From the June 1999 issue of Startups

You could pay upwards of $4,000 for a laptop computer--but if you knew to shop at Jem Computers, you might have saved almost $2,900 by buying a dandy Sony VAIO laptop for a few bucks over $1,100. Granted, the Sony's powered by a dated 200 MMX processor . . . but do you even know anyone using a laptop with a faster CPU? It's a great deal for a cash-tight entrepreneur.

By now, that Sony is probably history--Jem Computers moves its stock at a brisk pace--but the news that will cheer any penny-pincher is that there are plenty of bargains out there, in everything from computers to office furniture. Read on to find out where.


Robert McGarvey (rjmcgarvery@mail.entrepreneurmag.com) lives by the motto that only chumps pay full price--and besides, self-employed freelancers can't afford to anyway.

Computer Gear

Want to see if that Sony--or any other comparably tasty computer deal--can still be had? Among the best Web sites for scouting out the lowest prices on computers, printers, scanners and monitors (some new in the box, some refurbished) are:

  • Jem Computers (http://www.jemcomp.com): The inventory is slender--Jem focuses on real gems--but prices can be spectacular. Don't miss the "basement," where the deals get incredible.
  • Egghead (http://www.egghead.com): Once a pioneering software retailer, Egghead hit hard times, closed its brick-and-mortar outlets and reinvented itself as an online computer discounter. Head to the "Surplus Direct" pages, where eye-poppers will grab your attention. Such as? A Dell 486/DX computer for $149 or a 600 dpi flatbed scanner for $79. Inventory rotates fast, so check back if you don't see what you want. It could be in stock tomorrow.
  • KillerApp (http://www.killerapp.com): For the latest stuff at prices to die for, do your shopping at KillerApp, a "bot" (Web robot) that scours the Net to find the best prices on the gear you crave. Search for complete systems or specific add-ons (monitors, CD-ROM drives, printers), and, in a matter of seconds, KillerApp returns with the prices it's found at online stores, complete with clickable links to the retailers.

Bargain Malls

Want a wider range of shops? Try one of the Internet bargain malls, where you'll find everything from consumer electronics to office furniture under one URL.

  • Deals4U (http://www.deals4u.com): With 20 different departments, from appliances to videos, this is one-stop Net shopping for the price-conscious.
  • Brands4Less (http://www.brandsforless.com): Its departments include electronics, computers, office supplies and more, and its prices are generally appealing.

Auctions

Computers, office furniture, electronics (stereos, cameras) and more are now auctioned in real time at a multiplying number of Web sites. A word of warning: There are numerous auction sites, since this is a highly profitable business. Some bidders get carried away by the quest to "win" and end up paying more for an item than any of a dozen online discounters charge. The best strategy is to do your research, find out the retail price for an item and bid significantly less. And don't bump your bid up just because those who want to "win" are gripped with a frenzy.

Auction sites to check out include eBay (http://www.ebay.com) and Bid.com (http://www.bid.com). Both are well-regarded in the online world. Still, be cautious: "Bargains" can too quickly become financial Titanics at online auctions.

Classifieds

For generations, newspaper classified ads have been a bargain hunter's paradise. That's still true--except nowadays, more ads are showing up on Web sites, where keyword searches make finding what you want that much faster. Check out your local newspaper; odds are, it's put its classifieds online. Or try the leading national classifieds:

  • Classifieds 2000 (http://www.classifieds2000.com): From furniture and Internet services to computer gear, the Classifieds 2000 Web site bristles with deals.

Note: With classifieds, you're buying from private parties, so the usual caveat emptor applies.