Buying a New PC? Don't Get Ripped off by Unscrupulous Salesmen!

Mike Halsey MVP
Dec 28, 2011
Updated • Dec 27, 2012

I get a fair amount of email in my inbox at [email protected] from readers asking questions about how to do or fix A, B or C on their PCs.  One email I received this morning got me so riled that I felt it needed to be written up here, though it's not the first time I have heard this story.

Dan from Canada wrote...

Hi Mike,

I just found your excellent tutorial for setting up a new PC and will be following it to the letter. I have one question though, if you have a moment.  I'm buying a new Acer PC tomorrow morning at a local [removed]. It will be my first new PC in a number of years.

I've recently setup a new HP for a friend and it was very easy. It started Windows7 setup right away and I only had to put in the language and time zone and some other simple things.  I wondered if you think this PC will be the same simple setup. The salesman is telling me I should pay almost $100 for it to be setup and that if I do it myself, I need to use Silverlight to download Windows 7 and can have all kinds of problems.

Do you think the Windows 7 operating system and all drivers will be there when I take it out of the box ?  I can't seem to find the answer anywhere on the net and I couldn't reach Acer support

It's not uncommon for sales people in computer stores to try to up sell the fastest processor (because you must have this to edit photos) or their choice of anti-virus software (because all the free ones don't protect you) and these scenarios get me angry enough.

This particular salesman at a big name store who's name I have removed as the company don't have an opportunity currently to respond to this, though I will contact them and feed back to you, is a complete charlatan.

Dan was perfectly correct to expect Windows 7 and all hardware drivers to come pre-installed on a new PC from one of the major manufacturers, and indeed this would always be the case.  Indeed if you want a new PC without a copy of Windows pre-installed it's actually very difficult to do and can require some arguing with customer service staff at the manufacturer concerned (a problem commonly faced by users of GNU/Linux who don't want to spend $80 on a Windows licence).

My reply to Dan was swift and pointed out that he should speak with the manager of the store and ask why there would be a charge to install an operating system that should already be pre-installed, and why Silverlight would be required to "download" Windows 7 when Silverlight will only run within Windows?

If you are buying a new computer in the sales please be very wary of these sales tactics.  Have an idea of what you need and preferably seek advice from a technically-minded friend if you can before buying.  Don't fall for the more expensive machine just because you want to edit your digital photographs, don't be convinced into buying expensive anti-virus or other software such as Office that you don't want (the version of Office Starter that ships with almost all new PCs is more than enough for a lot of people) and don't ever pay for a set-up charge, especially never such a large fee.

If you ever in any doubt ask to speak with the manager or telephone the company's customer support line (retail outlet or PC manufacturer) to check with them first.  On this occasion I'm very pleased that Dan chose to email me in advance, he's just avoided wasting $100 on something that's quick, simple and most importantly fun to do himself.


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  1. Dan said on December 30, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Thanks again for your help Mike. When I actually picked up the PC, the salesman I dealt with was very reasonable and explained, that they offer the setup for those who are totally tech illiterate. I am 63 so I guess they thought I fit that profile.

    Regarding the concerns expressed by Jasray, my PC had crashed a few days ago and I didn’t have access to another to do any research. I felt lost without a PC and wanted a new one asap. I went to the store assuming I’d be able to pick up a nice PC and just set everything up at home. The first guy really did go on about how different PC’s were now, and specifically said they did NOT come with an operating system installed.

    He said you needed to go online and if I did anything, that made the machine inoperable, I wouldn’t be able to return it, because it had to be in operating condition to be serviced, which I said sounded pretty unfair. When I asked why the HP had been easy to setup, he said being a refurbished PC, it would already have Windows 7 installed.

    Their charge was to setup Windows and provide the recovery disks only and I undertand other stores charge a similar amount. That’s when I decided to use a PC at my local library and sent Mike my query.

    Of course, once I plugged it in, everything worked fine and I took only a short while to build the machine and add all my favorite “free” software.

    Anyway, I’m very happy with my new PC and it’s great that people like Mike are willing to help out those like myself who may be lacking in the latest tech info.

    Thanks for everything Mike !

