Wargaming Tradecraft: Shop Smart


Shop Smart

artist: GaryStorkamp
Not often in our hobby are we dealing with items where we have to shop around a whole bunch and try to get the better deal - but there are occasions. Most of our purchases will be at our Favorite Local Gaming Store and we don't need to worry about warranties, price matching and so on.

Sometimes though, we're buying higher end tools for our hobbies - things like drills, Dremels, compressors, boomsticks, etc... When we do, it's important that you get the right quality and don't get ripped off.

The following article isn't limited to just hobbying - you should be able to apply it to most other things you shop for.

Originally these were points I was talking about in my posts for buying airbrushes and compressors, but I'm not one to be redundantly redundant. Instead, I've written it generic to cover points that are helpful no matter what you're buying. When the airbrush/compressor posts hit, I'll reference back here a bit.

  • Quality

I subscribe to a certain school of thought that says pay the extra money to get something better quality. No, don't buy the top of the line items, then you're often just paying for "Name(TM)(R)(C)" or for something far beyond what you need. But if you're looking at, say, a plastic pipe cutter for $8 or a metal one for $15 - pay the extra money for something more durable, less likely to have problems and will last a lot longer. You'll have to use your judgement, but if you can afford to pay just a little bit more - then do so.
  • Buy tools from hardware or other professional stores.
    • Things are better quality.
    • Things are cheaper.
The snips I use to cut minis or remove them from sprues? I rely on wire cutters - similar items, different intended uses, but wire cutters work better for a number of reasons. Think out of the box and do some reading online - see what other people are using, maybe you'll get some ideas.

Get to know the specialty shops around town. Take a pad of paper and a pen and walk EVERY aisle.

Surplus, Excess and Clearance stores have surprisingly good quality items. Not high-end, but plenty good enough for our purposes. At a surplus store, you'll also pay less.

  • Quality and Features vs Cost

While brand name alone can affect cost, so do the features. The tricky part is deciding what features you need. (vs what you want) It’s a balancing act between spending enough to get something worthwhile, and still being able to afford miniatures to paint afterward.

Lets use an analogy – buying a car. You’ve got three options:
  1. A used rusted beater
    • Will get you from A to B… it’ll do the job.
    • You’re not going to enjoy it.
    • BUT, if that's all you can afford, then you'll find a way to make it work.
  2. A practical mid-range vehicle.
    • Will go from A to B.
    • You’re going to have a good time.
    • It’s going to be reliable.
  3. A sports car! Red, so it goes fasta
    • How long do you have to save before you can buy it?
    • What do you have to give up to afford it?
    • What extra features are you actually getting for the extra cost?
    • Do you know how to use it? (Drive stick)
    • Can you afford the added costs? (Upkeep, Replacements, Extra Insurance, etc)
    • How easily will it break since it's all fancy?

 See what I’m getting at? You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get the high end options available. At least not right now. Get something reasonable now and you can always upgrade when you don't have a bunch of other things to buy too.

  • Price Guarantees
Shop around to get the right price. I'm all for paying a little extra to support stores with good service, where everybody knows you name, or if it's not a chain - but I've yet to meet a large company that deserves my exclusive patronage.
  • Larger stores will offer price guarantees
    • It'll either be a straight match, or often they'll be it.
    • The trick with price matching is it's got to be the same brand
      That's why a lot of stores these days have their own brand - Home Depot has Husky, Future Shop has Dynex, The Source has Nexxtech, Staples has the cleverly named "Staples" brand, and so on.
    • I don't think I've ever seen a store that will price match similar products from different brands.
  • Smart phones make price matching really easy.
    • Whip it out in the middle of the store and do a quick google to see if the product is cheaper somewhere.
    • Because of online retail, many stores now will only price match to stores in the surrounding area. (The manager tends to decide what "surrounding area" consists of)
    • Stores usually have to have a store front. (Not online only)
  • Return periods = Price guarantees
    • Directly or indirectly, but during the return window (if they won't price match) you can take something back then and buy it again at the better price.
REMEMBER - Before becoming a miser and hunting for the best deals everywhere, don't forget that sometimes it's worth spending a little extra in the places where a smile is actually real.

  • Sales!
Larger stores will also often have sales - and while the big chains always have something in their weekly flier, smaller shops won't, so by patronizing them often, you'll know when they do have a sale.

If you're willing to watch fliers or websites, or sign up for newsletters then you can pick things up as they go on sale. If not, well then you should at least check sales on holidays and special occasions.

  •  Research

No matter where you buy from, do a little bit of research.

Don’t just Google the brand name - also search for “brandname complaints” or “problems” or “support”. Read reviews from hobby sites. (There’s a little information around our community, but the airbrushing community is also huge, so prepare to enter a new blogosphere) If you can’t find much information on a brand that’s cheap, maybe you’re better off avoiding it. If you’re not sure what brand to get, drop the extra $20 to get something that has a better chance of being good. (If you’re already looking at $150, what’s another $20 for some piece of mind?)

