How to avoid getting suckered when you shop for gadgets

electronics salesman

When you’re running the gauntlet of stores to complete your last-minute holiday shopping, it can be tempting to latch onto the helpful advice of a salesperson – especially when you’re dealing with confusing technology. But don’t let your desire to finish get the best of you. Remember: There is no good reason to believe a single word that comes out of your average salesperson’s mouth, especially if you’re visiting big outlets in search of that elusive bargain. Not all sales people are liars, but you won’t lose anything by treating their gentle suggestions and chidings with skepticism.

A UK survey by Gumtree found that consumers spent nearly $4 billion on unwanted Christmas gifts last year. Most of them might well be jumpers and socks, but a decent wedge will be unwanted electronics that were sold by an enthusiastic sales person focused on their commission.

Let’s take a look at how the truth can get bent, twisted, and shattered into a million pieces, along with a few tips on how to avoid being ripped off.

The massive discount

Just because a gadget is selling for a fraction of what it originally cost doesn’t make it a good deal. In some cases, an item might have been massively overpriced for a few weeks just so a store could drop it later to make it look like the bargain of the century. In others, the discount might be the only way to move a shoddy product. HP’s TouchPad flew off the shelves when retailers dropped prices to $99, but that doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a great tablet to begin with.

Always do a quick search on your smartphone using a price-comparison app because it could save you a fortune.

What you really want is…

Whenever a salesperson gently shakes his head or does the plumber maneuver of whistling through his teeth with a grimace on his face, it means he’s about to upsell you. You were going to buy that $400 laptop? He’ll display disdain for it and say, “Let me just show you…” before leading you to gargantuan, feature-laden monster that is definitely way beyond what you need. He’ll tell you that he has one at home himself, because it’s simply the best. This is a lie. He doesn’t care what you actually need. “Future-proofing” is a handy excuse to upsell you. Don’t be dazzled; remember that you know what you want better than the sales person you just met.

Extended warranty

Generally speaking, a warranty covers you in the event that you buy a lemon. Whether it’s a toaster or a smartphone, if it dies after a couple of months or has some other obvious malfunction, you’ll be able to get a replacement for free. Normal warranties don’t tend to last for that long, but electronics usually have a one- or two-year manufacturer warranty, and that’s plenty of time to establish that your purchase doesn’t have anything obviously wrong with it.

Every electronics store in the world will try to sell you an extended warranty. They might call it Master Care or Star Cover, but it is basically an extended warranty.

They use loads of techniques to shift extended warranties. They’ll tell you that you really need it because the product you are buying breaks frequently and is expensive to fix. They’ll conspiratorially grin as they explain that you’ll obviously be taking the warranty because you’re a savvy shopper. They’ll even get other staff members involved, “This guy doesn’t want the Master Care,” they’ll say to a colleague who will pull such a look of revolted horror that you’ll want to repent and sign up for seven years on the spot.

Sometimes they’ll even tell you how amazing the warranty is, “You could literally decide to pour a cup of coffee into your PlayStation 3 and with Star Cover we’ll be at your door with a brand new one within 22 minutes.” It’s all a con. Every policy has a strict list of what is covered, and it’s not a world of VIP service. Some of these stores will even try to sell you extended warranties that will end up costing more than the original product.

Don’t give in. You don’t need the extended warranty. Even if you do really want the protection of an extended warranty, shop around before you buy, like you would with anything else; don’t assume the best deal will be in the store where you bought the device.

Setup services

A lot of electronics stores offer set up services now where they’ll send an “engineer” to your house to set up your new device and make sure you know how to use it or they’ll install everything for you in store. This can make sense if you’re buying a new PC or a laptop, but if you’ve just bought an HDTV and a sound bar, what they’re really saying is – let us take all the pain out of plugging in three cables and charge you a large fee.

If you really don’t have the confidence to do it yourself, then ask someone relatively tech savvy to help you, but don’t pay the outrageous fees these places typically charge.

You’ll also need…

So you’ve decided on the home-theater system or the new camera that you want, and now the sales person is trying to throw in a couple of extras. Do you need a gold-plated HDMI cable hand-crafted by digital artisans, or an ultra-mega wider-than-wide lens for photographing mountains at close range? No. Standard cables will work perfectly well, and you can always buy extra accessories later. If you do decide to get an accessory, slow down and shop around just as you would for any other product before you pull the trigger.

You drive a hard bargain

Haggling might not come naturally to you, but the vast majority of electronics stores have some wiggle room when it comes to negotiating a discount on big ticket items. They’ll generally try to make it out as if you just got such a great deal by negotiating that “free” HDMI cable with your $3,000 TV that they’ll be forced to forage in a dumpster for their meal tonight. Electronics stores have adopted the old car-salesman routine of “I’ll have to ask my manager” every time you try to negotiate a freebie or a discount. They don’t. It’s just an excuse for them to take a break and a psychological tool in the haggling battle with you.

Is it worth paying extra money to avoid an awkward moment staring down a sales person you will never see again? Absolutely not. It’s always worth haggling a bit, but you have to be prepared to walk or it won’t work.

Be prepared

The best way to avoid getting sucked in by lies and dodgy sales techniques is to prepare before you shop. Research what you want before you go. Read reviews. Treat the stores as a chance to get a hands-on look at what you want, but don’t feel pressured to buy it there. Always compare prices online before you buy.

There are honest sales people out there, so don’t assume they’re all liars, but never allow anyone to pressure you into a quick decision. That’s where most purchasing mistakes are made.

Image courtesy: dotshock/Shutterstock