pricing?
This process will usually get you the best prices with the fewest hassles on the best tech items for your needs. For some items like software and hardware that’s usually bought directly from the manufacturer, however. you might want to take a different tact.

Available Now:Part 4- Academic, Institutional, and Volume Pricing

 Don’t forget to visit our Resources:  Finding the Best Price from a Vendor You Can Trust page for links and more information about many of  the sites discussed above.

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