Lying to the customer

I guess, I'd been ignoring this, because it rarely affected me much. I know how to do my research; I can look into things, I can check alternative sources, and I can generally take care of myself. I don't mind returning things when sales people give me bogus information.

But, the other day, I was in a Computer City, and I heard a salesman talking to customers who didn't know that much about computers. It was just sour grapes; they wanted a Mac, he wanted to sell a PC, because Apple pulled out of Computer City to focus on their competition. The man didn't know what he was talking about, or he was lying - but he claimed to have a level of experience which would mostly preclude being as stupid as he sounded, so I think he must have been lying about something.

But first, a bit of history.

My first experience with Computer City salespeople making things up to make a sale was quite a while back - it was in the spring of 1996, when I had just gotten my first powermac. The new machine used DIMMs, and I didn't have any around. So, having recently priced SIMMs, I went shopping. None of the stores in my area carried DIMMs except Computer City. I knew that memory prices were falling; they had just fallen from typically $40/MB to about $10-20/MB, depending on type.

Computer City had DIMMs. 8 MB DIMMs cost $260 or so. I asked why the prices on DIMMs were so high; I was told by the sales rep (I don't know his name, but he still works at this store) that DIMMs were very specialized memory, and they only manufacture one or two batches a year, so of course, they're very expensive. Grumbling, I bought the memory I needed - 16 MB, for a bit over $550 total, and went home. I browsed around, and found a web-based merchant who would quote me $439 for a 32 MB DIMM. I asked vendors and even manufacturers, and none had any idea what the guy was talking about - so I spent $450 including shipping, got a 32 MB DIMM, and returned my memory to Computer City. But I didn't learn...

For a while, I avoided listening to anything the sales reps said. A while later, a friend of mine was looking at external removable media. He asked about the difference between the PC and Mac versions of the Syquest EZ-Flyer, the 230 MB removable media device. (The difference is that one comes with a 25-25 pin SCSI cable, for a Macintosh's 25-pin external SCSI port, the other comes with a 25-50 pin SCSI cable, to connect to the "half-pitch 50" connector common on the better type of PC-based SCSI cards.) The sales rep explained that the Macintosh version of the drive had 25-pin SCSI ports, but the PC version had a 50-pin SCSI port. My friend asked whether they were sure of this - it is certainly unusual for a vendor to provide different hardware on SCSI devices, and there was no obvious reason for this change, and the sales rep explained that he had opened the box and looked at the drive.

Of course, the drive is identical, and only the cable is different - however, my friend had explicitly asked the sales rep whether "the drive, not the cable" was different... and been told that it was.

That was it for buying anything from Computer City for a while, but back then, they did have a wider selection of hardware than CompUSA, and at one point, they had a new SCSI card, a Diamond Fireport 40 (an ultra wide SCSI controller) that CompUSA didn't carry. The sales rep pointed out that they also sold the bundled pack, which was the card plus a hard drive. The card alone was $199; the card bundled with drive was $499. He explained that the drive, while only 2GB, was exceptionally fast, and currently sold for a street price of nearly $400. Idiotically, I bought the bundled pack... When I looked at the drive, of course, I compared prices... and found that it was a $220 drive, or less. So, I returned the package, and bought the regular version with just the card. (I bought a much larger hard drive from a mail order dealer, in the end.)

So, that was my experience with this; I think I may have omitted a couple of cases, but this is a fairly typical experience, from what I hear, with going to this particular store. I have also seen a fair amount of misleading pricing, but it may just be rank stupidity. For instance, the Matrox Millennium video card, which was top-of-the-line not that long ago, lasted much longer at Computer City than almost anywhere else. When CompUSA and Best Buy had both started selling the newer, faster, Millennium II for $199, Computer City still sold the Millennium I (the older card) for $189 - and the impression I got was that one was to consider this a "price break". Sneaky!

Still, although I wasted a bit of time on this, I did get good prices on some hardware from Computer City, and they always had a pretty good selection, so I never thought much about it; I figured that incompetent sales help was just the price you sometimes pay for a different store.

