If you're a channel-flipper like myself, you may have switched past home-shopping juggernauts HSN and QVC, which tout their great deals in a folksy manner that doesn't have the in-your-face obnoxiousness of a typical infomercial. When I see them hawking PCs, however, I can't help but be a little skeptical: Are these really better prices than you can find elsewhere?
So I headed over to these channels' Web sites to see what's currently on offer, and how the deals stack up against other online outlets. You probably won't be surprised to hear that you can do a lot better -- either getting more computing for the same money, or the same computing for less money -- if you don't pick up that phone and place an order with HSN or QVC.
In some cases, the channels are selling last-generation products when you can get newer components for the same price. For instance, HSN.com has an HP Compaq Presario CQ56 series laptop available for $499.95 that comes with an Intel Celeron 900 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 250GB hard drive. But HP's own site has a version for $30 less that comes with an AMD Athlon II processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive.
Similarly, the Dell Studio XPS 8100 desktop that QVC is selling no longer is available on Dell's site, though it's similarly priced to a configuration Dell offers for the Studio XPS 8300. You still get 8GB of RAM, 1.5TB hard drive, and 21.5-inch LCD monitor, but you get a newer Intel Core i7-2600 processor, and a Blu-ray reader and a DVD burner instead of a DVD-ROM and DVD burner. Oh, and it costs $1,338.99, while the QVC version costs $1,445.96.
Now in its defense, QVC does offer its PC Treasures software bundle, which includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and a four-year subscription to McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011. Whether that's worth buying an outdated HP 21.5-inch All-in-One 200-5251 desktop, featuring a mere Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, and integrated graphics for $1,109, when you can currently get a new and similarly sized HP Omni 200 Quad with a Core i5-760 quad-core CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a discrete graphics card (albeit a budget board) for just $899 is up to you to decide.
So why buy a PC from a home-shopping channel instead of elsewhere online? Perhaps the three- or four-payment plans they tout to purchase a product sound more appealing than the full price elsewhere. Maybe buyers just don't know enough about computers to realize they aren't getting the best deal possible. Or maybe it's just easier to pick up the phone and order without bothering to make the minimal effort of getting online and doing five minutes of comparison shopping.
No matter what, people considering buying a computer from HSN or QVC owe it to themselves to do just a tiny bit of work to make sure they're really getting the best deal possible. Otherwise, it is a textbook case of you getting what you pay for -- too much for too little.