    Danny in Canada

  2. RoyceR said on December 29, 2011 at 5:27 am

    It does not surprise that Acer was uncontactable. I would also seriously look how Windows 7 is set up by Acer. I had an Aspire with XP pre-installed and it gave me no en of trouble. After installing XP-Pro from a genuine disk and changing many of the directories in the Docs & Settings, things improved dramatically. I have since upgrades and/or replaced everything and the only crashes I get appear to be related to one or two Arser files left in Docs & Settings.

    All this since 2004 and I could never get any assistance re software. Hadrware warranty claims were brilliant though.

  3. SCBright said on December 29, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I never had this problem, because when dealing with PCs (Desktop) I always assembled mine.
    Of course, if it is a notebook gets a bit more complicated.

    Anyway, our friend should have researched more because there are always unscrupulous people in this world.

  4. jasray said on December 28, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    A little surprised Dan is purchasing a computer without completing research. If he set up an HP, what is the difference? He should know to avoid the salesman and go in to the store with the desired specs and purchase.

    I charge $100 or more to set up a new machine for someone. I would assume the salesman meant something more like “If you want to take this machine home, start it, and have your account and Windows 7 updated along with odds/ends like Adobe Flash, Reader, etc. installed and ready to go, it will cost $100.”

    Dan may be providing his “perception” but not really explaining the entire episode.

  5. virtualguy said on December 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    All new computers should come with a subscription to this blog site. What would that cost? ;-)

  6. Wayafarer said on December 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I agree with Kalmy – while many salesmen are just downright dishonest, a lot have simply to toe their employer’s line. Some stores even drill staff in scripts they’re not allowed to deviate from.

    Plus – with the best will in the world – there’s one born every minute as far as customers are concerned. Can’t protect people from their own folly.

  7. kalmly said on December 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I’d wager a bunch of $ on which big name store that was where Dan bought his PC. No use his speaking to the manager. The salesman was doing what his manager told him to do. AND – I’d also wager that the total bill would have ended up much higher than $100. I’ve listened to many of their happy customers, who’ve paid huge sums for useless crap and installation of said useless crap.

    My friend bought a computer from them and bubbled all over herself and me the next day, telling me what a wonderful deal her $5,000 (yes, that’s right) system was. After asking her a couple of questions, I told her: “You do NOT have a wonderful $5,000 computer. You have a $1,000 computer, $3,000 worth of software that may, or may not have already been installed, and you paid another $1,000 for some guy to stick in a CD and let it run.”

    If I’m right about the company, they also have a group of techs (hahaha) who, when you have troubles with your system, will happily return your system to its original state for hundreds more. Shudder, shudder.

    This place has a wonderful reputation.

    This is my computer purchasing advice: Pick out the PC you want. Rush home with it and plug it in. It will tell you what to do next – IF any action on your part is required.

  8. Morely the IT Guy said on December 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Q: What’s the difference between a used car salesman and a PC salesman?
    A: The used car salesman *knows* when he’s lying to you.

  9. Jim Carter said on December 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I would suggest that the writer avoid the big retail stores and instead find a local, established PC shop for his next purchase. Check with the Better Business Bureau, call the local Chamber of Commerce, contact friends and relatives to determine if anyone has experience with a local store. Aside from the obvious lack of knowledge of the sales person (giving him the benefit of the doubt), the other remark about not being able to reach Acer support should also be troubling. As a local VAR (value added reseller), I shield my customers from manufacturers and sell custom built systems tailored to their specific needs. If a problem arises, they speak to me directly and don’t sit on hold endlessly.

  10. NightFlyer said on December 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

    this sounds like a case of the old sales axiom ‘if you can’t dazzle them with diamonds, baffle them with bullsh*t’

  11. David Macdonald Ajang said on December 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

    The salesman doesn’t seem to know what his talking about. Silverlight is a software plugin than runs within Windows. What does it have to do with downloading Windows? Computer-illiterate computer salesmen = madness

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on December 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

      The thing is this: Most customers have little to no knowledge when it comes to these things. Add to that a certain trust factor and you are able to sell additional items with a very high margin and bonus.

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