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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Vendor Evaluation Factors ]

Vendor "Danger Signals"

If The PC Buyer's Guide were a video rental place, this page would be the "horror section". :^) However, my intention here is not to scare you, but rather to educate you. In the other pages of this section on vendor selection I have discussed what to look for when choosing a good vendor. Here I am going to tell you what to look for to avoid a bad vendor. I'm not going to duplicate everything I have said as I have described the factors you should use to assess and evaluate vendors. Rather, I will focus on the items that would personally cause me the most "pause" if I saw them in a vendor I was getting ready to use.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the most important "danger signals" when researching a vendor or placing an order, that to me indicate a higher-than-acceptable risk of a bad experience with a vendor or manufacturer:

  • Lack of Standard Contact Information: Every vendor should readily and eagerly share with you its full address and phone number. Watch out for companies that claim to have no phone number, or only have a P.O. box for an address . (For very small companies it is sometimes the case that they have a P.O. box for their regular address, but they usually also have a street address for courier shipments. If they don't, proceed only with at least two independent referrals for the company.)
  • Refusal to Provide References: Either they can't come up with a handful of happy customers, or they can't be bothered to tell you who they are. Regardless of which it is, do you want to shop there?
  • Refusal to Grant Tracking Numbers: All carriers other than the US Postal Service use tracking numbers for their packages. If a vendor refuses to give you a tracking number for a package within 24 hours, there's a decent chance that this is because the item was never sent.
  • "Cash Only" Payment Terms: If a company refuses to take credit cards and insists on only prepayment by cash or money order, do not shop there.
  • Unnotified Credit Card Precharging: I do not like the practice of companies charging credit cards for items that are backordered; to me this is just the vendor using the customer's money for their own advantage. The only way it is even remotely justifiable is if at the time of the order, the salesperson explicitly warns the customer that the credit card will be charged immediately and the customer accepts. If a company charges a card for a backordered item without doing this, or they fail to notify the customer promptly if an item they said was in stock doesn't ship immediately, they are acting unethically and may be breaking the law. Shop elsewhere.
  • History of Repeating Problems: If the company has a past history, based on reported experiences, of having the same sort of "problem" repeatedly (see this list of common vendor problems) then it may be that they are in fact playing games. I have read of companies that have chronic problems with "their web master accidentally putting up the wrong price" or "accidentally hanging up on people who are on hold" (who are trying to find out why their orders never shipped, of course) or "accidentally sending the wrong product". After a while, it becomes increasingly unlikely that these things are in fact "accidents"...
  • "Bait and Switch": Companies that advertise items at great prices that vanish in favor of more expensive ones when you actually try to order. Go somewhere else; see here for more.
  • Strange Stock Patterns: Check the web site of the company to see the number of items they claim to have in stock. If it stays the same day after day after day, it's almost certainly bogus. If a company claims to have in stock an item that nobody else has, then they may indeed be the lucky one--or you may be the unlucky one if you order from them.
  • Obnoxious Managers: The occasional obnoxious employee is a problem that plagues most vendors from time to time. But if you ask for a manager and find even the manager surly or uncooperative, do not consider using this company!
  • The "Deal Too Good To Be True": Most people get scammed when they are offered a deal they know is so good that it should make them suspicious, but they get caught up in the "thrill of the deal". TANSTAAFL.

Clearly, you still have to do your research to choose a vendor, and make use of all the selection factors I already described. If you remember nothing else of what I have said about choosing a vendor remember these three things: do your research; get personal referrals if possible; and watch out for the signals in the list above.

Next: Purchasing PCs and Components

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