How To Build A PC

Step 9: Choose Your Vendor

Online merchants take advantage of lower operating expenses in order to price products far below what’s needed to keep the doors open at brick and mortar shops. However, the shipping costs can still kill your hopes for big savings, particularly if you shop across multiple storefronts. Per-item shipping often improves as more items are added to the order, so the savings attributed to buying online are maximized by purchasing from the fewest possible sources.

A difficult cascade of questions may consume you if you consider many sellers, various components at different prices, and a range of shipping rates. The easiest solution is pick a single vendor that’s able to give you the best deal on your complete list. To that end, there are several online shopping engines that allow you to source prices from several vendors at once. Keep in mind that single-item shipping rates quoted through shopping engines should drop significantly as order size increases, and if this doesn't happen, then it's time to check the next vendor on your list.

Local stores must increase prices to cover their higher operating expenses, but many receive items in large enough quantities to save you some of the money you'd otherwise spend on shipping. Consider the example of buying a single motherboard: online pricing might be $150 plus $10 shipping, totaling $160. If a local store bought 100 boards at a 10 percent discount and squandered that 10 percent savings on bulk shipping, it'd still be able to sell them for about the same cost, thus saving you $10 and several days of waiting.

"Loss leaders" are another way for you to save when shopping locally. These are items that larger stores like Best Buy or Fry's Electronics sell at a loss in order to lure you in, hoping their sales staff or flashy displays will get you to pick up a few more things on the way out.

Level Of Service

It's often said that you get what you pay for, and service is one area where local stores have the ability to outperform their online rivals (though not all of them do). Because small shops are constantly trying to build their reputations, and because they deal in lower volume, they're usually willing to go the extra mile to answer questions and earn your business. Larger electronics chains, on the other hand, focus on volume instead and would rather sell you another part than figure out why the one you have isn't working. Meanwhile, online merchants expect you to have enough knowledge to figure things out on your own.

Consider the situation of dealing with a compatibility issue:

  • Smaller, locally-owned shops will usually offer advice, inspect the item for free if you believe it's defective, or diagnose it in your system for a reasonable fee (again, that's not to say all of them will). On the other hand, they probably won’t be willing to provide a refund if you try to return a new component in used condition.
  • Most online merchants don't provide adequate tech support, instead going directly to the return process while charging a 15% "restocking fee" for any returned item. You'll end up paying for shipping both on the delivery and the return, and your 15% fee will go towards someone else's "open box" price reduction.
  • Favoring irresponsible buyers, "big box" retailers might give you all your money back if you come up with a good enough reason (or plausible excuse) for the return.

Seller Integrity

Local stores live and die by word of mouth, and will normally try to settle disputes amicably. Larger chain stores will generally try to dodge the bullet, though it might take a while for you to reach a satisfactory outcome.

Online merchants need to keep the majority of customers happy, but a minority can fall through the cracks. Many price comparison engines such as Google Shopping and Amazon have rating systems, which link to buyer reviews.

Auction sites are a great place to find discontinued hardware, but final selling prices on newer parts often exceed those of larger discount sites. Manufacturer warranties may not apply (especially to gray-market parts) and seller warranties are only as good as the seller's word. Be careful, though, and learn from one of our editors’ personal experience. He found a seller who had spent more than three years building his reputation as a power seller, and had a favorable rating of over 99%. This individual’s "retirement" plan, apparently, was to advertise items he didn't own during his final month of sales, and he was able to abscond with a six-figure salary of ill-gotten gains, including a few hundred dollars of our editors’ hard-earned cash. Thankfully, it has become more difficult to succeed at these scams, and payment companies with buyer protection policies will now track down criminals who've cost them insurance money.

Purchasing Summary

Online merchants offer the lowest price, but most vendor’s shipping policies favor large purchases. If you can get most items from one site, your savings could be significant. Inexpensive orders are often best-sourced locally due to shipping fees.

Furthermore, peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and game controllers are so dependent on individual ergonomics that it's usually best to try a few before making a purchase. Large retail chains may provide an adequate selection of parts to try out, but many buyers use these stores to "window shop" before placing an online order.

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  • James_39
    Selecting the case is a bizarre thing to have in Step 1.Surely that would be best placed once all other components, including accessories, have been factored in? Otherwise you end up selecting components purely on the basis they fit in your case, not forgetting that some (most) cases don't support water cooling kits/pipes etc mentioned in Step 8.