Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Do All Online Computer Stores Just Plain Suck?!?

I've been waiting to get a desktop computer. The way I figure it, the only real reason to have a desktop machine these days is for the raw power and so I really wanted to give myself an insane budget to get something spec'ed up something crazy to last me as long as my last desktop did - around 7 years before the fans started crapping out and the usability was really crap.

Anyway, I'm having a look at a project and decided sod it... I probably need 2 anyway. A low end machine that can be used for wiping and trying out all sorts of crazy stuff (development of appliance type things) and something insanely powerful that can handle VM's (Virtual Machines) - once again, it's all about development. I actually hate it when I have 3 machines around me (netbooks, chromebooks, laptops etc.)  and would love it if I could focus on one keyboard and use tools like virtual desktops to work between different machines.

So... for the low end machine (still more powerful than anything I've got or used), I decided to have a look at what was on offer. The specifications - I'm only really after a motherboard with integrated GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), the RAM, a CPU and a case - black on black... I'm really not into the naff silver trim or blue LED's - just give me something black and unassuming. Something introverted. It's probably going to end up living in my room and given my love of creative bits and pieces, there's probably a blender movie to be made and rendered overnight so chances are it's going to spend a great deal of time powered on (and LED's are surprisingly bright when you're trying to sleep).

There are some really obvious things that an online computer store could do. Picking a CPU?... - are you building a system? Then here are your motherboard choices for that CPU. And hey, you've picked a motherboard - here are the RAM options that suit. Oh and the motherboard doesn't provide X, Y and Z - do you need these things? And customizations to systems should be fairly simple - instead of adding a computer to the shopping cart, add it's component parts! Only one online retailer I've seen has the option to do this.

Want to sort by price? Not a chance. No.... instead you've got to go through by brand *sigh* - even on those really naff items like keyboard and mouse (not that I'm in the market, but still). Add the word "gamer" and things suddenly become 10 times more expensive.

A few years ago I tried to buy a printer online and found myself getting the run around at every point. The first printer I paid for - the store then rang me, told me they couldn't offer the printer at the price advertised and refused to send me an email to that effect (at the very least they were prompt with the refund).

The second retailer I went to online sent me a different printer than the one ordered - apparently an equivalent, though lacking the specifications for which I'd decided on the model of printer I'd chosen. The fact that they'd thought that it was okay to just change a persons order was ridiculous. In which case, if I'm buying online, I insist it has to be somewhere I can get to and scream at people if needed... What made the whole thing so much worse was the fact that the couriers kept failing to deliver (though there was always someone at home at the times they'd said they'd attempted delivery). A bit of running around resulted in a comical situation of me being at the courier depot while the courier supposedly had it on board and then a weekend trip, after phoning to make sure the printer was there, then went down only to find that it had been left at another depot (NZ Couriers are REALLY crap). In fact, I tend to shy away from any store using the Freightways Group (wouldn't it be great to have the option?).

And then there's the attitude when you go in store... Normally I've gone in for something very specific. I've done my research over the Internet. There are very specific reasons why I've chosen to buy what I'm in store to get. Only... sometimes... just sometimes... I get told that I don't really want the thing I'm in there for... "What you really want is....."

With all of this in mind, it's kind of surprising that computers are as big an industry as they are. The act of putting one together is just plain awful. There's an opportunity here. Someone to create something sane in terms of an online retailer. I'm reminded of PC Direct who's computers definitely weren't the cheapest at the time but their support was about the best you could get (though it was sold and the service seen as an expense and thus, it fell by the wayside). There are some pretty good stores - PB Technology for example is a nerd mecca without a bunch of people second guessing you... But of course, it's way too big to put together a carefully considered system.


  1. Maybe try http://www.computerlounge.co.nz - I have found their service to be excellent and their website almost as good.
    Use Components > combo Builder as a start :)

    1. Their website isn't bad. It's not great, but it's not bad either. I think there's a statement to be made here:

      Geeks are users too.

      I ended up buying what I needed from "ComputerStore". It does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity on their part. i.e. I would be quite happy to pay an extra $50 or so for the bits to be put together (pick your battles - is it really worth your time to be messing around with this stuff?). Instead I got an email today saying that it's all been shipped from 3 different suppliers.

      Oh and I made a decision. While I could have done it all for about $280 + GST, I decided that I was never going to get to the point where I could spend insane amounts on a machine (this after getting an email from Bonus Bonds telling me I'd won! Although the email didn't specify an amount) so doubled the RAM (I was going to go with 8GB's. 16GB's will see me through for a few good years I think).

      I was surprised to see that none of the FM2 socket motherboards offered anything above USB2.0 except for one that was double the price of the others. That seems a tad... short sighted.

      I think the business model for computers has been skewed - while there's no profit on the hardware, services (such as putting together the bits) are high profit areas... For example, to chuck a motherboard into a case, slot in the RAM, attach a CPU and deal to the power connections should only take 1/2 an hour. Service (do any of the computer suppliers around have any sort of after sales support that doesn't require going to the store?) really is a value add area that I think people are willing to pay for. Look at businesses for example. They're willing to pay the extra for things like Warranties over the usable life of a machine (you generally only use a server while the service contract is still valid - it's cheaper in terms of time and money to take another service contract rather than tinkering with the hardware).

    2. I just went back to that website and I think it's important to note that they have a very specific audience - gamers. You wouldn't, for example, bother with odd names on your RAM if you're someone like me.

      I think there's a huge business opportunity. Perhaps I could give it to the high school kids to have a go at.