I kept telling #kuro5hin I would write an article about this... things are quiet on K5 right now, so I figured it would be a good time again to write about some Real World Experience (tm).
You might think using Pricewatch is fairly thrifty, and you'd be right. It's cheap and, if you don't need the shrinkwrap, pretty boxes, manuals, or other paraphenalia, the equipment is OEM-class and (usually) decent. It's been a fave of hackers for a long time.
Pricewatch is an advertising system AFAIK. A company pays a certain amount of money to be listed. If the company is the lowest in a particular category, they can easily make up whatever loss they are taking in volume.
It is for this reason that there is no rating system on Pricewatch and all companies are pretty much on equal ground. Unless you figure out a way to merge it with an online reseller-rating database, you're pretty much stuck looking up each one or... worse yet... not looking them up at all.
The incidents I'm about to give don't just happen on Pricewatch. Rather, you should be wary any time you decide to buy from a high-volume reseller. It's inherent in their business model. If it isn't on the website, make sure you ask them. Never assume anything.
1. Outrageous Shipping Costs.
Most of you have been gouged with this. We were recently charged $30 to ship 3 SDRAM modules, weighing less than a pound. Make sure you check shipping charges.
2. Standardized Shiprates... Kinda?
A standard $15 per shipment (or however it is worded, "per box", etc.) sounds great until you receive the goods and find out that they divided the contents into two small boxes and charged you $30.
3. No Warranties
Some places refuse to honor their own warranties. Wanna complain? Be prepared to sit for an hour of no-music, "Your call is important to us" repeated again and again. In this case, the woman we spoke with knew a basic amount of English.
4. Excessive Restocking Fees
If it costs 30% - 50% to restock something worth $100, is it really worth returning for cash (don't forget shipping)? No? Exactly.
5. No Returns
When you get something broken, some places refuse to take the item back for a replacement one. If they've sent the wrong item, then you're really out of luck.
6. Hard Sell w/ Bait & Switch (Very Common)
Some places will have the item listed on Pricewatch, but not on their website. When you call (manually) to place the order, they have a a substitute that is a little more expensive which they will pressure you to buy... in fact, some of them won't let you off the phone without buying. Hang up on them.
7. Backordering with No Warning
Some sites will allow you to order as normal. When your package doesn't arrive ("hey, I said overnight delivery, right?!") in several days, you call back to discover that you have been charged and the order is backordered for several weeks. Couple this with difficulty "undoing" the order.
8. Vendor Switching
This is a nice one. You order from one reseller which is really a part of another resller and/or passes the order to another reseller. You receive a bill with terms you weren't aware of and a price slightly higher than what you expected ($5 - $10 more).
9. Mandatory Warranties
If you try to buy more than one or two of an item, some places won't let you. Why? They make a lot of money off of shipping. If you want more, they will not sell them to you unless you purchase a severely limited, nearly worthless "warranty". Since they can't get shipping markups, they have to figure out another way of getting the amount per item out of you.
At any rate, you get the gist. High-volume selling is competitive to the point of utter ruthlessness. on Pricewatch, being first on the list (and being able to stay there and still make profit) is worth a lot of money. Some information is posted, some information isn't, some is obfuscated, some is clearly stated. Some people just outright lie. The real value for us has been learning from these for next time, as even "reseller ratings" do not always give the full story.