Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Micro Center


This post started out as a digression in an earlier post. It got a little too long so I put it aside and decided to post it as it's own article:

Micro Center is a very strange store. It's half tech paradise and half closeout store. Their clearance section has loosely stacked piles of nameless CDRs, keyboards, mice, etc. It's a little depressing. They have twenty or thirty different USB SD card readers, most of them dirt cheap, most of them from brands I've never heard of. I also think their employees make commissions, something else that's a little bothersome. One girl put a sticker with her name and ID number on a product she helped me pick out. She did help me out, but the countless other times I've gone there I'd been pestered without needing any help.

In spite of that, I do like shopping there. Micro Center is the first chain store I've ever walked into that has, from soup to nuts, every single component you need to build a computer from scratch. Best Buy's starting to go in that direction, but they're nowhere near as comprehensive as Micro Center. One downside is that the pricing is very inconsistent. Sometimes they're way overpriced, sometimes they're cheaper than Amazon or Newegg. In store they also have that pesky habit of displaying the price in a large font, and in a much smaller font saying "price after mail-in rebate." I've been burned so many times with mail-in rebates it's now a reason for me not to buy something. Luckily you can check the prices and sales out online, and the online price (after I choose my store online) has always matched up with the in-store price.

Micro Center was also the closest store to me that had eeePC 701s and 901s perpetually in stock, making them saviors when my 701 died and I had to buy a 901. Let me qualify what "closest store" means. Micro Center is 30 miles away. That makes driving there and back slightly cheaper than most online stores' next-day shipping, and I get whatever I've purchased immediately. If I can talk a friend into driving me, I get to play with whatever new toy I've bought on the way home.

I wasn't even aware of Micro Center until a few years ago. I don't know how long it's been around, but it's gotten me to go back and start buying computer components in a brick-and-mortar store, something I never thought I'd do again. No, that's wrong, I'd never gotten anything more than a graphics card and a handful of hard drives from physical stores before MicroCenter. Everything else I'd purchased online. Micro Center has managed to work it's way into my comparison circle. I'm in the habit now of checking it's availability and prices alongside Newegg, Amazon, Tiger Direct, Provantage, and various other online retailers.

I find it odd that such a store exists today, and that it actually competes with the online stores in price and selection. My guess is that it's kept afloat by a lot of sales from small businesses that either can't afford to or don't want to wait for replacement parts for their equipment. Every time I go I see dozens of men in suits, on their lunch breaks or something, with a monitor or a hard drive under their arms. It's odd that they should look so out of place there--what business nowadays doesn't have a computer? First, I think it's odd in general to see so many men in suits anywhere that isn't their place of business. I think the rest of the confusion lies with me because for the longest time, everyone I've known who works on computers has either dressed like a slacker or worn the IT uniform--Shirt, slacks, tie, no jacket. And usually glasses.

I'm not surprised how much I love shopping in a store full of tech. If any huge nerds out there have only bought components online, it's worth checking out. Walking in the first time and looking around can actually be a little breathtaking.


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