Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's hard to buy a computer

I finally did all my research: visited about six stores in Heredia, called one in San José that someone recommended, and checked in at Office Depot, PriceSmart and one of those appliance stores that also carries computers.

I found that the big US stores were quite a bit more expensive, and that all the little local places had pretty much the same prices. Several of them said they would try to beat any other quote I brought in, and one even told me straight out that they all use the same supplier, which explains the similarities.

I ended up choosing the first one I had visited, where I liked the guy's manner and willingness to explain, and where they offered a 3-year guarantee, which beat any of the others. Apparently they offer it at their own risk, because it is longer than the factory guarantee offered by the supplier. They would be out the price of any component they had to replace after the factory warrantee runs out, but of course they probably sell more computers with a guarantee like that.

The second runner up was a shop in the mall, which I assumed would be more expensive, but which was actually quite competitive. The two advantages to them were that they were just one branch of a larger store--more stability than the Mom & Pop places--and that they offered a licensed version of Windows. (Some shops will offer to install a copy for you, but if you want the license it costs extra. Others only offer the licensed version and, of course, do charge for it, which makes their computers more expensive. It seems to me that the legal version could avert problems down the line, in terms of downloading updates and things, especially now that I know how much information about your operating system is communicated to every website you visit.) The disadvantage was that they only offer a one-year guarantee and, of course, their machines were a bit more expensive because of the Windows.

Anyway, I was pretty well decided on the little shop in town and stopped by on Wednesday to get one final price quote on the exact configuration I had chosen. They said they'd E-mail it to me that afternoon or first thing Thursday. Since it hadn't arrived by the time I left the house before business hours on Thursday morning, I decided to stop by the shop to get the quote and, assuming it was about what I had calculated myself, I would go to the bank to withdraw the money and hopefully be able to pick up the computer some time on Friday.

Except that the shop was closed when I got there at 10:30 a.m. I called the two phone numbers on their business card and one of them had a message giving a cellular number. But there was a "can't come to the phone right now" message on the cell phone too. Not terribly trust-inspiring, but I figured there could be an acceptable reason for closing the shop on a weekday, since it's a small business and all.

On Friday I made sure to take a change of clothes to the gym and after spinning class I called to see if the shop was open. It was, so I headed back to the dressing room to shower and change. Except that when I opened up my bag to get out my clean clothes, I found that I had somehow forgotten my underwear. [Or possibly dropped it out by the front desk when I got out the cell phone to call the computer shop? Oh, surely not.] I thought about putting the ones I was wearing back on after my shower, but couldn't get past the picture of myself talking to the computer guy while an underwear-shaped sweat stain slowly appeared across my butt.

I thought about how online stores are always so quick to point out that when you buy online you can "shop in your underwear!" and, although this particular activity has never held much appeal for me, I figured that if people are going to use their computers to shop in their underwear, I could darn well buy my computer without any underwear. I hoped that this (and some other minor setbacks I'd had that morning) wasn't an indication of how the computer-buying was going to go. A girl can hope, can't she?

So I went down to the shop, which was open. The guy working there said the owner had had some errands he had to do, so had opened late the day before. Okay, I can accept that, especially in this culture. But. The price quote wasn't ready yet. Wha...? I go in on Wednesday morning to ask how much something costs and they can't manage to tell me the answer on Friday? I explained that I was ready to go to the bank right then if I could just get the information, so that hopefully they could have the computer ready for me to pick up on Saturday. Well, the guy didn't seem to think that was likely in any case. The owner would get back to me as soon as possible with the quote, but the suppliers would not be open on the weekend, so I would probably be able to pick the computer up on Monday. Or possibly early Tuesday.

I thanked him and went home to reconsider the shop at the mall. I called them back to get the price on the exact configuration I had settled on. The sales person asked me for the number on the printout she had given me when I went in on Wednesday, then pulled up that quote and updated it to the specifications I gave her. She gave me the modified price immediately, and it was a dollar or two less than what I had calculated myself. I asked when it could be ready and she said later that afternoon or, possibly, the next day because they have to send out to one of their other branches for a copy of Windows in English. Being a mall shop, they're open till 9:00 pm, including Saturdays.

I told her to go ahead and she called me back a half hour later to say that it would be ready around noon today. Granted, when I called at 11:30 this morning she said it would be more like 2:00 pm, but I'm okay with that.

It's nearly 2:00 now and I still haven't heard from the other shop...the one I told yesterday that I would go withdraw the money right then if they could just tell me how much it was going to cost. I must say, I'm feeling pretty comfortable with my decision not to buy from them.


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