PC World scam laptop buyers

c: | f: Technology / Corporate

Beware the high street sharks masquerading as “experts”. Their currency is your fear of technology, and it’s easy to turn the tables with a little confidence, saving cash in the process.

It’s my belief that Dixons Carphone, owners of high street retail outlets like Currys, PC World and Carphone Warehouse, are trying to scam people by using FUD techniques when selling tech products like laptops.

Here’s how the scam works:

  • Laptop has an RRP of £499.
  • They reduce its price to £349 under the guise of a sale or promotion.
  • Someone buys said laptop from the company website and arranges to pick it up in-store.
  • Customer is informed that the computer needs to be set up before use. This is true: a stock Windows 8.1, for example, on first boot will:
    • Ask a barrage of questions.
    • Try to sucker you into opening a Microsoft account.
    • Configure settings (network, etc).
    • Ask for a user account/password.
    • Require something in the region of 70 updates at the time of writing. Older OSs will require more. This is not (normally) an arduous process, but it can be lengthy.
  • The customer is told this service costs £60. Yes, sixty quid.
  • When collecting the laptop in-store, the customer is told that it’s very important for the laptop to be secured. The staff member offers to “install security” (whatever the hell that is!) for £100. This is probably some bloatware virus crap like Norton or McAfee (for which a trial is already installed so they’d probably just activate it on your behalf).
  • The staff also tell you that your data isn’t safe and that you should have a backup of your system. That’s reasonable advice (up to a point) as I usually make a ghost copy of a new build to save the pain of having to reinstall the OS + all updates if I ever need to start fresh (though the ghost copy needs updating over time, or you’re pretty much back to square one). There are three problems with this information from the PC Fairy:
    • It only backs up the system now. Going forward, your precious data is being stored on the same hard drive so in the event of a disk failure, it’s down the toilet. No single-use backup at sale time can help you, so this advice is both fear-mongering and misleading.
    • The computer already has a recovery partition for the OS on the drive itself so, barring physical errors, can be recovered back to the factory settings (at which point, updates will need to be applied), without your user data.
    • They say that this backup needs to be stored on a USB stick, for which they will happily sell you (the cheapest, slowest) one with enough capacity. For twenty quid.

So, if you bought into all the lies and half-truths, your £349 laptop weighs in at £529. Tell you what, guys, why not try and sell an extended warranty with that too? And to sweeten it further, add some snake oil and a unicorn hoof.

Rise of the expert

The bottom line is that these “services” are overpriced and offer little to no additional benefit to you or your system. They are simply a way for the retailer to play on people’s fears that technology is difficult. I have news for you: it isn’t. With a little experimentation, reading the screen carefully and access to Google, the gap between you and these so-called “experts” can be reduced to virtually zero, with a positive effect on your wallet.

The customer in question who told me about the tactics that Currys had tried to employ when she bought her laptop, thankfully said no to the sales rep and brought the machine to me. Three hours later, for which 96% of the time I was doing something more productive while Windows downloaded, installed, updated and generally faffed about, I had achieved the following. The indented sections in italics below each item indicate the actions I took:

  • Set up the PC for first use, declining all account registration options.
    • Read the screen, clicked where appropriate.
  • Set up the user account and configured the desktop environment.
    • Typed in a user/password, used Control Panel to change stupid default trackpad settings.
  • Removed all trace of McAfee crapware and its associated trial. Reboot.
    • Control panel->Programs and features->Uninstall.
  • Installed Avast! against my better judgement but they’re used to it. Reboot.
    • Download from Internet, double-click to install, and carefully follow instructions: they try and sneak DropBox onto your computer as well, so hunt for the tickbox to bypass that.
  • Applied all updates, three reboots and three separate clicks on Check for updates required.
    • Control panel->Windows update->Check for updates, follow instructions, then wait. A lot.
  • Installed Chrome instead of the crappy Internet Explorer.
    • Visited google.co.uk, clicked to install, went into Chrome settings and ticked Set as default browser.
  • Removed the Microsoft Office trial.
    • Control panel->Programs and features->Uninstall.
  • Installed LibreOffice instead.
    • Download from Internet, double click to install, follow instructions.
  • Installed Foxit Reader for PDF viewing.
    • Ditto.
  • Optimised the display and settings to squeeze as much performance out of the (rather basic) components.
    • Control Panel->System->Advanced->Performance, unchecked stupid window animations, smooth scrolling list boxes, fades / slides, etc, then started File Explorer and changed settings to show file extensions for known types.

And the cost? Nothing. Well, a bar of chocolate and a very happy person who saved £180.

Technology isn’t rocket science, and there’s no need to be scared of it. Click, type, read, play. That’s all there is to it and we’ll all be better off by taking control of our own computers.

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