Last weekend, Sunday, February 8th, 1998, was the experience that changed my mind. Apple had just pulled out of Computer City, moving to focus on CompUSA. Computer City still had four Power Macs left - three 7300/200's, and one 6500/300. (No pricing was visible.) I was just looking at the 6500/300, to see if it had a price on it (I was curious about comparing their closeout prices, since I know some people looking for a new Mac), when some people came by with a sales rep.

They started out by asking for information about the computer. The sales rep responded with a statement to the effect of "Well, it's good that you asked me about that, because I'm the one honest guy you could ask about the Macintosh." (My ears perked up at this; I've heard a million lines of bullshit from sales reps, and they all start with protestations of honesty.) He went on to ask questions about why they wanted a computer, and why they wanted a Macintosh.

Of course, they gave the traditional answers - ease of use, graphics design, and maybe home business. He went on to explain that the Mac isn't easier to use (I believe this to be flatly untrue; while I loathe MacOS, being a die-hard Unix nut, I am forced to grant that it's easier for an end-user than anything else handy), and that it's simply not suitable for graphics design, and that no one would ever use a Macintosh for graphics design.

I have forgotten many of the things he followed this up with; I made a couple of efforts at correcting his more outrageous claims, but of course, he had snide remarks to counter them with. sigh. In any event, here are some (hardly all; I walked away for a few minutes, and came back to find him still spewing his filth) of the more memorable. Refutations indented, where not obvious to the layman.

The macintosh has never been nearly as fast as the PC for mathematics.
Motorola has always been better than Intel at floating point; while the Pentium series is no slouch at integer math, Intel has never been known for blindingly fast math.
You need at least 160 MB of memory to do graphics design on a Mac.
Amazing, isn't it, the things you learn when listening to store clerks?
I've had over ten years of professional experience using both Macintoshes and PC's.
And why, exactly, should we believe this coming from a guy who works as a store clerk in Computer City? (One of the others there claims to have been using Adaptec SCSI controllers since before the SCSI spec came out.) I mean, I have no objection to the existence of store clerks, but this is not the kind of highly paid technical work you expect to find an experienced technician doing. I don't buy it.
There have been "lots" of upheavals, a la the 68k to PPC conversion.
One, maybe?
The Macintosh is dying.
Yeah, yeah, people have been saying that for years, but Apple is doing okay, and actually making money again.
This Macintosh would cost $2,800. A comparable PC would only cost $2,500.
Or, if you went across the street to CompUSA, $2,200 for the mac. Still $2,500 for the PC.
The Macintosh uses DIMMs, which are weird and nonstandard, but may not continue using them.
Yes, so weird and non-standard that most Pentium II systems use them also.
You can't upgrade the CPU on a Macintosh.
Maybe not on the 6500, but certainly on, say, the 7300/200 they had sitting on a shelf.
You can't exchange files easily between a PC and a Macintosh.
A 3-year-old Macintosh won't be able to run any new software, but all PC's are compatible.
He especially pointed out games; I have a PC barely one year old that can't run a fair number of recently released games. This is nonsense. If PC compatability were that good, why would 60% or more of the business market continue installing Windows 3.1 on PC's, to run their existing business software?

Anyway, he went on in this vein for some time. It was clearly sour grapes; he knew that Apple didn't like Computer City any more, and he didn't want to risk losing a sale to a rival store.

The result? I humbly suggest that you may find your needs better served by CompUSA. I will be posting my take on the Mac/PC dichotomy in my opinions pages in a while. (If you see this text, and I've already done it, please remind me.) I cannot in good faith suggest that I find this behavior tolerable; since I have been misled by at least two or three employees at Computer City, I'm inclined to think their corporate culture does not adequately discourage this. (For research purposes, I will be going to a few other Computer City stores in the area to test this theory.)

If anyone wants to know the specific store or employee, you can write me; I shan't post it though, I don't think it really matters.

Questions? Comments? would love to hear them.