Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

Summary: Could 'try before you buy' replace the existing 'buy and find problems later, and try and get a refund if at all possible' model? Deposit, try, return, get deposit back. Could this work?


Apple's App Store now allows you to 'try before you buy'. It is a smart way to reduce software piracy and it allows customers to try a product, ensure that it works and suits the needs of the customer. In my experience it does increase the chances of paying for it.

I've bought a few applications for my BlackBerry, of which the BlackBerry World equivalent allows many free trials and full-product demo's before you hand over your card details, and it has encouraged me to purchase applications of which I know full-well that I cannot crack, hack, or copy a key from elsewhere.

Some are apprehensive but I for one am pleased at this change in consumer process. Nobody wants to buy something of which then it doesn't work. It's pointless and it decreases the chance of a consumer purchasing anything again from that same place, brand or manufacturer.

And then I had a brilliant thought.

I would like to buy a Mac. Nothing too flashy, nothing too expensive, and something that will combine the hardware efforts and the software efforts into one single device, doing what Apple does best. Windows on a PC or laptop is a 'one size fits all' model and in my personal experience, this causes problems. With a Mac, it's not about the 'Apple culture', the social status, or trying to wedge a division between the two camps.

But the Apple store for me makes it difficult to spend any more than thirty-seconds in there because of the constant barrage of über-nerds, the eruption of an unparalleled social class status, Apple retail staff crawling so far up your arse you can taste them, and that more crucially, you don't get the academic discount in store.

I need to buy online. That's fine; I can handle buying something online because frankly it involves speaking to absolutely nobody. It means I can stay within my four walls of my city terraced house with the sound of the cathedral bells in the distance, as I punch in my debit card details and sipping on a cup of tea. Bliss.

The problem is, is that I can't try before I buy. You can to some extent within the Apple store, or any store for that matter. To ask for a demonstration or whether something will fulfil its purpose is not out of the question. You'll often find that salespeople will do anything they can to make a sale...

So I spoke to Sam Diaz, senior editor, and explained my quandary to him. He pointed out that in the US there is a cooling off period, where you can not only cancel your order even once a payment has gone through but also return goods after 30 days provided that they aren't perishable, personalised with engraving, or like sealed software discs with expensive license keys for example.

Again in my experience, returning a product within the 30 days which is not faulty can be difficult. It's not impossible, but it's not easy. UK laws are different but align themselves similarly to US consumer advice. So how about - instead of making a 'purchase' and 'refund' process, why not offer a 'deposit returned on safe return' process instead?

Renting a piece of technology would enable consumers who cannot afford to pay upfront would enable those in less economically developed areas to access technology, even those in affluent countries but are still marginalised by lack of home Internet access for example. Renting something usually costs more in the first place but it does knock down the price over a weekly or monthly basis to make it more manageable.

But instead of outright buying a new computer - give the customer an opportunity to really take it away, use it, feel it, learn the quirks, the design features, the speeds, how hot the device gets and all of these tiny but important things. In return, the customer puts down a deposit of the exact price the product would in fact ordinarily cost, so that if the device is not returned after 30 days or is returned but damaged, then the deposit is held onto and the customer 'buys' the product.

It protects the product manufacturer, but also the consumer. It allows them the time to really jump in head first into the new product and take time to work out whether this is an investment they really want to take before they cash out hundreds of dollars for something they hate after a month of use.

There are some issues I can think of which might restrict this from being a good idea. The manufacturer, say Apple in this case, would have to manufacture more devices than necessary at a loss to them, and these devices would have to be separate from retail products - because a consumer will want something literally brand new and straight off the production line.

Perhaps investing in a set of 'showroom devices' of which get sent out, returned and sent out elsewhere provided they are meet quality assurance levels to not degrade the experience for others?

And there is a risk that devices could be 'whored out' in that someone could put down a deposit for a new device, use it for a short period of time for a specific purpose, then hand it back after the work is done and claim their full deposit back.

What do you think? A viable solution, or an idea with more holes than a colander?

Topics: CXO, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Piracy, Security, Software, IT Employment

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  • Why not borrow one

    from a friend.

    Find a friend who has just bought a new Mac and ask to borrow his/her old machine. That is, ask your friend to delay selling the old machine on Craigslist. (I happen to have a 24-inch iMac in my office in this exact condition. Looking to vacation in Denver?)

