April 30, 2009
Shopping for Electronics
In many ways, buying electronics in Taiwan is a shopper's dream. Imagine markets devoted purely to electronics, from circuit board testers to the latest netbook. With all this choice however, it can be a daunting job trying to find what you want.
As it's unlikely that you'll be buying a 42" flat screen TV or an air-conditioner, I'll focus on the smaller items that will be more likely to tempt you, and in particular, notebook computers which are items of choice for many visitors.
The first thing you need to do is get a good idea of what you want. Start with the generals (brand, model number, PC or Mac etc.) then get more specific (processor, amount of RAM, graphics cards etc.) If you have a specific model in mind, try and bring a print out of the model from the manufacturers website, as specific model numbers can differ in different areas of the world, so the KO123u in the States might be the KO125x in Taiwan.
If you don't have a specific model in mind, then make a quick list of the things that are important to you. For example:
type and speed of processor(s)
Everything changes so fast in the computer world that it is not worth getting into specifics here. I think it makes life a lot easier to have these things in mind though, as the choice you will find can be overwhelming.
One other important thing you should check is the warranty/guarantee. Some brands offer a global warranty, and unless you are resident in Taiwan, you should really go for this option.
Now you have a good idea of what you want, there are basically four options of where to buy:
The computer markets offer the widest choice. They either come in the format of a mini-mall packed full of small computer and electronic stores, or a whole street such as the famous Guang Hua market in Taipei. Whether or not they are cheaper is open to debate, but for custom built machines, you will certainly find what you want here. However, expect a more hectic experience. During the weekends the places are packed and if you dally for too long asking for a price, you might well get swept down the aisles. If you know what you want (hence my suggestion of making a list or identifying a specific model) and are computer savvy then you will get more out of the markets. A fair percentage of salespeople at the markets speak English and in general they are more used to dealing with tourists. That doesn't mean the prices will be marked up however as there are simply so many stores that wouldn't make sense.
Local computer shops are becoming rarer (not counting those in the markets). The choice is likely to be limited, but if you see the model you like, the service is likely to be good if they can speak English. It doesn't hurt to pop in and ask in any event.
The retail chains aren't usually cheaper and don't offer much in the way of extra service. If they happen to have a "can't resist sale" then fair enough.
Computer shows can offer real bargains, but they can be pandemonium. Not so much getting swept down the aisles as thrust down white water rapids. You will also probably not have as much choice in the exact specs. Still, if you want to buy and there is a show coming up, it's worth a look. Just remember your life jacket.
No matter whether it's a local shop or a market, you should feel happy with who you are buying from. If you feel they are trying to up the price or persuade you to add things you don't want, try somewhere different.
You should be able to have English language software installed for you, at least the operating system. Unless you are very comfortable with computers, I would suggest that you have the shop install the operating system. That way any hardware problems should be sorted. Note though that it can take an extra day or so for the store to do this, so allow for this if your time is limited.
Once you have the model of your dreams, the next step is agreeing a price. The markup on electronics is so slim, that I find haggling for price doesn't have much effect. What does seem to work though is asking for extras. For example see if you can extra RAM, a USB memory stick, a slightly bigger hard drive etc. No guarantees, but there is no harm in asking. Note though that this will not work at the chain outlets, where the marked price is the price.
Computers are generally cheaper here than the west, but not dramatically so. It is possible to buy a second hand computer, but remember that you won't have a guarantee so no support. If something goes wrong, it might be a long costly experience to get it fixed.
A quick note about other electronic devices. I think the advice above is generally applicable whether buying a computer, camera, iPod etc. The chain outlets and computer markets almost always have stores selling just about every device and accessory that you will need. And you can probably can make savings when buying things like SD cards for your camera, or batteries, cables etc. Don't forget to check your customs allowance though in case you get hit for tax when going home!
Whatever you decide, happy shopping and happy computing!
Get a rough idea of what you want.
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