Buying blind

Last week I visited a mobile phone store with a friend who had seen a super-cool advert for a Nokia mobile phone and was dead set on buying it. We headed for the local mall (Dubai’s Deira City Centre) and visited numerous stores, but could we actually try out a working sample?

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  May 8, 2006

|~|applehellow.jpg|~|The Apple Store: a great example of 'try before you buy' |~|First we scoured the mall for shops that would offer us a good bargain, finally choosing a small place tucked away on the basement level. My friend asked if she could play with the phone after spying it in the showcase. The salesperson obliged and placed the lifeless mobile on the counter. After carefully lifting and admiring the US $380 brick, my friend exclaimed, “I’ll take it!”. I quickly interrupted and asked if they had a live version that we could actually use, but they didn’t. In fact, not one of the stores we subsequently visited did either. This problem isn’t limited to City Centre however. Most stores in this region, and others, don’t offer functional sample products, with the exception of DVD players and TVs. This means people like you and I are usually forced to buy a product, the interface, user-friendliness and stability of which are a mystery until we’ve shelled out our hard earned dirhams, dinars or riyals on it. Crazy, isn’t it? It’s a shame that most stores don’t follow in the footsteps of companies such as Apple (with its Apple Stores), which allows anyone who walks in to fiddle with products (be these desktop PCs, notebooks or iPods). And by fiddle I do mean fiddle; you can download music onto iPods, install software and even surf the internet - all without any staff hassle. Although IT power retailers in the region such as Carrefour and Plug-ins do keep some of their laptops and desktops powered on, these are not connected to the internet and installing software seems to be an absolute no-no. Plus, the army of suspicious security guards parading as shop assistants don’t exactly help to make you feel warm and fuzzy. While store-testing products isn’t a reality now, it will only happen sooner rather than later if we, the consumers, demand it. You can kick this off by visiting your favourite store and telling the sales manager that you’d be more likely to buy a product if you could play with a working sample first. Go on, I dare you. At the end of the day it’s all about voicing opinion and making sure your voice is heard loud and clear. Just keep in mind the law of supply and demand. In this case, make your demands and supply will soon follow (or as a wise man once said, “Ask and you shall receive”). Until you can ‘try before you buy’, here’s what you can do to make sure the products you buy are worthy of your green: First, use advertisements as a guide for what's new in the market but not as a guide for which product to buy. Just because an advert looks cool and flashy, it doesn't mean that a product is necessarily the best available on the market right now, nor the buy for you. Moreover, be prepared to examine every ad claim you read before buying (if a printer vendor claims a machine has a 20ppm colour print speed for instance, don't assume that this was recorded when printing in full high-resolution photo mode - it could well refer to a faster draft colour text speed). Let's just say if some advertiser claims were closely scrutinised, there would be plenty of points up for discusssion. Simply treat claims as just that - claims designed to help sell products and services - and try to find out the detail for yourself, with our help. One way you can do this is by reading product reviews. Reviews such as the ones that appear in Windows magazine and on itp.net are independent and will give you insight into the product’s ease-of-use, features, performance and perhaps most importantly - value for money. Regional websites such as tbreak.com also boast many reviews and forums where users chat about their experiences with certain products. You can also talk to friends and family who’ve used or already own the product you plan to buy and ask them what they think of it. Ask if you can borrow the gadget for a day and see if it has the personality to match its good looks. Remember, just because a laptop is named after a fast car doesn’t mean it will offer similarly high performance. Last but not least, check out the manufacturer’s website for all the features and details. Look at the test methodology used as some manufacturers post this information on their site. It’s a little work I admit, but would you rather buy a product that delivers and is worth its price tag or one that you’ll end up using as a doorstop sooner or later? …I thought so. ||**||

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