    You do have friends?
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      Good post! I am also going to write a blog post about this??? thanks
      Thanks for the article. Information was clear and very detailed.
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  • Cry me a river

    The Apple store lets you park in front of a Mac for as long as you like, talk to people about any question you have, sign up for Apple camps where you can spend an entire day doing things with the computer, but that's not good enough for you. Nope, they have to freaking give you a machine for free to decided whether it is worthy of you.

    Are all college students such self-absorbed little twits?
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      @frgough Who pooped in your alley ?

      The article is valid. It makes sense, it even has British humor in it. Nothing wrong with it.

      Car dealers let people also test drive a car. Even buy and if you're not satisfied, you can return it within so many days. So why can't you test drive tech stuff.

      I'd be a little hesitant on renting though, not sure what you'd get. Is it something somebody else already had his sweaty fingers on ?
      • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

        @TxM2xTx Absolutely. It takes you a while to really get to learn about something. You wouldn't marry someone after the first date. You wouldn't buy a house from looking at pictures in the paper. You need to be there, engage your senses, and try it out for more than 10 minutes on your lunch break. Renting, I see your point. Maybe if they 'recondition' them each time - just by a quick wipe down with anti-bacterial wipe, that's not much to ask.
      • Let me guess. You're a college student

        either that, or being a self-absorbed little twit is not unique to college students.
    • Park in front of a Mac instead

      [i]Nope, they have to freaking give you a machine for free to decided whether it is worthy of you. Are all college students such self-absorbed little twits? [/i]

      I gotta admit, that made me laugh. :D

      Wishful thinking aside, how much do you want to bet that SOMEHOW these new but used demo units will find their way into general circulation? And yes, it will be YOU [the would-be purchasing soul reading this] who'll end up getting one. :(

      This already happens far too often on the wholesale and retail component side of things with returned but "salvageable" items [don't make me name names, as these practices are not exclusive to smaller merchandisers or distributors by any stretch].

      All that said, do you really think Apple is going to be content to float but not peddle such wares with the shrinking margins all manufacturers are currently yielding, and with so many handy dandy retail outlets dotted hither and yon?

      Nice try, no cigar.
  • It has been my experience that Apple has been the only Company

    to offer limited hardware "take home" opportunities. (I can't remember another manufacture doing this.)

    In the 80's, Apple offered a take home "Test Drive" promotion for its new Macintosh computer. (I actually participated in this program and for a few days, I was able to see and use MS Excel and Word in a GUI environment.) Its been so long but as I recall, the person wishing to test drive a Mac needed to visit an authorized Apple dealership and "get in line" to take home a Mac since these units were of limited availability. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait for my test drive. The following You Tube link shows the actually test drive commercial.

    I believe the last time Apple tried this type of hardware promotion was in 2005 with the Mac Mini. CNET reported the following at the time. "Apple Computer has launched a promotion for its no-frills Mac Mini computer, allowing customers to return the machine for a full refund after a 30-day "test-drive." The deal, which began Wednesday and ends Oct. 31, is available only through Apple's online store. Customers normally have 14 days to return Apple merchandise. The company usually only gives full refunds for unused machines in unopened boxes unless the product is defective. "We're so confident you'll love your new Mac Mini, we'll let you test-drive it for 30 days with no risk," Apple's site states. "If you decide you don't want it, we'll take it back." Customers are on the hook, however, for return-shipping costs."

    Unfortunately for you, Zack, these promotions are few and far between. I suspect that Apple chose to invest in Apple Stores to facilitate, among other things, "hands-on" experiences with their products.

    And yes .. I understand that Apple stores are still a rare commodity in most of the civilized world. (And, more importantly, your Apple Store experience seemed less than excellent. Although, our State Side Apple Stores do honor academic discounts "in house" but a person must use Apple's online procedure for approval purposes.)

    But they do exist and if that opportunity is available, than a consumer could and should take advantage of this resource.

    BTW, as a student, why don't you email Steve Jobs and inquire about the financial cost effectiveness of these hardware promotions. You could ask which programs offer a better business investment - hardware take home promotions or an Apple Store experience. You just might get one of his famous one line answers!
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      @kenosha7777 Good comment, thanks!
    • Student discounts...

