Don’t Get Shocked: 3 Tips for Smart Electronics Shopping

Even with a struggling economy, tech toys – for kids and adults – are predicted to be the hot gift items this holiday season. Which makes sense if you think about it …

“Dropping prices on mature products like TVs and laptops, and some hot new categories like tablet computers and e-book readers, have helped keep electronics on the top of many gift lists this holiday season,” says Paul Reynolds, electronics editor of Consumer Reports.

Reynold’s magazine recently conducted a poll of holiday shoppers and found:

  • In households with kids under 12, 59 percent plan to give video games as gifts – even without kids, 39 percent of adults are considering it.
  • Other popular electronics gifts include MP3 players or iPods (18 percent), digital cameras (14 percent), digital photo frames (11 percent) and GPS devices (10 percent).
  • Despite lower prices and new 3D technology, only 8 percent are planning on giving a TV as a gift.

Besides the ailing economy, which explains why holiday shoppers don’t want to drop thousands on a new TV or computer, there’s another reason these big-ticket items aren’t higher on Santa’s list: It’s hard to figure out when you’re getting ripped off. But if there is that special someone you want to splurge on, here are three crucial pieces of advice …

  1. The showroom is not the best room: Many novice tech buyers figure shopping for an expensive TV in person is better than doing it online, because you get to watch the TVs. Problem is, electronic stores are perfectly lit for the products they’re trying to sell. Get that TV or computer home, and you may notice the TV screen isn’t as bright in your living room and the computer screen has too much glare in your bedroom. So go online first. Start with easy-to-understand sites like Consumer Reports TV buying guide, which outlines the type of products without pushing a brand. When you figure out what you want – plasma vs. LCD television, or PC vs. Mac – Google those specific products and read the customer reviews. Then go to the store and look at those big-ticket items in literally a whole new light.
  2. Used is not abused: In the car business, they’re called “pre-owned.” In the computer business, they’re “refurbished.” But in both cases, they’re a heck of a lot cheaper. For instance, a “Refurbished iMac 27-inch 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5″ on Apple’s own site is $1,529. That’s $400 – 23 percent – off the price of a new machine. And it comes with a limited one-year warranty. If you shop in store, ask to see the returns or the floor models.
  3. Be wary of warranties: It’s not usually the price that’s the ripoff – it’s the often unnecessary and always expensive warranties the sales staff pushes on you at the point of purchase. If you really want that extra peace of mind, be aware that some credit cards offer free extended warranties if you use that card for your purchase. You can also buy a warranty later from a different company – try comparison-shopping on the web. When it comes to theft and damage, you may already be covered. “Many homeowners and renter’s insurance policies cover electronics and other expensive goods up to a certain limit,” says Jane L. Cline, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). “It’s important to do your research ahead of time so you make financially responsible choices at the register and avoid spending more than you need to.” If your policy has actual cash-value coverage, you’ll be reimbursed for the current cost of the property at the time of the claim, minus the deductible. And if you have replacement cost coverage, you’ll be reimbursed for the full value of the replacement item.

See our video Are Extended Warranties Worth It? as well as 7 Tips to Trim Your Tech Spending.

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