The Computer Buying Game
17 Jan 2007
Last Sunday I bought a new computer. I’m about to move into my new place, and I suppose I’m still in the throes of consumerist passion. It just seemed like a good time to plunk down a neat stack of cash to buy the system I’ve been wanting for a while. I haven’t had a new computer since 2002, when I bought one in Hangzhou with Wilson. It was time.
Then this week I learn from a blog post that my friend John also bought a new computer. Only he bought it at The Xujiahui Best Buy. Best Buy?! Yes, Best Buy.
He reports it as a very satisfying experience in which he paid a reasonable amount and took home quality merchandise which he can be sure is the real thing.
My first reaction to reading this entry was, “Did I make a mistake?” I could have bought my new computer at Best Buy too. Instead, I bought it at the Metro City (美罗城) computer market in Xujiahui (very close to the Best Buy), from a shop I’ve bought parts from before and had no problems. I can’t be sure that the store is totally honest, but it seems decent. The shop is on the fourth floor, which is good, because the higher you go the fewer customers you get. So on the fourth floor, they’re more willing to cut you deals and to help you find the equipment you really want at other shops if they really don’t stock what you’re looking for.
Still, John seemed so content that he had gotten a good deal, and now I was left with doubt.
But then my mind came round again. How could he abandon the game? Buying a computer in China is not walking into an immaculate store manned by a grinning, competent staff. Buying a computer in China is to play the game, to be full of suspicion, to take risks, to engage in the battle of wits.
You have to carefully select your computer store. Don’t go with one on one of the first floors, and don’t go with one that is too loyal to certain brands. Don’t go with one that is too small or too big.
You have to choose your parts from their list. It’s all in Chinese, but they often know the English names of the brands… if the brands even have English names. The crux is knowing when it’s OK to get Chinese brands (key word: 国产), and when you have to insist on brands you know and trust. If you really have to have something that’s not on their list, you have to push them to go out and get it.
You have to know that there’s always wiggle room in the price, but also that they usually won’t even try to rip you off too much because the competition is right next door. So you can’t cut their price in half, but you can’t pay the initial price either. It helps to be familiar with hardware prices before you go. Shop around.
You have to inspect each and every piece of hardware they install to make sure you’re getting what you pay for, and then you have to keep your eyes on that hardware until it’s actually in the machine. It’s so easy to pull the ol’ switcheroo on the unwary customer, and most are clueless college students who’ll never know the difference anyway. Watching like a hawk keeps them honest. (I didn’t trust my store that much.)
You have to really badger them if you want a copy of English Windows XP. Regardless of what language you get, make sure it’s SP 2 they’re installing, because anything earlier will likely be crawling with viruses the moment it connects to the internet. Also make sure they partition your hard drive how you want it, because sometimes they do ridiculous things.
You have to make sure you’re getting the proper warranties and receipts. Stuff breaks, even when the shop is honest.
You have to get their business card with phone number. Make sure they know they’re going to be hearing from you if you have any problem whatsoever. It’s best to do this before they actually start assembling your new machine.
This is the game. It may seem a little sick, but I kind of like it, and the game might not be around for much longer. I think that megastores like Best Buy are going to destroy these sketchy computer markets in the long run, but until they do, they won’t have my money. I play the game.