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11 Tips For Smarter Shopping (Part 1)

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Buying a PC can be a complicated and expensive process, if you do it wrong. Follow our tips to make sure you do it right!

When you’ve been buying systems as long as we have, you pick up a few tips on the way. You can’t put a price on the value of experience, so to try to save you some money, we’ve distilled the lessons learned into 11 easy to remember tips. After all, buying a system isn’t just about finding the lowest prices - it’s also about spending your money in the smartest way possible. Follow our advice and hopefully you’ll be able to do both.

1.    Check the Clearance or Outlet Sections for Bargains

Most websites have a perpetual discount section they use to get rid of stock that can’t be sold as new. Don’t worry, these products aren’t second hard; normally, these listings are a combination of end-of-line models, ex-display goods that have been run in a limited manner, and products that were returned but aren’t faulty. Normally, you’ll find these items listed as ‘clearance’ or ‘outlet’ items as a reduced cost.

Check the Clearance or Outlet Sections for Bargains

Check the Clearance or Outlet Sections for Bargains

It’s a bit of a gamble as to what’s available, but there’s every chance that if you’re building a system, you’ll find something you need, whether it’s a monitor or mouse. One thing to bear in mind is that these products will be available in very limited quantities only. If you see something you want, don’t expect it to be there in a few days’ time - treat it as a now or never purchase!

This doesn’t just apply to component retailers either. System retailers like Dell often have their own outlet website (for example, www.dell.co.uk/outlet), where you can buy returned, refurbished and end-of-line systems at a discount. You still get a warranty as normal, and the same support and delivery as when you buy a full Dell system; the only real difference is that the price is slightly lower.

You need not be too worried about the quality of clearance and outlet items. Indeed, if anything, because they’ve been thoroughly tested prior to listing, they’re actually less likely to fail than any random component you buy!

2.    Use Price Comparison Sites to Find the Cheapest Vendor

Price comparison websites may often seem better at getting retailers traffic than getting consumers good deals, but that doesn’t mean the latter can’t happen. The price of computer components can fluctuate wildly because of the instability of wholesale costs and the fierce competition between retailers, and that means a metasearch is your best bet at finding the cheapest place online.

Use Price Comparison Sites to Find the Cheapest Vendor

Use Price Comparison Sites to Find the Cheapest Vendor

Performing price comparison on computer products is sometimes tricky. If a price looks too good to be true, it’s probably because some error has been made. Perhaps a 1GB graphics card model has been matched with its 2GB line-mates, or some retailer has listed their prices without VAT. If you look around, though, you should be able to find who’ s selling the product you want at the cheapest price.

In particular, Google Product Search (www.google.com/prdhp) offers a no-frills service that should let you speedily identify who has the cheapest price for any given component (both with and without postage). It’s not perfect, but it’s quick to use and easy to read, and that makes it a valuable tool for any system builder looking to save a few quid. You may not save any more than that, but if you’re putting together a whole system it’ll soon stack up!

3.    Scour eBay For the Product You Want

It might seem desperate, but if you’re looking for something that no retailer has in stock, there’s a very good chance you’ll find it on eBay. We don’t mean to suggest that you buy second-hand products (although you could), but rather that you use the site as a way to get access to the one-off, boxed, as-new items that have been found at the back of cupboards or given as gifts and are slowly making their way, unused and unopened, onto the secondary market.

Scour eBay For the Product You Want

Scour eBay For the Product You Want

As with anything, getting a bargain on eBay is a distinct possibility, but you can easily end up paying over the odds if you let yourself get sucked into a bidding war. The best way to find bargains is persistence. Use alerts and custom searches to make sure you’re watching every product listing for the piece you want. Check misspellings and alternate listings in the hope that you can find an advert others have missed. You might even be able to import one from abroad using the worldwide search.

The key thing to remember is that eBay is more or less like any other shop. Assuming you pay through legitimate channels and conduct all communication through the internal email system, you’ll have all the protection you need if a product is faulty or missing. However, do remember to check the seller’s feedback before you bid, just in case…

4.    Use Release Schedules to Inform Your Buying Habits

When you’ve made the decision to buy a piece of hardware, it’s tempting to simply throw your money down and stake out your place by the letterbox. But wait. Ask yourself: how likely is it that the successor to this piece of hardware will be out soon? And if it’s due, can you hold out for a few more weeks with what you’ve got?

Computing is an industry with iterative design practices that can make a piece of hardware seem practically obsolete within months of you buying it. Rather than cursing the natural depreciation of your hardware purchases, why not use it to your advantage?

Look at it this way: if the new version of the hardware you want is about to hit the market, holding out for only a little while could mean the price on the version you actually want will drop sharply. Retailers want to get rid of their old stock to make way for the new model, and as it gets closer to shelves they’ll practically shower you with discounts. If not, you might just be able to negotiate one.

The risks here are that the product you’re trying to get a discount on sells out and isn’t refreshed, or the new model gets pushed back, leaving you waiting even longer, but it’s worth keeping in mind. If a new graphics card is due in the autumn and you’re putting your system together in October, can it really hurt to wait a few weeks in the hope of a discount?

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