      @kenosha7777 <br>At the risk of unleashing the wrath of the entitled generation - what's with students always crying "poor" and wanting massive discounts? So they are having to shell out some serious dosh for their education - and? It is a person's choice to go into higher education - not a right or a need. Why shouldn't I get massive discounts on things because I'm too "poor" to pay for them? All these discounts do is drive lower prices on hardware / software, making it less and less profitable a business to be in. And a it becomes less profitable, there are less people in it. Then one ends up with less competition, then the price heads back up - or the service is crap - or both.<br><br>Anyway, as I asked - what's with students always wanting discounts? Why dont they go out & work for a couple of years, get some money behind them, and then pay for what they need like the rest of us have to? Being a student isn't a handicap. (is it? ;)) And perhaps if students didn't waste what money they do have on designer clothes, expensive phones, booze, drugs and wild parties, they wouldn't be bleating about being "poor" all the time... :P
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    I think Sun had something like this for a little while with their x86 server line.
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      @vectravl400 They did. Sun's problem was the support - which totally sucked. They didn't supply install disks and didn't support OpenSolaris on the boxes. Being more versed in Linux, I wanted to use OpenSolaris rather than Solaris but the system produced weird some errors I wanted to talk to someone to see if these were a "problem" or not. Nobody as Sun (who I could talk to before buying the system) knew the answers (turns out they aren't really a problem and can be safely ignored). The system specs are fixed, and the system was amazingly under resourced for RAM (why do manufacturers always put too little RAM in?!) and didn't make a particularly good account of itself...

      You can guess the rest.

      Doing this "test drive" stuff is amazingly hard (well Sun made it look amazingly hard). I found that I actually needed a bigger system - but then Sun stopped offering it. Oracle terrify me, so I've not been back. Which is a shame.
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    Can I try that refrigerator for a month? Great!
    Yeah, it doesn't work for me, how about that one? Great!
    Yeah, that one didn't work for me either. Let's try that one, okay? Great!

    It sounds stupid for a refrigerator, so why would it be okay for electronics? At what point does a retailer or manufacturer get to put a stop to the idiocy? Maybe it would have to be a three strikes thing - after three returns the problem must lie with the user, not the hardware.
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    If your problem is with Windows, then try Linux. It is very customizable. Most Hardware purchased in off-the-shelf machines is pretty standard so no need to try before buying. If you are set on an Apple, then do as others have said and either wait for a promotion or talk to them to find out their policy.
  • Consumers are the only people that matter to you?

    All you are thinking about is yourself. Are you going to be willing to take that "try before you buy" serious? In order for this idea to work you would have to be willing to pay full price for an item that may have been used by 5-20 people. Are willing to do that? I doubt it. So you expect the seller to receive the returned product and immediately lose $100 off the price for you because it can not be sold as new!

    Get off your lazy arse and just visit the Mac store or Staples and check out the products there. Be a man and push those salespeople away!! Online business is very hard and a policy like this would kill your ability to compete because you would have to mark everything up for the risk of return!
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    In the late '80s and early '90s this was common place in the PC direct market. To encourage customers take "risks" on non brand (meaning not Compaq or IBM), companies like Dell offered a 30 day money back guarantee on computers. If you didn't like it, you paid the return shipping and that was it.

    Now it's a bit more complex. I couldn't find specifics on line quick but I believe there are regulations about selling a returned computer as new. I worked for a PC manufacturer that placed "time in use" tracking software on all shipped PCs. If they were returned with over a certain time used, they had to be turned around as refurbished units and typically sold for significantly less than new. Maybe Apple could get away with that on their margins. I'm not so sure many other manufacturers could.
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      Good Point.
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    Need I say more than ME or Vista?
    • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

      @redcaboosejr@... What and the hell is that supposed to mean? That has to be the most stupid comment so far.
      Vista is fixed and has been fixed for a few years, quit being a tool and believing the media "hype"!!
      We are talking about hardware!!
  • RE: Could 'try before you buy' with hardware work?

    You can already "try before you buy". Even the mediocre PC places other than big box stores and the like where you buy essentially "as is", offers a warranty ranging from limited to full. I've had several companies provide me with written assurances that if the equipment didn't meet my needs for 30 days, one for 90 days, and another for one year, I could return it for full refund. And none of those had restocking fees. Only glitch was I paid shipping and used the special RMA I was given with my invoice; that's a good deal. The only one I returned I essentially "traded" for a different model. All is well in some worlds; wish it was more though.