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Best place to buy a laptop

Buying a laptop: online or in store?

We continue our guide to the best place to buy a laptop with a look at buying from online retailers, supermarkets, eBay and Amazon.

Best place to buy a laptop: from an online retailer

Of course you don't have to buy direct from a vendor to feel the benefits of shopping online for a laptop. There are plenty of third-party online retailers who can offer a bargain laptop to those who know for what they are looking, and price-comparison engines to help you find them. Many online retailers keep only limited stock, and purchase direct from channel resellers in real-time as you make your order. Thus you can get a laptop quickly, and with only a tiny markup over the trade price.

Reputable price-comparison sites will endeavour to show you detailed information about online laptop vendors, as well as the total cost of purchase. A good online reseller will place front and centre information such as contact and company registration details, terms and conditions, and delivery charges. And if you buy online the distance selling regulations mean that you can return the laptop within a reasonable length of time with no charge incurred.

But it is easy to be caught out.

Given the small margins most resellers make on technology products, and the relative ease of access to the market for online retailers, sharp practice abounds. There are a lot of online stores, and not all are going to fulfil your order as you would wish.

So you should never simply plump for the cheapest headline price when purchasing online. First, do your research about both the store from which you are buying, and the total price you are being charged. Brian Trevaskiss of technology reseller More Computers explains: "It's still the wild west out there, with companies big and small using every trick they can to grab your attention. You'll find ex VAT prices, free delivery (but only when you spend over £1,000), non UK models and out of date sites with no stock. Sites come and go at a phenomenal rate. Un-scrupulous cowboys set up, sell goods at below cost, rack up debts and drive away in their expensive cars, with no intention of supporting their customers or paying their suppliers."

You can grab a bargain online, but you should make sure you know from whom you are buying. As Trevaskiss says: "Buy from a retailer with a proven track record - and one that pays its UK taxes. It's worth it if your delivery doesn't turn up or your product goes faulty."

It's critical that you can find a genuine street address for your chosen online store, ideally one on which you can snoop via Google Earth. Similarly, you should always do a sweep for online user reviews - bearing in mind that the best business in the world will have some negative user reviews. Keep all documentation relating to the sale and check that you receive exactly what you paid for. If you want to be extra careful it's worth checking Companies House to ensure that the business with which you are about to trade is legit, and you should definitely always purchase using a credit card: if something goes wrong, the credit card company will refund you and chase down the rogue traders.

  • Pros: Unmatched breadth of product availability; opportunity to grab a bargain
  • Cons: Beware of rogue traders...

Best place to buy a laptop: your local supermarket

There are other options. Most large supermarkets sell laptops these days. But are they any good? It all depends on the store, and what they have in stock.

Tesco Direct - the online arm of Tesco - sells our faithful 15in Dell laptop for £399, or just £21 more than Dell sells it direct. Indeed, there are nearly 200 laptops on the Tesco Direct site, most of which are in stock. But heading over to our local (large) Tesco, we could find only a handful of laptops - not including the Dell. They weren't badly priced - the level of value was about on a par with that of PC World or John Lewis. But the selection was limited, and what may be a good deal for one person won't be so for another. The Medion laptops sold through Aldi, for instance, tend to be well-constructed PCs at good prices. But to avoid waste Medion makes only a limited number of each SKU, so if you make a trip to Aldi just to buy a laptop you will find your selection extrememly limited.

And that's the basic deal with supermarket laptops. It is worth checking out what is available, for the convenience of being able to pick up a PC during your weekly shop and the aftersales support offered by a big store. But the selection is likely to be limited, so you don't want to limit yourself to shopping only at supermarkets.

  • Pros: Well-priced laptops; good after sales support
  • Cons: Limited product range

Best place to buy a laptop: eBay, Amazon MarketPlace, deals sites

eBay is no longer a flea market, Amazon is not just a book store. These days savvy laptop retailers will have a presence on eBay and Amazon Marketplace as well as the open web and price-comparison sites. Given the volumes that these market places drive they'd be foolish not to. The interesting thing from a laptop buyer's point of view is that the same vendor may have different prices and special offers accross all of its portals. So once you have chosen a laptop specification, be sure to check all options.

Also look at deals sites such as HotUKDeals, in which users spread the word about time-limited deals and voucher offers, saving you the job of combing the internet to find them. This can be a good way of grabbing a bargain.

If you're buying a laptop it is worth looking for deals and offers, because end of line laptops are often sold off cheaply. Indeed, Medion makes a virtue out of this, although each model is available for only a small time. So if you know what you are looking for check the offers sites: you may be in luck.

  • Pros: You can grab a bargain
  • Cons: You need to put in the work
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