Retail Computer Purchasing Experiences

Retail Computer Purchasing Experiences

We look at the customer experience while purchasing computers from Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Fry’s Electronics. If you are shopping for a computer or someone relies on your advice, this article is for you.


Chances are that you or someone you know will shop for a computer soon. You may be shopping for a sleek gaming machine or you might be looking for something to handle your email and digital picture needs. Whatever its use may be, many of us feel locked into purchasing from major Brick and Mortar (B&M) retailers such as Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, or Fry’s Electronics. When it comes to shopping for a computer, just what exactly do you need to know before walking into the store?

Margins on computer hardware are razor thin and B&M stores have rent and salaries to pay. What quality of service can you expect when the sale of one service plan can make the difference between a day in the black or in the red? More importantly, can these retail companies provide a good purchasing experience alternative for those who choose not to purchase a system directly from a manufacturer such as Dell, or Gateway?

A less tech-savvy crowd will most likely not read hardware review websites and may even rely on their neighborhood electronics chain for the latest information on computer hardware. To gauge a mainstream purchaser’s overall buying experience, we decided to talk to sales representatives at larger retailers and determine the level of advice and service the customer is getting. Are sales staffers helpful, unsure, or just plain wrong? To find the answers to these questions, we purchased computers from four different local Austin, Texas retailers: Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Fry’s Electronics. We supplied each retailer the same purchasing conditions: we already have a monitor, we’re buying a computer to check email, use Microsoft Office, and process photos from a digital camera, and we’d prefer the cost of the machine to stay under $500. We were armed with pen, paper, and questions ranging in difficulty from “where’s the on switch” to “talk to me about Windows Vista.”

The article on the following pages represents a snapshot of our buying experiences at each location. We simply visited each retail store and documented the experience we were presented with. Please keep in mind that our chronicle published here is not suggested to be an in-depth case study, it simply tells about our purchasing experience, the same one you might experience if walking into these B&M retailers today. We’re simply offering up our real shopping scenarios along with our thoughts on how anyone searching for a computer to fit their needs should navigate the somewhat treacherous waters of a local retailer.