Let’s admit it — we’ve all done it at one time or another in our lives–impulse shopped and then ended up with some kind of complete CRAP. Yes, I too have been burned in the past (See Exhibit A: my rant on x10 vs insteon; how do you think I know what’s wrong with x10?), so my mission is to help you avoid spiraling down the same idiotic path. Of course this doesn’t apply only to home automation, but to any major purchase–because let’s face it, it can be anywhere from frustrating to downright embarrassing if you buy something and it just absolutely sucks balls. And to be honest, most times, it can be prevented.
Here are a few ways to prevent crashing and burning–especially burning a hole in your wallet by getting stuck with something crappy. It comes down to this basic concept: Do your homework! Research, research, research before you buy. You might get excited about a good price, but there’s a lot more to smart buying than meets the eye.
(Note: This is for really high-involvement purchases. Not for simple daily things like buying toilet paper–unless toiletries are a serious endeavor for you.)
1. Timing is everything.
Nothing is more soul-crushing than having spent a cool $1000 on something you thought was the bomb, then finding out 5 minutes later you could have actually gotten the better alternative, and for 20% less. I like to use Nextag.com to monitor prices on a particular item, or www.decide.com which actually predicts whether the price will be staying steady or decreasing or increasing anytime soon (and can even tell you if a new model is going to be out soon).
2. On a budget? Then stick to it!
This is probably the most important piece of this puzzle! Before setting out to score the latest iPad or home theater system out there, know what you can or can’t afford. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the main reason people spend more money than they have is because they don’t know how much money they really have (DOH!). And it’s the number one reason for having Buyer’s Remorse – when that credit card bill finally hits, it can be a pretty painful hit to the cojones if you’ve gone over budget.
3. Thumbs Up? Or Thumbs Down?
Look for and read reviews of your item. I’ve avoided buying sooo many lemons this way. People will definiltey speak up when they’re not happy, and if there are a lot of bad reviews, well, I steer clear and so should you. Amazon and eBay are great places to find out not only about the product but about what level of customer service (or lack thereof) you can anticipate.
4. Details, baby, details!
Read the fine print! A lot of times, you might find something that seems like a great deal, but then come to find out it’s a refurbished gadget and not even new. Now, sometimes, a refurbished item can be almost as good as brand new (like in the case of the Dyson Multi-Floor vacuum I bought on Woot, so far so good) but I made sure to research the cost of the new price versus the refurb price on sale, and it was about a $300 difference. But I tend to avoid refurbished items if at all possible, unless the price is an insane savings and there’s some kind of warranty on the product.
5. Are we compatible?
Check compatibility. If you’re adding a component to an existing system, make sure your new gadget will work with what you already have. This shouldn’t be an issue if most of your equipment is fairly new, but technology tends to be updated faster than a woman changes her mind, so make sure that what your parts are all on the same page, so to speak. Note on Numbers 4 and 5: Open your item as soon as possible and make sure it actually IS compatible or what you need!! Here’s a great example of how I once got stuck—I purchased a laptop docking station from Dell (and they told me it was compatible with my laptop) so I assumed it was. I honestly didn’t open the box until months later—when I finally had a chance to set it up—and found out the item was completely incompatible! And of course, the timeframe for the returns window was waaaay past so I couldn’t do a thing about it, just stuck with a $160 item that I can’t use.
6. Point of No Return.
If it doesn’t work, or it just doesn’t do what you want it to, make sure to keep the original packaging and send it back. (You did make sure you can return that piece of crap, right?) And while you’re at it, watch out for those pesky restocking fees too. You also want to be sure you know how long you have to return it—sometimes it’s only a very small window (like 14 days) so don’t get stuck.
7. What’s in a Name?
Determine whether buying a brand name will make a difference in the quality of the merchandise. Sometimes there is no difference, but there are cases where the “you get what you pay for” concept really matters! And learn to distinguish between what the product actually does with what the marketing team is trying to sell. This goes back to my two favorite R’s – Research and Reviews.
8. Tick tock tick tock…
While researching a product is important, be careful how much time you spend examining the characteristics of commonplace items. You don’t need to prepare a thesis on the qualities of toilet tissue before you buy it (as mentioned above). The amount of money you’re planning to spend should be directly proportional to how much time you invest in learning about your purchase.
9. Who the heck am I buying from?
Research the company as well as the product: you might find an awesome price, but who are you really buying from anyway? Do they stand behind what they sell? Do they offer assistance/support after the sale? I know this may be generalizing, but check out their website and if it looks like whoever wrote their copy does not normally speak English, or if you can’t find a phone anywhere to get in touch with them, run away! Run away fast! It’s also a good idea to Google “complaints about _______________” or check www.thesqueakywheel.com if you’ve never heard of the company before.
Is there an owner’s manual in PDF form online? Does it cost money to access this information? Nothing bites more than needing some obscure operational detail from an instruction manual and realizing a) it’s in another language, b) it’s in YOUR language but it makes no sense, or c) eeek! gasp! no such documentation exists.
Summing It All Up
- Get to know your item up close and personal before you buy
- Compare prices
- Set your budget
- Buy from a reputable company
- Make sure there’s documentation available
I hope these tips help you from making some big purchase blunders, and avoid Buyer’s Remorse or buying something crappy. And if you have any other tips that might help others keep from buying something that really sucks, give a shout out in the comments section.
And hey–don’t forget to Like this page and share it with your friends using the buttons below. Especially those shopaholic friends. And the ones who are constantly burning a hole through their wallets. Think about it–if they follow these tips, they might just end up with more spare cash for guy’s (or girl’s) night out with you…(and they’ll be so thankful to have avoided a crappy purchase it’ll be their treat). So do a friend a solid before they end up with a vibrating optical mouse, ear wax camera/cleaner, or worse…