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Buying by Mail


Although the Better Business Bureau received less than 8% of its complaints from consumers who ordered products through the mail in 1994--the last year for which it has data--here are some tips for SOHO owners interested in ordering computer hardware and software over the phone:

* Shop around. Attend computer user group meetings. Read companies' annual reports--most can be found online at Call the Better Business Bureau. The more educated you are, the better the company can configure your workstation to meet your business needs.

* Don't be fooled by rock-bottom prices; the price shouldn't be more than 25% lower than competitive prices. Don't skimp on your purchase.

* Read the fine print in any ad. Make sure the merchandise you want is in stock. Ask to have Windows, DOS and a CD-ROM drive pre-installed.

* Ask where system repairs are done and what the turnaround time is. Ask what kind of customer support is available and if you have to pay for it. Call tech support before you buy to see how quickly someone gets back to you.

* Make sure the vendor offers a money-back-guarantee period of at least 30 days. Ask about restocking fees for returned merchandise. Avoid outfits that say all sales are final.

* Ask about shipping and handling charges. Pay with a credit card so that if goods don't arrive on time or the product malfunctions, you have some recourse.

* Ask for written verification of your order, take down the name of the person with whom you spoke, the date, what was promised and when it will arrive. Get an authorization number--you can't make returns without it.

* Try out your purchase right away. Check for damage; make sure manuals were included with all software orders.

Sources: Janet Attard, Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., Home Office/Small Business Roundtable, wire reports

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