  • Extended Warranties
Rarely do I buy these – they’re rip offs. However, I don’t know the first thing about fixing compressors, they're expensive and would rather it just work. For mine, the price for some extra protection was worth it to me.

YOU, the consumer, have to be careful:
  • You're buying something you may never need.
  • Sales people often lie.
    • And you won't remember the person who sold it to you a year and a half from now.
    • I always read the paperwork stores make available to inform you how their warranties work.
      Being a techie guy, I can't begin to count the number of lies I've caught salespeople in lies about products or their warranties.
  • Sales people are often ignorant.
    • Companies have enough money to placate people who make enough noise and don't always do anything to ensure their staff are properly trained on these.
    • "Really? This hardware firewall will block EVERY port?" *picturing a box with 2 ports and no wires inside it to connect them* (to be fair, it was printed on the packaging)
If you buy the extra warranty, get its coverage IN WRITING. Usually there are pamphlets explaining the warranty, so get one stapled to your receipt and place that paperwork somewhere you won’t lose it. (Since you'll need it to claim your service) If you need to send anything in for discounts or registration, photocopy everything.

Some warranties aren't valid unless you register - be aware.

Ask questions and have them show you where the paperwork explains the answer – be informed and don’t hesitate to ask for a manager to clarify something that sounds fishy. 
  • “When does this warranty begin?”
    • Some warranties start the day you buy the item, overlapping the manufacturer's warranty.
    • If it starts when you buy it, and it's for the same length as the manufacturer's warranty, then it's a rip off unless you get some great service like an in store swap with no down time.
    • STATISTICALLY, products break after a few months or around 14 months - that's why the standard warranty we've all come to expect is 1 year.
      • aka, most things will break shortly after you buy it and you can swap it at the store, or it'll break after the manufacturer no longer guarantees it.
    • This could make a shiny 2 year warranty less great if it starts as soon as you buy it, rather than adding onto the original warranty.
    • This should be in writing.
  • “Is this a replacement or a repair?”
    • The biggest lie / ignorance that salespeople will tell is that if it breaks, bring it in and get a new one.
    • This HAS to be in writing if you're going to believe it.
  • “Can I bring this product in store, or do I have to ship it myself?”
    • Heavy things are expensive to ship.
    • You may have to either keep the original packaging or purchase something to ship it in that it won't be damaged.
  • "If it's replaced, what is it replaced with / how is it replaced / what if the model is no longer available?"
    • If the same product isn't available anymore, will it be replaced with something that has the same specs, or for the same price as I'm paying now?
    • If you're buying something on sale and the warranty only gives you cash value, then you definitely won't be able to replace it with something of the same quality.
  • “Do you have a lemon clause?”
    • eg: If it has to be repaired 3 times, will you replace it instead?
  • “Does the lemon clause apply to ANY problems, or a specific incident?”
    • eg: Will you replace it if you have to send something away 3 times during the warranty period or only for the SAME problem?
    • I can’t tell you how many issues I’ve had/seen with Hewlett Packard and Toshiba where their service departments ship something back “fixed” when it’s actually still broken. I / Friends have wasted weeks and months trying to get something fixed only to have the manufacturer keep saying "nothing wrong!"
If warranty paperwork talks about multiple types of warranties that the store offers, then don't be afraid to ask a salesperson to circle and initial the one you're purchasing, or the things it covers.

Extended warranties usually aren’t through the store you’re buying the item from, but a third party.
HOWEVER, if you have any problems getting service, don’t be afraid to contact the store you bought the item from.
  • Do it in public, at the store, not over the phone.
    • This places more pressure on the store to keep you happy.
  • Ask for managers.
  • Don’t get angry, stay calm, be reasonable.
    • This applies to phone calls, in person and via email.
  • Keep notes and take names.
    • Write it all down.
    • This places a personal accountability on the people you're dealing with, making them more likely to at least follow up.
  • Tell them what you expect them to do.
    • This is VERY important. If you just complain, then you're not setting expectations for the store to meet. This also applies to complain emails.
    • "I've sent this in 3 times already and they can't fix it - I want a new one."
    • "Mine had features X, Y, Z and you're offering me something with only X - I want Y and Z too, otherwise it's not a replacement."
  • I've even dug up email addresses for CEOs when places have tried to default on warranties – talk about next day service.

1 comment:

  1. I saw the title "Shop Smart" and immediately I thought "shop S-Mart." Then I saw the picture and added a check in the coolness category for you. Also +1 for the boomstick. Now gimme some sugar, baby. Not really though, that might be a little weird and a lot awkward.

    Now on to the post. Tons of great information here. This would be great for me to link back to in an upcoming Adventures in Airbrushing post. Really, just an awesome post and way more excellent points than I would have ever thought of.


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