5 Tips to Get What You Want From Technology Retail

By Fred Roth
Contributing Writer, [GAS] 

In my daily sweep across my favorite tech news sites (next to [GAS], of course), I read an article listing 10 behaviors to adopt in order to get what you want from customer service centers.

With the holiday shopping season fast approaching (believe me, we employees are already hearing it at retail stores), I thought I’d offer up a list of things to do if you want to get what you want while shopping for technology, from someone who will be selling it to you!

 1. Know the store

Choosing what gifts to buy is hard enough, but it’s worth doing the research on your favorite electronics store. Do the employees work on commission? What is the store’s return policy? Do they charge restocking fees? Can you order items that are not in stock? What’s their price-matching policy? Knowing these answers can prevent a lot of hassle. The first can be the most important when it comes to your actual experience at the store. If the sales associates are on commission, you need to keep an eye out for them pushing a particular unit. Often times, stores will have an excess of a given product, and will give employees incentives to sell. The last is also important. Knowing if a store can get a popular item can save you time.

2. Get there early

I cannot stress this enough, and anyone who has worked in retail knows what I mean. It seems simple and rather obvious, but each and every week at work, I have someone who comes in on Saturday to buy a POS, Celeron-based laptop that was sold out the Sunday before. Most stores start their weekly ads on Sunday and end them on Saturday. If you want to buy someone a gift from the ad, buy it the day it goes on sale (Monday at the latest).

3. Start with a smile

Just as employees are getting hammered with this kind of advice, the same should hold true with the customer. Your experience in ANY store will be much better if you start out on the right foot. The sales associate will be more relaxed and will be more likely to listen when you say “no” to a particular offer.

What’s more, if you run into issues with the availability of that flash drive you HAVE to get, you’ll be much more likely to get it ordered than if you get angry and throw a fit. After all, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

As a corollary, if something is not available, or is different than what you thought, don’t get angry at the sales associate. It is rarely his or her fault. Don’t yell, scream, curse, throw stuff or hit them (been there and had it all done to me). Your average salesman has no control over how many TVs his store gets each week, or how many people came in to buy it before you. If you DO think you have been slighted by The Man, calmly ask to speak with a manager. Plead your case firmly and succinctly. Because of the sheer volume of sales during this time of the year, they will not feel bad saying no, or asking you to leave, if you are incorrigible. You stand a better chance of getting what you want if you are nice.

Furthermore, realize that the employee you are working with is just that: an employee. They are there to do a job. Don’t blame them if they offer a few things, they probably have to. Which leads me to my next point…

4. Know what to expect

You WILL be offered stuff. Some will be crap, and some will be useful. Referring to point one (above), if your salesperson is on commission, be particularly wary.

In any case, don’t feel bad asking, “Why should I get that?” Listen to the answer given. You can learn a lot about a store and its employees. If it’s a printer, and your friendly, polo-shirt-clad salesman offers ink and a USB cable, those offers make sense. However, if you are offered a “free” subscription to AOL because it’s “awesome,” RUN LIKE MAD!

The same holds for warranties, replacement plants, and so on. Here’s where research comes in to play. If you are planning to buy a TV this Christmas, go in now and ask for a copy of the warranty paperwork (they must, by law, supply it to you). Figure out what it covers, and make a decision beforehand.

One of the big questions to ask is, “what consumables are covered by the plan?” If your $100 plan covers the replacement of $180 batteries for that camcorder, or $300 bulbs for your DLP tv (both actual examples) it might be worthwhile.

Also, go up to the service desk and ask what the average turn-around time is for repairs, or IF they repair whatever you are buying. Monitors, for example, are repaired by very few retailers, and are usually just replaced. At the same time, check out the manufacturer’s included warranty.

Finally, like point three above, if offered a plan you don’t want, just politely say, “no, I know what it covers and I’m going to pass.” Being sarcastic, claiming you don’t need it (implying you can get parts for free), or calling them a rip off will only piss off the sales person regardless of whether you are right or wrong. I know some co-workers who, immediately after getting this kind of flak from a customer, start offering EVERYTHING they can think of.

5. Do your research now

In other words, don’t do it in the stores the day after Thanksgiving. The sales staff wants to be helping people who are actually buying products, not asking for a detailed analysis and opinion on every refrigerator they have. Go in now, to several stores, and start asking questions. Holiday models are just now hitting shelves, so looking into options, basics and brands will still be applicable for this winter. Also, traffic is light between the back-to-school rush and Thanksgiving , so employees have time to chat with you about what they carry. This means you will get better, more honest, and more detailed advice than you might later this year.

Part of this research is knowing your rights as a consumer. Know the laws in your area that protect you as the buyer (like lemon laws and anti-inboarding laws).

At one point a few years ago, a big box store in my area was telling my parents that they HAD to sign up for a free one year of AOL to get a deal that was in the ad (no mention of AOL there). It turns out AOL pays this store around $80 per subscription they create, and this scam was a bid for margin dollars. I offered (with a smile) to call the attorney general to charge them with illegal inboarding if they didn’t cough up the computer for the advertised price, sans AOL. MOST stores and sales people are not out there to screw you, just to pay their own bills, but you still need to be wary.

That said, happy shopping!