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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Sources For PC Systems and Components ]

Retail Sources

There are now an enormous variety of different places to buy PCs through the retail channel--a surprising number of companies in many different retail sectors have decided to start selling computers. Despite the rise in popularity of ordering PCs online, many people prefer the familiarity of shopping in person. There are some distinct advantages to buying a PC retail--though there are some important disadvantages as well.

Here are some of the more important advantages that apply to all of the different sources in this category (also see the individual retail source pages for more advantages specific to each sub-category):

  • Personalized Shopping: You get to shop in person. You can try out the PC with your own hands and see and hear what you are buying. This is a tremendous advantage for many shoppers, particularly those new to computers--you aren't buying based on a two-dimensional picture and a text description. It is particularly important when buying whole machines, or buying components that matter from an ergonomic perspective: monitors, printers, keyboards, mice, joysticks, speakers.
  • No Shipping Costs: Particularly when buying a complete PC, shipping and "handling" charges can be as much as $100 or more. You don't have to pay this when you buy retail. The advantage is higher when buying larger items, like whole PCs or monitors. (The tradeoff is sales tax; see below.)
  • No Order Tracking Hassles: You eliminate all the hassles associated with having items shipped: no order confirmations, tracking numbers, lost parcels, wondering when the item will be delivered, etc.
  • Relatively Easy Returns: If you have to return an item, particularly a large one, it is much easier to do when you have purchased the item in person. You also save the return shipping costs. (Note that while true of straight returns, this does not always apply to service and support. If you buy a pre-made retail-branded PC from a large store you may have to send it to the manufacturer for support if you buy retail. You also may not get personalized support at the store.)
  • Speed and "Instant Gratification": You don't have to wait the "agonizing" several days to a week so that it can take for a mail-order or online source to deliver your product. This can be of some benefit to impatient people like me, who get excited about the new item they have ordered and want it right away. :^) While I am recognizing with my humor that this isn't a great basis upon which to select a source, it is nevertheless a consideration to keep in mind. And if for some reason you really do need a PC or peripheral today, as happens in some business situations, retail is the way to go.

Here are some disadvantages that apply to all retail sources (again, see the individual pages for disadvantages that are specific to a sub-type):

  • Sales Tax: In the United States, if you live in a state that charges sales tax, you will pay it on whatever you buy at a retail store. This trades off against savings on shipping and handling costs, but you'll be worse off particularly on small, expensive items (CPUs, memory, motherboards, hard drives, etc.) If your state has no sales tax this is of course irrelevant. Other countries often have large sales taxes but they often apply regardless of where the purchase is made.

Warning: Some states charge sales tax even on items ordered from other states. Be sure to check and follow all applicable local laws.

  • Overhead and Pricing: Prices are usually higher when you buy retail compared to buying online or mail order, because you are paying for the overhead of having a store and employees that work in it.

Hey, I listed five advantages and only two disadvantages: buying retail must be great! Well, read on, and examine the different retail sources in detail. Some really are a good way to go when buying a PC, but others have a large list of additional disadvantages that go along with the list above that applies to all retail sources.

Note: Many retail stores are also now introducing web sites for online ordering of what they sell in their stores. In some cases these are full-featured, but just as often, they are more "we need to have a web site" web sites than anything else. :^) I do not consider these companies to be in the same category as true online sources.

Note: Similarly, some big-name direct-market companies are now setting up stores to let you see their products; Gateway is probably the most obvious example. These are not true retail stores--they are just big showrooms, and all they do is take your order. The order is still sent mail order, and no service or support is provided by the store. These are still mail order companies as far as I am concerned, and I cover them in the section on mail order sources.

Next: Department Stores

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