From time to time, I am called upon to help people buy new computers especially laptops. I always start by asking three questions: what do you want to use it for, how much can you spend, and how much are you willing to spend. The answers that I receive usually give me a good idea of not only what type of laptop to recommend but also the best place to buy it. Surprisingly, Walmart is actually a decent place to buy a new laptop for most people. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to visit different Walmart stores in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee during my travels. Being the geek I am, I decided to compare my experiences and observations.
The most obvious good thing about buying a laptop from Walmart is that you know that the price will be low. Nowadays, you can get a decent laptop from Walmart for under $500. I have seen laptops that were priced as high as $898, but after a few weeks/months many were marked down as much as $200 or more. Most recently, some Walmart stores have started carrying several popular laptop models from Acer, Samsung, and ASUS. It’s more than the bulky HP, Dell, and Gateway models that their stores have been known to carry in the past. What’s even better is that when newer models are released, older models are marked down. Let’s not forget that as the Christmas holidays approach, laptops are one of the many items that can be placed on layaway. Where else can you put a laptop on layaway?
This is where the shopping experience differs between Walmart and more technology-focused retailers such as Best Buy or Office Depot. Unlike Best Buy, where you can walk in, pick up a laptop, sample the keyboard quality, get an idea of how much it weighs, and perform other hands-on tests to help in making your purchasing decision, the experience at Walmart will vary from store to store. Some stores (a very small number) actually provide an experience that is very similar to Best Buy. However, the majority of Walmart stores I went into provided a far from helpful experience when looking for a laptop to buy. Many of the laptops were physically locked down, unable to be picked up by a customer. In some stores, the laptops are kept behind a dirty, scratched plastic case like a jewelry store. Look but don’t touch. I had to find an Walmart associate to unlock the case so that I could get my hands on the laptop. In other stores, many of the laptops had broken screens, would not turn on, or had keyboards with half the keys missing. I even went into one Walmart store that had all the laptops covered in clear contact paper that looked a hot mess (yeah, I said “hot mess”).