TechPublishing Now MS Certified

TechPublishing Now MS Certified
Professor Robert McMillen, MBA Microsoft Certified Trainer and Solutions Expert

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Online Holiday Shopping Secrets

Online Holiday Shopping Secrets

By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
If you’re a professional shopper in brick and mortar stores, you know all the secrets to getting the best deals. But if you want to get those same deals online, then you need to learn some new tricks to get you to your goal of being the “Supreme Shopper of all Time” award.
Let’s pretend I want to buy a tech gift for my spouse, but I don’t know that much about it. My wife has made it clear that a digital camera is what I need to buy to put under the tree this year.
First I need to know everything about the technology I’m buying so I don’t get hyped by the advertisers. I don’t know how many pixels to buy, or even what a mega pixel is. I do know they seem important, since it’s what everyone leads with, and I have to find out why. When I need to learn something about anything, I do several different types of searches to help me. First I go to Wikipedia.com and type in “digital camera.”
I quickly find out that the cameras are split into two major categories the same way they were when everyone was using film. (Remember film?) There are point and shoot cameras and DSLRs. The former are cheaper and have less features than the latter. The greatest difference is the DSLR’s ability to interchange lenses and achieve better quality.
I then find out what those pesky pixels are. I find out that it is the measure of how many tiny little squares you can fit into the image. The more of them in the photo, the larger I can blow up the picture and still have a clear image. Most people think that this means better quality, but I find out differently when I do a Google.com search.  (When you do a search on any search engine, it’s important what you type in so you don’t get a bunch of websites you don’t want).
I want to know if more megapixels equals better quality, so I type “mega pixel quality” into Google. If you put the quotes around the search then you’ll receive website results that have those words exactly as you type them. Without the quotes, you’ll get websites that have both words, but not in the same sentence. You’ll also get websites that have either one word or the other. The quotes may save you hours of searching.
I find a fantastic site called About.com that tells me the quality of the lens is the thing that makes the picture look better, and not just the megapixels. It also has links to other camera features I should be looking for. Off to the right of the Google search screen are paid ads by companies who sell the cameras that I can look at. They’re not informational or unbiased as my other sites have been.
Now you can do a quick search for the different brands of cameras. I decide to go with a DSLR for the better quality and features, so I type into my search site “DSLR brands.” I see Sony, Nikon, Pentax, and Canon are the ones with the most hits. I go to consumerreports.com and cnet.com and search for reviews on these various brands.
These websites tell me the models and features of each major brand of cameras. They also mention some smaller brands that I take a look at to see if they measure up. I find out what people are saying about the quality of these models, and I also go to the manufacturer’s website to see if I can get any more information as I narrow down which model I want. I decide on a Nikon D300 for various reasons. (Don’t take that as an endorsement). I also decide to compare the prices to a Canon model that is similar.
Now I know what features I want, and I know the specifications. It’s time to shop. Oh yeah. A little retail therapy, and I didn’t even have to get dressed. You didn’t need to know that. TMI.
My favorite sites are Bestbuy.com, EBay.com, and Amazon.com. I can find new models or slightly used ones to choose from. On EBay I can determine the seller’s reputation to see if I want to buy from them. They have all kinds of sellers, whereas Amazon and Best Buy can sell me the camera directly. I can also go to pricegrabber.com and bizrate.com (among others) that will search all kinds of online stores to buy from and find the best price.
I find out that there are several stores that sell the cameras for a lot less than the major online stores. Looking further, I compare what’s in the box and find out that some of the extras like the storage card, case, and strap have been stripped out of the ones that sell for less. I also find out by calling the store that the box says it was made for another country and not the U.S. That means its gray market and I don’t want to touch it. Gray market products are ones that were supposed to sell elsewhere. They may have lower specs, less features, and no U.S. warranty. It’s not illegal, but it will hurt me when the camera breaks and I want to get it fixed. The parts may not even be in the country, despite being the same model.
I also check out the Better Business Bureau to see if they have any unresolved complaints against them. You can’t stop people from complaining, but you can see what grade the BBB gives the company based on their response to the complaints.  Check out BBB.org and type in the website address to see what they are saying about that company.
After doing extensive searches, I find that going with a known company like Amazon is the best way to go, but before I make that purchase, I decide to call Best Buy to see if they’ll beat the deal. Always look for price matching offers. If they beat the deal or will match it and have it in stock, you may want to switch your purchase to that company.
So now I have my camera, and the last thing to do is to figure out where to hide it for the next few weeks. That will be the toughest decision of all. My wife is a present Ninja.
To buy my latest book “How to be an IT Administrator,” go to http://howtobeanitadministrator.com/
For more great tips, check back here each week and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10:00 AM on KOL in Seattle, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com.
If you would like your technical question answered here, just email rmcmillen@koin.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column, I will always answer by email.
Published Monday, November 30, 2009 8:18 AM by Katatkoin