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Dipping A Big Toe In The Mac Pool? Dive In!

Just A Thought - Dipping A Big Toe In The Mac Pool? Dive In!

by , 10:00 AM EST, January 24th, 2003

I've got a PC using friend, we'll call him Richard, who has been seriously eying Macs for a while now. He reads Mac related news items, checks out Mac-centric Web sites, and asks me questions about different aspects of my Mac using experiences.

I keep thinking that any day now Richard is going to show me his newly purchased iBook or PowerBook -- he's mainly interested in laptops, so maybe Steve Jobs knew what he was talking about at the MWSF keynote -- but, thus far, Richard has held back like a kid who wants to swim but is too afraid to just jump right in. I figure Richard will eventually give in, hold his breath and take a running leap at the pool we call the Mac community.

Grab your waterwings, Richard, and come on in, the water is fine! Actually, Richard won't need waterwings because using a Mac is not a sink or swim proposition. Once he immerses himself in Mac OS X and maybe a 17" PowerBook, he'll have taken to using Macs like a duck to water and wonder why he waited so long.

A few days ago Richard stopped by to chat, and the subject of Macs came up. Almost out of the blue, Richard asked me, "Do you know why I haven't bought a Mac laptop yet?"

"Umm...no, Richard. I don't," I answered.

"It's because if I get one and find I don't like it, I can't return it without paying some fairly stiff restocking fees. I don't want to switch and have to pay to switch back."

I kinda like the imagery of Switchers being like those souls who approach a pool on a hot Summer day: You get those who boldly stride up to the side of the pool, stare at the water for a few seconds (building up courage perhaps?), then dunk themselves.

Or those who climb the high-dive platform in their skimpy swimsuits; these are the showoffs, confident in their ability to impress everyone with their skill at entering the water.

Of course, there are the wading ladies: these are the women, some large, some thin, but all seem to hang out in the swallow end of the pool, afraid to get too wet.

And, of course, there's always the overweight guy in shorts that are far too small for him who believes that the belly flop should be an Olympic Event judged solely by how much water one can displace.

Richard is one of those people who walks up to the edge of the Mac pool and dips his big toe in to see how cold the water is; but as anyone who swims in pools north of the Mason-Dixon line will tell you: if you want to swim, don't test the water first, just jump right on in.

Still, Richard may have a point. Obviously Apple can't control the policies of Apple resellers concerning restocking fees, but it can control the policies of the 50 + Apple stores. To make it easy for would-be Switchers to make up their minds, Apple might want to not charge a restocking fee as a sort of a guarantee, or as an interesting selling promotion: If you don't like your new Mac you can return it, no questions asked.

Not a bad idea.

Still, one has to wonder why Apple and other stores have a restocking fee in the first place. I mean, it's not like we are keeping anything, we're returning the item, a PowerBook for instance, just like we found it.

Or are we really? I went snooping around and asked some questions. My local CompUSA and Apple store salespersons were very cordial and not at all secretive about the restocking fee, and they both offered similar reasons for the fee.

If you opened the box of that newly purchased Mac, a PowerBook let's say, then it is possible that you took the laptop out, played with it, maybe signed onto the Net, downloaded some pictures or apps that others may not want, then decided the PowerBook wasn't for you. In the state of Florida, at least, if an item has been used, a store cannot sell it as new. To entice a buyer to select a used item over a new item the store will usually reduce the price substantially.

In the case of our PowerBook, the store may wipe the drive and reinstall the OS and appropriate applications, even if you just broke the seal, they may not want to take the chance that someone would buy the PowerBook you briefly owned, take it home and find all of the stuff you left on it. (I just hope you didn't leave any personal e-mail messages or pictures.)

So we are not really returning what we bought in its original condition, and the store has to foot the bill for resetting the system and selling the item at a reduced price. To offset that price loss, stores charge a restocking fee. Whether the store actually does anything to recondition the item is another story, and your mileage will vary.

The amount of the fee will vary drastically from vendor to vendor. Apple charges 10% of the purchase price as a restocking fee, the local CompUSA charges 15%, some stores charge much more, you should ask the store before making your purchase, like any savvy consumer should do.

Now, back to my friend Richard. Should he be concerned about restocking fees when deciding to tryout a Mac? I look at it this way, if he finds he'd rather fight than Switch he can think of the restocking fee as the cost to rent the Mac for however long he decides to hold on to it. He can obviously reduce that rental cost by choosing a store that charges the least for restocking, and if he decides to keep the Mac -- which we all know he will -- he won't have to worry about that fee anyway.

Referring to my swimming analogy once again: Richard needs to just take a running leap, curl up, and make the biggest cannonball splash ever and not worry about how cold the water is. Swimming means getting wet and you can't get wet standing by the pool looking cool.

So, Richard, quit dragging your feet, open your checkbook and take the dive. The next time I see you you'd better have a 12" PowerBook G4.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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