Are you buying a new computer? A former computer sales associate tell's all


Congratulations!  For whatever reason, you have decided to purchase a new Personal Computer (PC).  Either your old one died, or just isn't doing it for you anymore because it's slow and clunky.  Perhaps you're getting a laptop for your kid who is going off to college or you could be setting up a new office in your home.  You go to the computer store, Staples, or Best Buy, and see the latest models lined up on the tables and you have no idea what the difference is.  You look around and it is all so overwhelming.  Then a sales associate greets you with a big smile.  He introduces himself and asks what he can do for you?  You start talking about what you need.  The next thing you know, you just spent $600 or $700 more than the advertised price of the computer. 

As a sales associate for Staples, I was trained to maximize sales.  That was always my number one goal when working with you.  When you come in to purchase a computer, it was my job to not only sell you the best computer for your needs, but to squeeze as much out of your wallet as I possibly could.  I did this by adding attachments to your purchase.  It could be anything such as software you may need, or a mouse for your laptop.  And let's not forget the protection/service plans, or a new printer.  All I had to do was convince you that you needed it.  I had to show you the value of the attachment and suggest ways in which it would be beneficial to you.  Most of the time, all I had to do was suggest it and overcome your objections, which was pretty much the same as everybody else's.  Humans are predictable.

Most of the time, I could do this and you would still be walking out of the store with a smile on your face.  Then I would be off bragging to the manager who would reward me with some brownie points, a high five or a fist bump.  Perhaps you feel good about your purchase, perhaps you have reservations about spending too much.  Either way you just went through one hell of a ride.  

But what do you really need?  How much do you really need to spend?  What should you know before you go in so that you don't have to go all out unnecessarily.  

I will break it all down for you.

What should you know before you walk into the store?

If you came into my store and started looking at the laptops, I would come up, introduce myself, get a sense of who you are and how knowledgeable about the latest technology you are.  I would start asking you open-ended questions to get you talking.  I wanted to get a sense of your situation; Why are you considering buying?   What are you going to do with it?  What is your level of frustration with your old one?  Do you even know how to use the power button?  

In regard to technology, there are three types of people in the world:

1. The severely technologically challenged
2. Those with a basic understanding
3. People who know what they are doing

I spent the vast majority of my time with people who were clueless.  I always had the advantage with them.  In comes Grandma and the first thing she says to me is, "I don't know nothing about computers!" and she wants to do email and Zoom with her grandkids in Alaska or something.  Then I get her to drop $1200 on a $500 laptop and she has a big old smile on her face when she leaves.

It would help you greatly if you knew what you were going to do with it.  If you are just going to use it for email, surfing the web or social media, then you would do fine with a lower mid-range computer.  If you are like me, you have higher needs.  I have a much more powerful and expensive computer.   It's always better to go with something a little faster than what you need, because it leaves room to grow, but I never recommended the lowest end PC's because they just wouldn't do it and leave more room for growth.  They are junk right out of the box.

The most common reasons I got for people buying new computers was: 

1. General home use: email, pay bills, surf the web, watch Netflix, social media, etc.
2. Work: Office use, Quickbooks, CAD, 
3. Creative: Video/Photo editing, podcasting, web design.  
4. Gaming: Latest games.  Requires fast processor and high end video card.
5. School
6. A gift for somebody else.

I would also ask: Why are you buying it?  Did your old PC crap out on you?  Are you frustrated with having to wait for everything you want to do?  Are you setting up a new office?  Is your kid going off to college and needs a laptop?

By knowing this kind of information, not only could I help you pick out the right computer, but I could figure out what else I can sell you along with it.   I would know what kind of software you would need.  Are you going to carry it around?  Then you might need a case to carry it in.  Do you like the touch pad on a laptop?  If not we have this nice little mouse.

If their old one died or won't do it anymore, I could focus on their frustration levels, and how I can help them prevent that in the future for just a couple extra hundred bucks.

If you kid is going to college, what is their major going to be?  If they're gong to be an English major, they won't need anything too extravagant, but if they are going into Computer Science or Engineering, they might need something a bit more powerful.  

What is the difference between a $300 and a $1000 laptop?

If you are looking at the laptops at any Staples, the prices are likely to range from about $300 to $900 .  You will see larger and smaller screens.  They are lighter and thinner than your old one.  There are different brands, HP, Asus, Lenovo but is one brand better than the other?  They don't carry gaming PC's on the shelf, although I could get them online.  That's overkill for what most people would need.

The differences between the PC's are mostly in regards to the specs, but they come with these major features.

Processor - The brain of the PC.   This is where the calculations are done.
Intel Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5 or i7.  The i9 is also available for much more powerful computers.  
Or the AMD Equivalent.  (AMD is another manufacturer of computer components.  This would be important to techies.)
Hard Drive - How much storage capacity the computer has.
RAM or Memory - How much the computer can do at once, and how quickly.
Screen Size - 11 Inch to 17 inches when measured diagonally.   The most common size of a computer screen is 15.6 inches.  Anything smaller than that won't have the number pad on the keyboard so if that is important to you...

