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According to this pretty nifty infographic, it would be easier to take a head count of the people who haven't shopped online than to ask who has. And according to that same infographic, computers and electronics are the third-highest-grossing products in the online market today (although I suspect that porn and black market babies aren't far behind).

With numbers that high (about $10 billion a year), it stands to reason that a flowing, glacial shitload of people excitedly opened their deliveries, plugged those beasts in, and then immediately punched the organic being closest to them out of sheer frustration. Yes, finding out you got sucked into an overpriced piece of lifeless shit sucks, and we can blame the company all we want. But the truth is, we could have avoided the headache if we had just taken the time to keep these simple tips in mind ...

5
Know the Numbers

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Not long ago, I had to replace my five-year-old computer because it was no longer doing the job, and it would occasionally spit on me and call me racist names. My wife has since tried to convince me that it was actually one of my children doing that, but I suspect that's only because she's stupid. Regardless, I found myself shopping for a computer for the first time in half a decade, and some of the new specs seemed like magic to me.

Back in "the old days," it was a bit simpler: Bigger numbers meant more power. So when I saw that my potential tower had two graphics card options, I couldn't understand why the "bigger" 1.5GB video card cost less money than the 1GB version they had checked as the standard option. For a few moments, I had that slight panic attack that you get in school when you realize that the teacher has just asked you a trick question, and if you answer it wrong, you'll be punched in the face and called a piece of shit. Man, I don't miss school at all.

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"That's it -- one hour in the feces room."

The answer is that the number the companies advertise is only one small part of what makes a component fast. Now, I won't be getting all tech-y and flooding you with math, but the short of it is this: Graphics cards have more parts than just RAM, which is basically what those "GB" numbers represent. And in my case, those other parts in the "smaller" card were better. Of course, I didn't know that at the time, and I chose the cheaper, less powerful option, because "big number mean card go big fast."

But you can apply this to pretty much any piece of electronics. Here is a pretty good guide to buying TVs that demonstrates the many factors a person forgets to consider beyond "a 52-inch screen will make average boobs look like towering monsters in a German horror movie."

No one expects you to take a college course in computer engineering before buying a new gadget, but having at least a basic knowledge of what most of the numbers mean can make a huge difference in what you get versus what you pictured in your head when you hit the "buy" button. Even if those numbers are beyond you, everyone has a "friend who is good with computers" who would more than likely jump at the chance to geek out and vomit her knowledge at you without the risk of getting a wedgie. And if you don't own your own pet geek, you'd be surprised what a few minutes of Googling can turn up. It's saved me from a shitty purchase more than a few times.

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I ... sort of missed the "do not eat" warnings the first time around.

4
Look for the Terms "Refurbished" and "Open Box"

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"Refurbished" can be a naughty word to electronics geeks, and if you bring it up in any social setting, you'll get conflicting viewpoints pretty much every time in the form of sarcastic exchanges with comet tails of Cheetos fumes. Basically, a refurbished item is one that had flaws, was returned by the original buyer, got fixed by the company, and was resold at a discount. I have had both good and bad experiences with them, but when they work, you can save a fuck-ton of money. But therein lies the problem: "when they work."

Recently, I took a chance on a refurbished laptop for my mother-in-law because she can't go more than a few days without surfing hardcore furry porn, and we got fucked the non-fun way. Within a few days, her screen started shutting down randomly, and it wasn't a software or "sleep" issue. The laptop was just bad. So now we're in the process of shipping it back to them under a somewhat tight return window so we can get it replaced, which means finding the time to get to the post office, dodging the mafia who constantly try to take her out every time she leaves the house, putting together all the correct RMA paperwork, and going however long it takes for the replacement to arrive before she gets a working computer again.

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And you do not want to catch my mother-in-law bored. She starts daydreaming about biting things.

"When it works."

"Open box" discounts are a little different. They were returned by another customer, just like refurbished equipment ... but in this case, there were no faults with the product. Maybe it was a birthday gift that needed to be exchanged because the recipient is an ungrateful, spoiled piece of shit, or maybe the company just got an order mixed up because they're a bunch of dumb fuckheads. Whatever the reason, it was sent back, unused, and the company just makes sure that it's in working order before putting it back up for sale with a few percent knocked off of the price.

There isn't as much risk in open-box purchases, but that's not to say there's no risk. You never know if someone is gaming the system or if someone opened the box just to rub their balls on the keyboard before sending it back. I'm not saying to definitely buy or definitely avoid refurbished and open-box products, but just know that there is risk involved, and if you buy one from the wrong company, you could end up butt-fucked out of a couple hundred dollars.

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"But will it play StarCraft II?"

That's exactly why you have to ...

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3
Know the Return Policy

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Here's where things can get sticky. One of the larger online electronics stores is BuyDig.com, and they do have some pretty awesome deals. But they also have one of the shittiest return policies known to man:

"To help maintain our 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee, most merchandise purchased from BuyDig.com may be returned within 45 days for a full refund or a replacement with no restocking fee. All product returns require a RA (return authorization) number. An RA number must be issued within 45 calendar days after the date of purchase. The RA number will be valid for 14 calendar days after it is issued."

Oh, wait, that's not too bad. You have a two-week window to return the product from the time you make the exchange request, which is pretty standard for online shopping.

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"OK, I guess that settles it. I'll just order this thing, and ..."

"Exceptions apply."

