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Sales advice considered harmful

PC World has come on a lot in recent years and I have friends who tell me they get helpful advice there. In which case our local branch may be an exception, because it still seems to be staffed by people from the dangerous-little-learning school of Saturday staff. We were in there today beating them down to a reasonable price for an Athlon 64 box without a monitor and once we'd dealt with the sales pitch we got in response to flagging down a passing minion and saying "we'll take this one" (a rather surprised "are you sure you want that one?") and firmly rejecting the support package, it was painless. But while we were checking out the Sempron 64 notebook I overheard a buyer asking the difference between an own-brand and a Toshiba notebook. He knew that RAM mean random access memory and he knew that more was better, but not why. The salesman claimed that "twice as much RAM means you can open files and programs twice as fast". Close, but no cigar. I might buy that twice the RAM will speed up running programs but opening them is down to disk speed and optimising where the data is on disk and which bits are pre-loaded, rather than how much real memory might or might not be free at the time.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
thunderbox
1st Jan, 2006 19:08 (UTC)
And you point is, what?

Complaining that a PC World salesman isn't technical is like saying the woman on the till at Iceland doesn't know the recipe for all-i-pebre d’anguiles.

If someone doesn't know what they're buying they need to purchase from a retailer who makes enough margin to pay competent staff. Those who know everything may choose to purchase from the waffeur-thin-margin sector because they know the risks along with the technology.

There are many words for those who do not know, yet who choose to venture into the land of no margin and no skills: 'mark', 'mug', 'sucker', 'dupe', 'pushover'...
mdlbear
1st Jan, 2006 19:26 (UTC)
Of course, if you have enough other stuff running that you have to swap, more RAM will make a huge difference in startup time. Not terribly likely these days, but...
stillcarl
1st Jan, 2006 23:35 (UTC)
He knew that RAM mean random access memory and he knew that more was better, but not why. The salesman claimed that "twice as much RAM means you can open files and programs twice as fast". Close, but no cigar.

Actually, he may have known, but just simplified. Being precise might have led to more questions, such as what a hard-disk is, then what is virtual memory, and then how much virtual memory do the different notebooks have... And so on.

He mentioned the most important thing - more RAM equals faster. And that he said "open" doesn't mean the customer knows what "open" means, anymore than they would know what "running" means. To most people, opening and running a program probably means the same thing.
spride
2nd Jan, 2006 10:53 (UTC)
If my father's anything to extrapolate from, the general user doesn't really know about 'programs' anyway - it's all 'the computer'. Getting Dad to recognise which dialog boxes are coming from the OS and which from a particular application is almost impossible; and the idea of windows on the screen confuses the hell out of him - he doesn't get why when he's downloaded something from a Web page, the Web page is still there under the (now-closed) download dialog. He interprets it as 'it's telling me to do something' even though he's just done it. I've tried hundreds of analogies ("it's like your sitting room - if you put the paper down and watch TV, the paper's still there while you're watching the TV") but none of them stick.
marypcb
2nd Jan, 2006 12:05 (UTC)
like the presumption that anything that comes with the PC from new is part of Windows, so if their first PC comes with Office and their second doesn't that's very confusing
stillcarl
2nd Jan, 2006 21:12 (UTC)
Getting Dad to recognise which dialog boxes are coming from the OS and which from a particular application is almost impossible

That's because your Dad's rational. If a dialog box is associated with a particular app, then it should be within the app's window, not floating around randomly in its own window somewhere. (That most modern OSs/apps don't behave like this doesn't make it any the less true.)

he doesn't get why when he's downloaded something from a Web page, the Web page is still there under the (now-closed) download dialog. He interprets it as 'it's telling me to do something' even though he's just done it.

But there should be an indication of some sort that it's downloading, such as a progress bar on the webpage. That there isn't is not his fault.

We're just so used to how "modern" UIs behave that we don't realise they make very little sense at all. Windows (little "w") and menus have long since past their use-by date.
spride
3rd Jan, 2006 08:10 (UTC)
> If a dialog box is associated with a particular app, then it should be within the app's window

Agreed. *Sometimes* I need to see what the application state under the Tiger slide-out dialogs is before I respond, but generally I think OS X gets it right.

> But there should be an indication of some sort that it's downloading, such as a progress bar on the webpage. That there isn't is not his fault.

Well, there you're into the browser detecting what's happening client-side (file system events etc) and that way lies security badness...
stillcarl
4th Jan, 2006 06:44 (UTC)
It could load it to the browser's cache first, I guess, on the assumption that the final save to disk won't actually take any noticeable time.

Still, I'm thinking of an overall rethink of how UIs work. WIMPs (to use a sadly out of fashion term;) were supposed to make computing easier. And they did for a while, but a typical desktop seems horribly cluttered these days. I'm hoping one of the attempts at an online desktop shows us the way out of the mess...
spride
3rd Jan, 2006 08:14 (UTC)
> We're just so used to how "modern" UIs behave that we don't realise they make very little sense at all. Windows (little "w") and menus have long since past their use-by date.

It's worse at work. I can't see a single benefit for my company's end-users (who source, deliver or sell furniture and home accessories) of putting a Xerox-R&D-derived UI on top of a mainframe-ambitious but fatally-compromised-by-design OS on each desktop and on the shop floor. When the company ran AS/400 for vital business functions, the downtime was minimal and productivity vastly superior.
marypcb
2nd Jan, 2006 12:08 (UTC)
oh, I know I'm being picky, but he said 'open files and programs' - and he implied a linear relationship. If he'd just said faster I've have applauded him. And a lot more questions to answer; if the salesman had known the answers that would have been the way to find out if he was really recommending the best product for the customer (more questions should be a good thing, not a tedious waste of time).
stillcarl
2nd Jan, 2006 20:50 (UTC)
But it's not about recommending the best product for the customer, but about getting the customer to buy a product, and preferably the one that gets the salesman the highest commision. Customers who don't know what they're looking for are going to ask an endless string of questions, most of which will be pointless because they don't know what they want in the first place. Giving them the technically correct answer will make no difference.

The connundrum for the salesperson is do they try and sell them a low-spec computer so they'll return soon to ask for a better one, (or for it to be upgraded if someone's told them computers can be upgraded), or the high-spec one, knowing they won't see them again for three years or so.

It would've been nice if the salsman had said "More RAM will make the computer go faster, but you can easily add more RAM if you need it." The result of this though would probably be computers with decent amounts of RAM being mostly left sitting on the shelves.

Being a computer salesperson in this day and age has to be a version of hell...
lovingboth
2nd Jan, 2006 19:43 (UTC)
What was the reasonable price, out of about-to-buy-bits curiosity?

It was only this week that I realised their method of competing with online retailers: good prices if you order via the web - without having to pay anything at that point, or even supply card details - for pickup in-store. Turn up without having done so, and some prices double.

I'm not sure if it's good or evil.
marypcb
2nd Jan, 2006 19:53 (UTC)
£360 inc for the monitor-less Athlon system described in Simon's post. The with-monitor price was about £30 more than on the Web but I can't swear the config was otherwise the same...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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