Jag Venugopal's Blog

March 8, 2013

Seven habits of highly effective electronics buyers

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 7:08 am

Electronic gadgetry is usually a big-ticket and high-risk purchase. Technology is changing constantly — you don’t want the next version of your widget to show up a few weeks after you purchased it. Also, you don’t want to pay a dollar more than what you must.

Here are some suggestions from someone that has spent way much more of his paycheck on electronic doodads than he should have. I’ve shopped both local stores and on the web, and for the most part have come out on top by following the below principles:

1. Buy your widget about three months after release: Your widget will be at its most expensive the moment of release. That’s when manufacturers expect the early adopter crowd to swarm the stores and pick it up. For these early adopters, price is less of a consideration than bragging rights about being the first. About three months after release, the model is still brand new, but the initial fervor has died down. Sellers will be vying with each other to rack up sales. Ergo, your chances of landing a good price are much better.

If that’s the case then why not buy six, nine or even twelve months after release? That’s because technology changes very rapidly, often on a yearly cycle. Buy within six months of release, and you’re paying not much less than at the three-month mark, but have to now accept “technological depreciation” of six months instead of three.

2. Buy last year’s model in a stable category: In certain categories, the march of technology has slowed, and significant savings are to be had in purchasing last year’s model if it is not too different from this year’s. Dealers are looking to unload the stragglers and price their products to move. One example where this works well is TVs and Blu-Ray players. Sure, you get incremental improvements year-upon-year, but last year’s model is usually pretty good, and will come at a fantastic discount as well.

3. Don’t buy last year’s model in a rapidly changing category: In categories where there is still a lot of technology churn, avoid last year’s model. The discount is low compared to how much better the latest model is. An example of such a category is digital cameras, where advances in technology are very rapid. Another is the entire category of tablets and handhelds.

4. When buying smartphones, don’t get the 1-penny deal: Yesterday’s smartphones are usually on sale for a penny with a 2-year contract. The latest, on the other hand, cost about $200-300 with the same contract. It would appear that you are saving a lot by buying last year’s technology but in fact your savings are meager in exchange for what you’re missing out. Most of the cost of smartphone ownership are in the monthly payments for 24 months. You will roughly pay $2400 over the duration of the contract for the privilege of owning a smartphone. The $200 you save by buying an obsolete model is less than a 10% discount, in exchange for something that is behind the times.

5. Check if your local stores will honor web prices: During the last holiday, BestBuy matched Amazon on price. Where it gets interesting is that if during the return period the prices fall further, best buy will give you the difference but Amazon won’t (you will have to return and re-buy). So, with Best Buy, you get as good a deal initially as Amazon’s, and you have a month or two worth of price protection.

6. Never buy store brands: Names such as Dynex and Insignia are store brands. They may look like Samsung and Panasonic products, but are usually a generation older, made by different Chinese factories, to hit a price point. You may think you’re getting a deal, but the difference in quality is clearly visible, not to talk of it being obsolete on day one. A similar consideration applies to buying lower-tier brands such as Vizio, Westinghouse, etc. If you’re going to pay the money, buy a top-tier brand.

7. Never buy HDMI cables for more than $1-5: I’ve always bought the least expensive HDMI cables from Amazon, and they work just as well as the $60-100 deals from Monster cable routinely pushed by BestBuy and their ilk.

Bonus recommendation — Evaluate not just purchase, but lifetime costs: For example, when you buy an e-reader, Barnes and Noble may offer you a better deal today than does Amazon. Similarly, with a Digital SLR, you may get a better deal from a lesser-known brand than you might get from Canon or Nikon. But in both instances, you also have lifetime costs to consider. For the e-reader, it is the cost of books. Amazon typically sells books cheaper than does Barnes and Noble. Over time, your savings in book costs will likely oughtweigh the extra $10-20 that you may pay for an Amazon device. Similarly, with cameras, you will end up buying lenses, flashes, and assorted other add-ons. With Canon and Nikon, you are assured of a vast market of third-party suppliers and a robust used-equipment marketplace for lenses. With the lesser-known brands, much less so. Additionally, when you buy Canon or Nikon, your existing accessories will be virtually guaranteed to work with a new camera. Not so with off-brands, who may discontinue the entire line at short notice.



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