Several Helpful Tips About Shopping for Technology During the Holidays
By MARSHALL LOEB
Take Extra Care with Computer Purchases
It may be too big to stuff a stocking, but a desktop or laptop computer is a holiday gift almost anyone would enjoy. Before you buy such a big-ticket item, keep a few things in mind: Consider the user. Is the gift for a college student who will use it to watch movies, download music and play video games (in addition to doing schoolwork, of course)? Or are you giving it to your grandmother who is just getting started with e-mail? You need to know how the computer will be used in order to buy the one with the right specifications. Someone who downloads a lot of music or needs to store many photos will need more storage and memory.
Do your research. There are quite a few reputable resources that rate and rank computers and other electronics. Web sites like Cnet.com and PCWorld.com offer product reviews and price comparisons on almost every computer product you can think of.
Determine where you'll shop. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, online venues earned higher satisfaction scores than the brick-and-mortar stores. You're likely to find slightly better prices and have a smoother shopping experience online. But if you really need help or extra service, buying in person may be the way to go. Independent or specialty retailers typically offer better service than their big box counterparts, says Consumer Reports.
Consider installation needs. David Milman, chief executive of Rescuecom, a national computer repair company, says that many stores don't provide help with installing new merchandise. Consider enlisting a company like Rescuecom to set up the new PC.
Protect your goods. "It's always flu season with computers," Milman says. Be sure to factor in the cost of anti-spyware and anti-virus programs, which can range from $25 to $75. Milman suggests going with the top brands such as Computer Associates, Norton and McAfee.
Be careful about extended warranties. Consumer Reports suggests skipping the extended warranty that retailers are sure to offer. They're almost always a waste of money, since the warranties that come with the products are usually enough.
Know the return policy. If you're giving the computer as a gift, make sure your loved one won't have a problem returning or replacing the item. Return policies vary by retailer, so it pays to know the details before you buy. Many retailers will charge restocking fees of up to 20 percent, so check the details.
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