So you're ready to purchase a projector, but do you know where to buy it? These days, projector buyers have a slew of options to choose from, including traditional AV dealers, chain-store retailers (such as Best Buy and Circuit City) and various computer resellers. Buyers can also find several dealers and resellers online, and can even buy directly from some manufacturers – all with a credit card and the click of a mouse.
Indeed, buying projectors online is becoming easier and more convenient every day, and buying online can certainly save you time and money. But should you just grab the best price and be done with it?
No. Buyers need to be aware that online sellers differ in their knowledge of the products, their ability or willingness to support you after the sale, and in the terms and conditions of the sale. Choosing the right seller can mean the difference between a terrific buying experience and an aggravating lesson in the pitfalls of online commerce.
If you don't know which projector model is best for your needs, talk to an AV dealer. Even the most knowledgeable computer reseller or mass retailer has only a basic knowledge of what they sell. They might know what lumens are, but they won't know how many lumens you need for, say, a bright conference room with a 6-foot screen. Even the best of them won't be able to give guidance on when to choose SVGA resolution (800 x 600 pixels) to save money or go for XGA resolution (1,024 x 768 pixels) when you need the higher resolution.
In addition to helping you choose the most cost-effective projector for your needs, AV dealers can also give advice on related products such as screens, ceiling mounts, cables and adapters. Computer resellers and mass retailers do not always have the knowledge it takes to give you useful advice in these specialized areas. Plus, AV dealers usually provide better follow-up service and troubleshooting support if you need it.
On the other hand, if you know exactly what you want and all you need is a supplier to give you the lowest possible price, resellers and mass retailers might be your best bet. Prices vary, but their lowest prices are generally 5 to 10 percent below those of an AV dealer. Keep in mind that resellers and retailers can afford to sell for less because they offer little or no technical support or service after the sale.
The fine print, a pre-sale friend
Likewise, online sellers vary dramatically in their refund, return and exchange policies. You must read the fine print and understand what you are agreeing to before you buy from anyone online. All reputable dealers have their refund, return and exchange policies posted clearly on their Web sites. If you run across a dealer or a reseller that doesn't, find another.
Read these policies with extreme care. You will be amazed at the limitations some resellers hide in the fine print. Some say projectors may be returned only in the event of a manufacturing defect. Some even state returns must be in "factory-sealed" condition, which means you can't return it once you have opened the box. Some say you may return an item only within seven days of the invoice date, not the date you receive it, leaving you with almost no time to detect a problem. Also, restocking fees of up to 20 percent of the purchase price can apply, even on unopened returns.
In general, the most onerous limitations on returns are found in the policies of computer resellers, which is part of the reason they can offer lower prices. Conversely, many AV dealers tend to have more generous policies, often offering returns for refund, exchange or upgrade, with no penalties – just to keep their customers happy.
All online resellers require that a return comes back in the original box and packing material, complete with manual, remote, cables, blank warranty card and anything else that came in the box. So if you buy online, make sure to keep these materials in good condition until you have evaluated the product and have decided to keep it.
In short, buying online can be easy, convenient and cost-effective, as long as you know what you are doing. If you need help selecting a product, there are specialized AV dealers who can offer assistance. If you don't need help, there are resellers that can offer rock-bottom prices. In any case, pay careful attention to all the details in the seller's policy statement regarding returns, refunds and exchanges to avoid being unpleasantly surprised.
Evan Powell, a 25-year veteran of high-technology-equipment marketing, joined the projector industry as VP of marketing for Chisholm in 1996 and is one of the founders of ProjectorCentral.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.