The day to take the plunge is nearly upon you. There's a new laptop in your future. You have a budget in mind and a rough sense of what you're after. But the first question you must answer may turn out to be one of the most important: Where are you going to buy it -- in a physical store or online?
Without question, on the surface, online is the most convenient route. Enter a Web address, check through a few pull-down menus and type in your credit-card info. Done. And if that were all there was to a carefully studied, high-value laptop purchase, we could send you merrily on your way. Of course, there's much more to it than that, and we all know that shortcut convenience often spawns long-term regrets. This is why computer stores continue to thrive. There are plenty of important reasons why you should make a local store part of your laptop shopping process. Here are a few of the biggest:
Guidance and advice
Here's a common question bound to come up during the buying process: How much system memory do you need? Once you understand what system memory is and does, you still want to weigh the cost of those chips against your present and future demands. What do you actually need?
Good luck getting that kind of advice from an e-tailer. However, a local salesperson can start by answering the most essential question: How will you be using this system? Then, he or she can explain the relevance of different options to your specific needs. This makes it easier to only buy what you truly require and not waste money on extraneous features or options. If you're shy about talking face-to-face because you're still learning laptop technology, don't worry. Start by getting educated online (opens in new tab) first. The Web is full of great laptop resources for beginners.
In our minds, this is the No. 1 reason to buy from a store. Any experienced laptop user knows that the biggest part of long-term purchase satisfaction lies in subjective factors. How does the keyboard feel in terms of activation pressure and responsiveness? How does the display look when showing photos or pages of text? (Tip: You're never going to know the answer from reading brightness and contrast specifications.) Laptop speakers will never fuel a frat party, but are they good enough for you to use while sitting alone at your kitchen table? Satisfaction depends on how your senses perceive the laptop -- not just at first glance, but over prolonged use. Buying local means knowing that a system will fit you like a good suit, not a one-size-fits-all sack.
Online vendors are famous for offering the lowest pricing around -- except when they don't. Local retailers periodically run aggressive sales. Black Friday may be the best known of these, but there are plenty of other holidays and sale events through the year, some of which even undercut the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Larger retailers, such as Best Buy, often pass rebate promotions along to buyers, driving down final prices even further. Add to this one-off deals, such as model clearances, refurbished units and floor models. If you're patient, local stores can narrow, and often beat, the price gap against online sources.
Watch it run.
Whether you're a gamer wondering if your laptop will fluidly play the latest first-person shooter or a video professional needing to confirm that your prospective purchase can handle your editing needs, you can't afford to buy blindfolded. Every once in a while, you might get lucky and find a store and salesperson willing to let you install your critical application(s) on a floor model of your desired system and try before you buy, but this is a rare treat. (The process can take hours, after all.)
Your next-best option is to find a reliable online resource, such as Laptop Mag, and search for your target portable (or a similar one in the same manufacturer/model family). Read to see which benchmarks were used in reviews and, of those, which tested the same sorts of operations and resources as your own applications. If reviewers report trouble spots, be wary. Alternatively, you may find similar apps already installed on the store's model(s). If so, give them a try, and see if they respond as you expect. No matter what, before you buy, make sure your system will deliver the benefits you want.
No matter where you buy your laptop, out-of-the-box failures or shipping breakages happen. And yes, e-tailers will swap your purchase (although sometimes not pay for shipping), but you'll have to wait days to weeks to have a system back. With a local source, you can have the device swapped and running within hours, maybe minutes. Especially for businesses or professionals who might be losing revenue due to lost productivity, this local swap capability alone may make all the difference in the buying process.
Naturally, there are other reasons why you'd want to buy a laptop from a local store, not the least of which is simply having a personal connection with a trusted source for something that is often going to be an integral part of your life. But the bottom line is that, when you're making an informed, well-supported decision, no online source is going to beat a capable, concerned sales rep shaking your hand. Enjoy the hands-on benefits of laptop shopping in a store, benefit from the extra support and realize years of higher satisfaction with your purchase.