Opinion

The computer shopping experience

I’ve got a notion to go buy a used car just so I can have an enjoyable shopping experience.

Last weekend I purchased a computer, the first one since 1992. The 1992 one is still fine for me, but one of the offspring was in desperate need of a laptop. So I went with the same manufacturer that built my 1992 model. I remembered walking into a chain store, seeing it sitting on a shelf, reading some attached literature, and making the purchase at the price advertised. The thing is still working today, never went to a repair shop, and still offers Asteroids and other low-tech diversions. It’s never been infected because the Internet virus spreader wasn’t around back then.

Speed forward to 2006, and my computer manufacturer now sells out of its own stores filled with bright young men intent not on selling computers, but on confusing the customer.

I quickly discovered the marked price of the computer I wanted was just a starting point for discussion. Its cover was white, which was several factors short of the coolness standard offered by the black machine, and a mere blip on the coolometer compared to the silver machine. Each step up in cool cost about $500. But I stuck to my guns, knowing that the white computer had everything the offspring would need, or so I thought. It was odd that the price was almost exactly the same as the price I paid in 1992, but of course the abilities of the 2006 computer were vastly improved. Back in 1992, nobody was able to steal your identity or clean out your bank account simply by accessing your computer. I don’t know how I lived so many years without that feature.

The confusion doubled when the salesman implied I would be incredibly stupid not to purchase the warranty package, which cost one-quarter the price of the computer itself. With the warranty, they would actually provide good service. Without it, I’d have to personally carry the computer to the designated repair station in Shanghai.

But I was told there was a college student warranty discount, as there was for purchasing the computer. I said it’s for a college student, and that should be good enough. But it wasn’t. I had to go get the college student who would have to show proof of collegiality, or I’d lose the $50 discount and the $60 warranty discount. I refused.

There was a big sale pending, and they wouldn’t take my word and give me a college discount. Even a car salesman might do that. So I walked out of the store, feeling I’d been dissed. The saleman trailed along, feeling badly he was powerless to make a better deal. Even the store manager had no power to change one iota of the terms of sales.

Well, this compelled me to embark on a history lesson for the young man. Remember the 1984 Super Bowl, when your employer aired the most famous Super Bowl commercial of all time? This computer stood for the individual against the corporation. It stood for freedom, imagination and creativity. What? You were born in 1984? Never mind. You were raised to be a corporate digit in pants and know no better. I’ll just buy the computer and get it over with.

The offspring was thrilled with the white computer, but of course noted several important things it didn’t include. Had it been a car, it would have been missing the wheels. But it was at least a start, and she’d go back to the computer store and add what she wanted. She looked at me like I was a 1992 computer, still functioning but hopelessly out of touch.

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