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Talkin' Smack: How I Spent on My Christmas Vacation

The trials and tribulations of retail and where I finally spent by business dollars By Dave Nagel
I've used this column in the past rather mercilessly to deride the computer retailers in my environs. Victims of my vorpal prose have included Microcenter, CompUSA and Fry's, and now I have one more to add to the list--the Apple Store itself. But before I get to this, I first have to give props to one of those stores I've dissed so harshly in the past.

The good
Christmas time isn't easy on the poor folk who trod the floors of retail. As much as I despise retail salespeople the rest of the year, during the Christmas season I actually feel some sympathy for them. After all, they had high hopes for their careers when they passed their GEDs; serving throngs of whining customers over the holidays probably isn't where they envisioned their higher learning leading them. This is the reason I don't really blame the salesperson at Fry's who told me that a particular DVD player could run MP3 CDs when, in fact, it couldn't.

But it did leave me facing a horrifying prospect: returning something at Fry's. I've probably heard more horror stories about returning things at Fry's than any other person on the planet. Every time I so much as mention the name of the store, the e-mails start flooding in packed with the gruesome details of the return process.

So here I was, faced with the nightmare scenario of returning this DVD player the day after Christmas. Here's the shocking part: It actually wasn't that bad. Oh, sure, the line for returns was long, but the store had something like eight people handling the returns directly, with another five or six behind them to pick up the slack, inspect package contents and so on. In all, though the line was out the door, it took me probably a half hour to reach a Fry's employee. Not too bad.

But then I realized something horrible: I had forgotten a component of the DVD player I was returning. But rather than just shuffling me out the door, the returns clerk marked something on my receipt and told me to come back with the missing component, bypassing the line. Again, a nice touch.

However, since it had been my idiotic mistake, I decided not to cut into the line when I returned. Instead, I waited with the rest of the customers. Twenty minutes later, I was back at the counter. A minute or two after that, I was out the door. Everything taken care of.

Now, not only was the return process easy and, given the time of year (and during the lunch hour, no less), fairly quick, but I also found that the employees behind the return counter at Fry's were particularly pleasant--chatting, politely offering holiday wishes and even joking, but doing so in a way that wasn't wasting time at all.

Now, I had expected to come back from Fry's with instant material for a slamming editorial. Just the opposite. I give high marks to Fry's for the effort.

The bad
On a more sour note, this Christmas season I also had my first Apple retail store experience. I had expected good things from the store--knowledgeable workers, good attitude, etc. What I found, in fact, were employees who knew next to nothing about the products themselves and even less about the store's own policies.

I had gone to the store to buy a new PowerBook. But just to make sure that I didn't get reamed by any new announcements coming out of Macworld Jan. 7, I wanted to know the return policy for PowerBooks. It took two salespeople and a manager to come back with the answer, which, incidentally, was that I would indeed be screwed if I bought a PowerBook in 2001. (There's a 10-day return period for PowerBooks at the Apple store. That's just sad.)

I also wanted to test out the PowerBooks. I found a couple of the display units to be on the fritz, which certainly didn't bode well. I also found that the salespeople had no idea which PowerBook was which. I actually had to run the Apple System Profiler on five different PowerBooks before I found the one I was interested in (the 667 MHz model).

In the end, I left the store with nothing but a determination never to visit the South Coast Plaza Apple Store again.

The purchases
Despite my negative experiences at several retail locations (not just the Apple Store), I did wind up contributing significantly to the American economy this Christmas. After all, a man needs his tax deductions, and this year I needed a whole lot of them, judging from a quick pre-Christmas consultation with my accountant. And so I embarked upon an almost shameful mission of spending, which I will now share with you, if for no other reason than I feel like boasting about my new stuff.

There were three deductible products I had no reservations about buying. In fact, I had always hoped the day would come when I would be forced to buy them for my business. Two of these products I've reviewed here in the past and given "strong buy" recommendations to. These were the Wacom Cintiq 15X and the NEC LT155--two pricey, yet amazing, pieces of hardware.

The NEC LT155 is a digital projector. Of all of the projectors I've viewed, this one stands out for its amazing picture quality and compact form factor, combined with affordability, brightness (1,200 ANSI lumens) and features. Just an outstanding piece of equipment. This model streets for about $3,300, and it's well worth the price. (Visit http://www.nectech.com for more info.)

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