Oh. Never mind. It turns out you can't return the following under any circumstances:

A/V Furniture
Apple iPods
Consumables, including but not limited to, recordable media, film, tapes, batteries, paper, and ink
Mobile Phones
Opened Software
BBQ Grills
Special Order Items

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"... puppies."

NBC News claims that once you open the box from BuyDig.com, you cannot return "any DVD player, recorder, scanner, cellphone, fax machine, printer, receiver, or TV. Some video products cannot be returned even if they are defective." Now, don't misunderstand me -- BuyDig.com is still a pretty good store (it appears they've softened up on TV returns), but electronics aren't exactly cheap, and they are fragile. If I opened a box to find a $400 paperweight instead of a camera, I'd be pissed off enough to shave all of my kids bald and throw their hairless bodies at the customer service rep.

I'm only using this site as an example, though. Every online store has its loopholes, and it's important that you understand what they are before giving them your money. Don't even consider a store whose policy is "Keepsies! No take backs!" It means they don't trust what they're selling, and neither should you.

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"All set. Just sign this document saying you won't sue us, and don't open it until I get past the stop sign."

2
Bullshit Shipping Costs

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If you are completely removed from any responsibility in life, do me a favor. Grab four light bulbs from your house, pack them as carefully as you can, and then mail them to a random location a few states away. Go ahead, I'll wait. I lied, I'm not waiting. How much was the shipping? A couple of bucks, right? I've mailed out books that weigh several times as much for less than $2. Now check this shit out:

Via Amazon.com

Notice the section in the middle that says "Shipping & handling: $21.96"? I wasn't just throwing light bulbs out there at random in my above scenario. That's actually what I bought. The shipping and handling was almost as much as the bulbs themselves. Now, I don't mind paying it, because the type of bulbs I needed were hard to find ... but it sure as fuck shouldn't be doubling the price of my fucking order to get them to me.

Given, my complaint isn't always correct. Let's say that instead of ordering my lights from the largest lighting supplier in the world, I was ordering it from Tito's Love Monkey Emporium and Also Lights. It's run by Tito and his lovely wife, Chad Woman. They're too small of a business to have FedEx stop by weekly for pickup, and they don't ship out enough merchandise to keep tons of packing material on hand. This means that they have to pay for the box, the packing material (bubble wrap, Styrofoam), the gas they'll be burning to get to and from the post office, and the minimum wage employee's hourly wage to take it there. By the time they're finished nickel and diming, they've added a couple of dollars to the deal. Fucking drug dealers are more efficient than that.

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"That'll be $4 million."

Regardless of whether shipping prices are inflated or not, you have to factor them in, even though you most likely won't know what that price is until you hit the checkout window. This is especially true with electronics, which can have extremely high shipping costs that factor in insurance and pretty heavy packages (much like my crotch -- OOOOH!). It's for this reason that I have to be really careful when buying online, because my debit card, like many people's, has a daily spending cap. If I go even one penny over that amount, my card will be rejected and I'll have to find an option that's one cent less than all the bullshit I just went through. Or call my bank and have them temporarily raise the limit, wait a couple of hours for that to be processed (if I even catch them before they close), wait to see if they've called the police after my stream of violent threats, and redo the whole order.

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1
Read the Customer Reviews

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Nothing in the world compares to customer reviews, but they can be a bit tricky. First, you have to figure out if what you're reading even came from a customer and not some bullshit company shill. It's not always obvious, but one way you can tell at a glance is if their glowing, five-star review sounds more like a commercial than a critique: "I absolutely love my Windows Phone with Windows 8 technology! The whole world is now at my fingertips, allowing me to download and play tons of music and movies with a simple-" Go fuck yourself. Nobody speaks like that, you ignorant twat.

The other thing to avoid is fanboys. You'll find them scattered around from time to time, trashing computers or software with one-star "reviews" like "Should have bought a Mac," or a video game system with "PlayStation is way better." Most of them are pretty easy to spot because they don't contain a single word of useful information on the product. Ignore them like you would any other complete fucking idiot in the real world.

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"U R SUTPID! BUY MAC BCUZ iT BETTR! BLAAAhhRRG!"

But you don't have to be a master of psychoanalysis to figure out that if 20 reviews are all complaining about the same thing, even with another 20 fanboys and shills mixed in, it's probably an actual issue that you should take into consideration.

Keep in mind that you're not just looking at the rating of the product. A four-and-a-half-star rating is great and worth looking at, but it doesn't hold much weight if it's only been reviewed by one or two people. And for some reason, people have an extremely fucking stupid habit of trashing a product in the text and then giving it an absurdly high rating. In this string of reviews, a guy complained about an improperly seated hard drive and a broken VGA port on the motherboard, yet he still gave it three stars, because evidently that's an above-average computer. On the same page, another customer had a broken DVD player and never got a response from customer support: four stars. In fact, there are several reviews on that page that complain of broken parts, bad customer service, and improper construction ... but you'd never know it if you just looked at the rating system:

Via Newegg.com
Holy shit, a four-star review! This computer must operate on magic!

The name of the game is research. Yes, it's going to take a little extra time away from raid-prepping your Druid and begging for tits on 4chan, but it's better to spend that time before you hand over the money than to spend 10 times as long plowing through paperwork, shipping, and the headache of dealing with customer service, who you just know is making a jack-off hand motion while you're explaining your problem.



Find out everything you ever need to know about John, including books, extra articles, and social media shit, at his new website.

Who has time to worry about buying a bad neck massager when there are animals just waiting to make us their minions? Check out 5 Animals That Could Take Over the World (If They Wanted To).

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