Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cave Emptor: Buyer Beware – Doing your homework before shopping

I was always taught to never rush in to things when it came to going shopping for certain items. Doing the research about whatever it is you’re buying is absolutely essential if you’re wanting to avoid being consumed with regret.

Over the last couple of years of living independently of my warm and fluffy home in the Cotswolds, I have experienced first hand why you must be careful in what you buy. My recent adventures aside, there have been several things that I’ve regretted buying or wished I’d looked in to things a bit more. The following pieces of micro-advice, will either help, or tell you something you already know, and sometimes being told something you already know is very helpful.

1) Cheap stuff will almost always break. Now, I’m sure that Argos don’t do it on purpose, and to be perfectly fair, they are just the middleman in that particular consumer arrangement, but the amount of stuff that we’ve bought from there that’s cheap and has broken is staggering. The best one was a tent that Fien and I bought to take to a festival, and the only time we realised that it wasn’t one hundred percent in working order was when we were trying to put it up. That’s pretty stupid on our part for not testing it first, but even so, it was cheap and of low quality and it broke. It also chose to break in the rain, which did nothing for my blood pressure, and I should think that was a very educational day for the other Belgian festival goers in our immediate area as they were able to witness first hand the versatility of the English language once it is directed towards a pile of semi-waterproof unhelpful broken-enough-to-be-a-problem canvass.

2) Paying over the odds for something doesn’t mean it’s going to be of a higher quality. It sounds ridiculous and patronising, but finding out exactly how much something is meant to cost is crucial to living without buyers remorse. If you have it in mind that cheap stuff will probably break, you can fall in to the trap of automatically assuming that expensive is better. Do a bit of background research into costs and you’ll be amazed to see that things can be cheaper in places you wouldn’t expect them to be.

3) Make sure the item is right for your needs. Apparently, people only ever buy things for one of two reasons. They buy things to solve a problem or they buy things to make themselves feel better. Whatever you’re buying, if it’s a solution to a problem, make sure that solution will be adequate and won’t just create more problems, and if it’s something to make you feel better, make sure it’s actually something you want. Never underestimate the power of advertising in it’s ability to make you feel like you need things that you really don’t.

A couple of days ago, one of the bloggers I regularly keep up with posted this. This is an example of incredible ingenuity in terms of merging a PC and several games consoles to make a monstrously-incredible media station. This gave me an idea for a solution to a problem that I’ve had for a while in that I have a console sitting around that’s been demoted by a newer model but still has some use left in it. I quickly became obsessed with the idea of hooking it up to my monitor through my PC, and a trip to Maplan later found me the owner of two pieces of equipment that wouldn’t do the job, but that I had been convinced would. This was completely my own fault. I hadn’t researched the matter properly and it was only when I came to look a bit closer at the ends of the cables that I realised that the two ends just wouldn’t fit together, no matter how hard I mashed them together. Although I did manage to get the redundant kit returned and acquire something to get the job done, I wasted a lot of time in trying to get it right, that wouldn’t have been needed if I’d just spent another half an hour finding out exactly what I needed.

I was lucky in that I made this mistake with something incredibly small that I could take back, but had it been something bigger I could have found myself in a very difficult situation.

Additional Notes:

I’m not actually too sure what happened to our tent. I think Fien managed to offload it onto an unsuspecting sibling, but as far as I’m concerned, if that tent so much as even thinks about coming back to England....

The man at Maplan actually ended up telling me that the cable I needed was probably available on the internet. I don’t know why my ears didn’t hone in on the use of the word “probably” earlier than they did. It turns out the actual cable was a figment of the assistant’s imagination. There were forum threads on the matter, but I quickly ascertained that they were forum posts on how to theoretically make a cable and what sort of equipment and sorcery one would need to splice the wires together.

The Blogger that I’ve linked is Shamus Young and his blog is for those of us with a penchant for the geeky side of life. If you’ve ever played a role playing game such as Dungeons and Dragons, his webcomic “DM of the Rings” is also fantastic, but probably won’t make any sense to any anyone that didn’t understand this last sentence.

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