Processor Tall Tales From Best Buy

I was recently doing some shopping at my local Best Buy, and I wandered through the computer section to see what they were currently selling (as I periodically like to do). While I was standing in the laptop area, a woman approached one of the sales associates and said “I need some help choosing a new laptop. I want something good, but nothing too fancy. Can you help me?”.

I thought the sales associate’s response was pretty entertaining. He said “Well, there are just three different types of processors you can choose from. There is an i3, and i5, and an i7. The higher numbers are better. I like to call the i3 yesterday’s technology, while the i5 is today’s technology, and the i7 is tomorrow’s technology. The i7 is much more future-proof than the others”. Then he started telling her about how the processor is like the engine in your car…

Next, he moved on to the subject of memory. He said “Windows 8 really needs at least 4GB of memory or it will really bog down. Having 6GB is better, and 8GB of memory is the best.”

Finally, he moved on to the subject of storage. He said “Storage is not such a big deal anymore, since all of these laptops have plenty of it. I think the smallest drive in any of these is 500GB. How much storage do you think you need?”

In this guy’s defense, nothing he said was really glaringly wrong (and I have heard far worse explanations of computers at Best Buy). Most of what he said was just over-simplified, perhaps because he did not know any better, or perhaps because he did not want to get too technical for his audience.

I think a better approach might have been for the sales associate to ask her what she was planning on doing with her laptop, what her preference was about size, weight, screen resolution and battery life, and maybe what her budget range was. I probably would have asked her what kind of computer she currently had. Then based on those answers, make a few initial recommendations, and gauge her response.

I spent several years in retail during college and grad school, so I have quite a bit of sympathy for retail sales people. I still remember an acronym they taught us at one of my retail jobs, which was ANPOCS, which stood for:

Approach the customer

Determine the customer’s Needs

Present the merchandise

Overcome any objections

Close the sale

Suggest add-on sales

Since I am “in computers” all of my family and friends like to get free computer advice and technical support from me. I am sure that this is a familiar situation to many of you! Scott Hanselman wrote a great post about this back in 2011.

Given my knowledge and interest in the gory details of different processors and solid state storage, I might have quickly gotten far too technical for the average person. I would have probably tried to explain that there are different generations of processors, where the latest versions are slightly faster and have better battery life. I probably would have explained the actual differences between the Core i3, i5 and i7 lines, and maybe even pulled up Task Manager to show her how to look at the difference in the number of cores in a machine and how fast they were running. I probably would have told her about hyperthreading and Turbo Boost….

And then, I would have probably noticed her eyes glazing over from an overload of information. Who knows? Perhaps the over-simplified method is better in that situation!

And just to be very clear, the genders of the sales associate and the customer have nothing to do with this story (just in case you are wondering about that). I just hate to see people not do some research before they buy something like a computer, placing themselves at the mercy of a sales associate, who may or may not know what they are doing.

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