A higher end computer at Staples will probably have an Intel i7 Processor, a 512 Gigabyte Solid State Drive and 16 gig's of memory.   Most PC's are coming with solid state drives now a days.  That means the hard drive no longer has moving parts.  It's all electronic.  They are much faster than the old ones which had a needle and spinning wheel like a record.  This reduces a bottleneck inside the computer.

In regards to the processors, I would never recommend the lowest end to anybody, ie Celeron or Pentium.  If you were frustrated with your old PC, it won't be long before you are frustrated with these ones.  For $100 more you can get into an i3 which will be much better for you, will probably do whatever you want it to, and will last you a while.  The problem with the lower end computers is that they have to work harder, and with the updates that come regularly, it won't be long before  it starts to slow down.  

There was always that one idiot who knew better than me though.  

Picking out the computer was the easy part.  I could tell which laptops would meet your needs within the first minute of our conversation.  For me, the goal was not so much to sell you a computer, but to get you to buy everything else along with it.

What else do I need to buy with my PC?

Here's where we get into the good stuff.  Here is where all of my sales training came into play.  But before I say it, I need to tell you a little secret...

Staples doesn't make any money from the sale of that computer.   

It's true.  If there is any profit to be made off of a $500 laptop, it won't be much.  Maybe $20, maybe $50 if they got a good deal on it from the manufacturer.  Sometimes they might even take a hit.  After you consider what it costs to ship it to the store, and for the hour of labor I just spent selling it to you.  That's why I have to work so hard to get you to buy everything else along with it.

The laptop just got you into the store.  That's what you came to buy, but it doesn't have everything you will need.  It doesn't include a word processor, so I will try to sell you Microsoft Office.  It comes with a 30 day trial of Antivirus, so I will try to sell you that.  Do you need a mouse?  You know that touchpad can be a pain in the butt.  How about a mouse pad?  I have one with a cute little puppy on it.  

The attachments are much higher margin items.  That means, if I sell you a $20 mouse, half of that is profit.  So I just made Staples $10 bucks, making that sale that much more profitable.  When you include the Antivirus or the MS Office, it starts getting up there.  My manager would start getting excited because he would see that shopping cart filling up.  Oh, and don't forget the protection plans.      
Staples currently offers a protection plan that they call Total Support.  What this gets you is total support, and is a good service for those who are technologically challenged.  In other words, if you are an idiot who is prone to messing up your computer, then this is a good deal for you even though it doubles the cost of the sale.  It includes the hardware protection through an outside provider such as Assurion or Squaretrade.  It gets you their overpriced anti-virus, with McAffee with unlimited free virus removals.  And if you screw it up, all you have to do is bring it in.  If the customer chooses to purchase this protection plan, then I would print out a copy of the receipt, give it to the manager who would get all excited, brag about me to the other store managers, etc.  If they didn't buy it, I would be teased or coached by the boss.

It also includes 24/7 over the phone support, so if you needed verbal instructions on how to plug it into the wall so that it can get power, (some people do) then it's just a phone call away.

Do I really need the expensive protection plan?

Probably 90% of computer problems are caused by user error.  Either they clicked on something, or they dropped it.

I personally wouldn't buy the protection on a new computer that they offer in the store, except for the hardware protection if it wasn't too expensive.  I would use my own anti-virus that I already have a subscription on.  I have enough of an understanding of how to use and keep a computer safe and protected so the chances of me needing to use it are relatively low.  

In regards to the protection plan on other items, I haven't used them very often.  You have to weigh the value of it in your own head.   I will say that people who don't have a basic understanding of computer use would come in often after messing something up. 


As a sales associate, I honestly didn't care about you.  I had a job to do and that was to sell and that is all I cared about.  Because the store didn't really make much profit off of the actual PC, it was my job to get you to buy items along with the PC that were more profitable for the store.  The protection plan was profitable for the store.  Like half the cost of the plan is profit.  I did my job.  I did it well.  If you bought all the attachments, great!  If not, I would take my lashing with the manager and just move on to the next guy.  If you were stupid, I would probably see you before too long, when you messed it up, got a virus or something.  If you bought the protection, there would be no additional cost to you, if not then the store would make even more money off of you.  

My sales training worked with a good many people.  I knew what questions to ask them.  I knew what to listen for.  I knew what to suggest to them and how to suggest it.  I knew how to use their pain and frustration with their old machine, to get them to purchase the protection plans.  I didn't care if they would go hungry for the next month, or where they would come up with the money to live from that point on.  It wasn't my job to manage their wallet.  It was my job to sell.



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