Who Honors Your Warranty?

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The End User’s Dilemma

With the proliferation of online hardware vendors, it has become increasingly easy to find ‘bargains’ for computer components. There are more and more ‘services’ such as Price Watch, Bottom Dollar, KillerApp, etc. which claim to be able to give you the lowest prices for any component with a simple search. What these ‘services’ don’t offer, however, is a way to evaluate the vendors who are advertising these prices to find out what kind of support and service they provide.

Since most resellers recognize that price is the main issue, they will seed these price comparisons, or list the OEM versions of their products. They also do not typically list warranty information other than what the manufacturer offers. It is only after visiting their site and reading the policies do you realize that the vendor does not intend to support the customer after 30 days. This means that customers are forced to either take a chance with an unknown vendor, find recommendations from others who may not have the same concerns or spend hours switching back and forth between the price comparison sites and the vendor web sites determining which vendor offers the best value and support.

If the customer does require warranty service and must contact the manufacturer, there is a potential nightmare in store. Since the manufacturer is probably getting hundreds of calls a day from customers of varying degrees of experience, their support staff is probably tied up with some customer trying to describe what a driver is, or how to determine if two devices are sharing IRQs. This means that the end user is likely to spend several days trying just to get through.

When the customer does finally talk to a technician, the most likely suggestion will be to contact the vendor the product was purchased from. Even if the technician offers to provide support, there is probably going to be several days of phone calls, emails, etc because there are so many other customers demanding attention. If the customer is unable to perform the required diagnostics without assistance, the technician is likely to refuse additional help until a ‘professional’ diagnosis the problem. At this point, you see customers flaming the manufacturer claiming that they do not support their customers.

The Reactions

With more and more end users calling for support, manufacturers are finding that they must hire support people dedicated to handling end user problems. This means that they are paying the cost, while the reseller merely provides the relatively simple service of buying the product and selling it at a markup. Rather than continue to allow this to occur, manufacturers are beginning to implement methods to either increase their margins or reduce the discounts to vendors.

Several manufacturers have already eliminated the distribution channel altogether. Canopus and Ubisoft (US distributor for Guillemot) now sell directly to the public. Since they are having to perform the tech support, why not just make up the difference by selling direct and taking the entire margin of sales for themselves? I suspect that more and more smaller manufacturers will use this tactic. While this seems like more of a problem for resellers than end users, it removes the ability to purchase everything from one source so shipping costs go up.

The larger manufacturers cannot simply set up a sales staff to handle the volume of customers, so they are looking at alternative methods of handling this problem. Some may start monitoring which vendors send their customers to the manufacturer and force their distributors to charge these vendors a higher price. Others are planning on providing credits to those vendors who are identified as handling the support issues. Most have no specific plans, but recognize the problem must be addressed.

With margins so low, and the marketplace so saturated with resellers, more and more vendors are starting to implement short warranties and limited support. Many are also implementing restocking fees because of the high return rates by customers, which are caused in large part by lack of decent support. This is causing end users to become more distrustful of vendors and manufacturers, which creates an even more difficult situation for support people.

What To Do?

Unfortunately, this situation seems like it is going to continue to get worse until some fairly drastic measures are taken by manufacturers, or end users simply stop putting up with it. Since a relatively few users require warranty support after 30 days, the majority of end users don’t even recognize this as a real problem – until they try to get the service. This means that the only real hope of this problem being addressed is by the manufacturers themselves.

Until something is done, or customers recognize that value means much more than the lowest price, we and other vendors offering full warranty service are put at a disadvantage. I also believe that the manufacturer and customer are being cheated as well. The only ones who benefit from this is the vendor who implements this type of policy.

My personal recommendation is to avoid any vendor who refuses to honor the manufacturer’s warranty, unless you are willing to accept the fact that you just might be left stranded if there are problems down the road. Any vendor who has such a policy is either buying through non-authorized sources and cannot honor the warranty, or is just trying to cut their costs at the customer’s expense. When comparing prices, compare the warranty and support policies as well so you can get a true picture of what the cost is to you over the long haul.

After all, when the time comes that you are unable to use your computer for an extended period, or you have to purchase another component because of poor warranty support are you going to feel better by thinking about that $20 you saved three months ago?

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