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7 things electronics salespeople won't tell you

CNET's Sharon Vaknin, a former Best Buy employee, has a few opinions to share that you'll want to read before your next gadget-purchasing trip.

Going to a retail store for consumer electronics purchases can be both exciting and frustrating. After working at Best Buy for two years, I have a few opinions to share that you might want to consider before your next shopping trip.

1. We have no formal training in the field of consumer electronics.
Upon transferring to the computer department from home theater, I expressed concern to the manager: "Will there be time for someone to train me on laptops/desktops? What do these specifications mean?" His reply was simple: "Just do your best. A good salesperson can just read the labels and compare specs." Ouch.

Salespeople are not necessarily experts in the products sold in their departments, even if they are expert salespeople. Though many express a strong interest in the products they sell, your time spent at a retail store fishing for information about a future TV purchase could be better spent online researching the products yourself (I heard CNET has pretty great reviews).

HDMI cable
"You need those HDMI cables, you know you do." Amazon

2. We make little off the big-ticket items, so we smother you with accessories.
Remember the story "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"? Well, if you tell a salesman you're going to buy a TV, he's going to want to sell you a DVD player to go with it. Once he sells you the DVD player, he's going to want to get you to buy an HDMI cable, too.

Managers at Best Buy (and possibly all retailers) tell employees that the store profits surprisingly little from video game consoles and computers. Cables, accessories, mice, and other components, however, have a huge profit margin-- stores can make about $120 from a $150 Monster HDMI cable. Angry yet? The point is, we're going to work really hard to convince you to purchase that big item, but once you've said "OK" you've opened Pandora's Box.

Here's my advice: Grab the big item, and run. Purchase all accessories online, including memory cards, cables, traveling cases, and so on. Amazon, Monoprice, and Newegg are all reputable discount Web sites. You'll find what you need at a much lower price.

3. There are times when you should purchase extended warranties.
There's no telling if a product will break down, but some are more apt to have problems than others. Not all stores offer extended warranties, but if they do, think about it before you decline the offer.

Manufacturers usually offer 90 days to one year of limited parts and labor. Take note of the word "limited." Those warranties only cover manufacturer's defects, so if your speakers blow out, the manufacturer will consider it misuse. Manufacturers do not cover "wear and tear," while most store-provided warranties do. Other store warranties present coverage for accidental damage like spills and broken parts. So if you're clumsy, go for the extended warranty.

If you're unwaveringly against extended warranties, you may consider putting your purchase on a credit card that doubles the manufacturer's warranty upon purchase.

4. It doesn't matter whether we make commission, we're all equally pushy.
When I worked at Best Buy, many customers would say, "You just want me to buy this stuff 'cause you're on commission" (I wasn't). For employees not on commission, hours are based on whether sales goals are reached. If I didn't meet my goal for the day, I'd see a cut in hours. On the other hand, if I landed a $40,000 sale, my hours increased.

What does this mean for you? If you want the best customer service, don't let the salesperson know you are "comparing prices" or "shopping around"--that's a red flag for them. Sure, you'll be helped if you're the only one on the sales floor, but customers who show a genuine interest in purchasing something get the special treatment. Lead the salesperson on a little bit--trust me, you'll get a lot more help that way.

5. No receipt? No problem!
If you've lost your receipt and you're worried you'll be stuck with that sad excuse for a monitor, you're in luck. As long as you made your purchase with a credit or debit card, most stores can look up your receipt within minutes. If you paid cash, and the item is relatively inexpensive (about $50 or less), the retailer may still be able to do the return, but you may get store credit instead of cash back.

I called a few stores, and here are their policies:

Fry's Electronics: Receipt lookup, very difficult no-receipt return
Best Buy: Receipt lookup, no-receipt return
Target: Receipt lookup, no-receipt return
RadioShack: Receipt lookup, no-receipt return
OfficeMax: Difficult receipt lookup, but it's possible

Note that you must meet all other conditions of the return policy.

6. We offer expensive services I think a 12-year-old could perform.
In Best Buy's computer department, where we didn't profit from system sales, there was lots of pressure to sell not only accessories, but Geek Squad services. Some of these services were just embarrassing to sell. Customers are encouraged to purchase the optimization service in which the technician removes preinstalled programs to boost performance. Oh! Don't forget you'll need a recovery disc in case you need to restore the hard drive. That'll be $60, please. Cha-ching.

"Would you like some Geek Squad with that PC?" Geek Squad

These are services you could probably do yourself in about 15 minutes. Removing those preinstalled programs is as simple as removing any other program through the "Settings" folder. Instructions for making a recovery disc are provided by all manufacturers who don't supply the disc in-box.

Bottom line: try and figure it out for yourself before resorting to these costly services. With all the how-to Web sites out there, you're sure to find the help you need.

7. Forget what your parents taught you--complaining usually gets you what you want.
If your customer service needs haven't been met, and the associate refuses to make it right, don't give up. Sometimes employees fall into a power trip in conjunction with their refusal to help. If you find yourself arguing with the employee, immediately ask for the manager. Upon speaking with him/her, calmly inform them of the matter. Never ask, "Will you be able to do this for me?", but instead say, "I am a frequent customer here. How are you going to make this situation right so that I continue to visit your location?" The former makes it easy for the manager to say "Unfortunately, no;" the latter demands customer service.

The problem is usually solved in-store, but sometimes employees can be stubborn. Write down the names of everyone involved, and the store number, then call corporate. Deliver the same dialogue, but be sure to speak to a supervisor since those answering calls are associates who may not have the ability to help you.