Easy As $1K-$2K-$3K

Shopping 101

After the excitement wore off and the enormity of the project began to hit, I figured I'd do what any smart entrepreneur like yourself would do: head online. Here, I found some great comparison shopping at Web sites like PriceScan (http://www.pricescan.com). If you're a real bargain hunter and already know the specific brands and models you want, PriceScan unearths the lowest prices available--with links to the vendors' Web sites.

Since I knew I'd be heading over to Office Depot, I decided to drop by http://www.officedepot.com. Here, I was able to pare down my shopping list before ever setting foot in the store. The site has a good comparison-shopping feature, allowing you to select multiple products and compare features side by side. For instance, it was easy to make general decisions regarding laser printers based on price, warranty, output and print speed. (This saved me the trouble of doing basic research in the store, so I could make final decisions based on my observations regarding quality of output, print speed and other factors.) The Office Depot Web site also has a store locator and custom shopping-list creator so you can order (and replenish) regular office supplies, like paper, online.

I found the best selection of office equipment at Computer Discount Warehouse (http://www.cdw.com). You can browse through hundreds of kinds of office equipment by brand name, find top product sellers in specific categories, even get the skinny on manufacturers' rebates and coupons. The site also has a fantastic product-comparison feature that lets you analyze up to five products at a time, complete with photos, in-depth specs, product availability and more.

Of course, if you find what you want at the right price, you can buy the equipment online at most computer retailers' Web sites. I found some of the best prices online, and the product selection was much wider than what I found in the store. Online shopping is great if you already know a lot about the technology you're looking for. You can customize products to your exact specifications, input your credit card number and have the order sent directly to your door. Many online retailers even offer free delivery; Office Depot, for example, provides free delivery for all online orders over $50.

But buying office technology this way won't let you take advantage of in-person help. Retail stores like Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot or your local computer reseller are good places to ask questions and get a second opinion. They also have demo models up and running so you can test prospective equipment and base your decisions on more than just online research. At the Office Depot in Daly City, California, where I went on my shopping spree, Rene Alvarado, a consultative sales technologist (and genuine technology enthusiast) answered all my product questions, clearly outlined my options and offered sound advice. In the end, buying online or in person is simply a matter of how much tech know-how you already have and where you're most comfortable making a purchase.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Easy As $1K-$2K-$3K.

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