Should You Buy Your Next Computer via Auction?

First Published:
Date Published: 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Savetz

Buyers have more choices than ever when it comes to deciding where to purchase their next computer. Online auctions offer a tempting alternative to traditional retail stores and computer catalogs. Auction shoppers can find great prices on computers, but buyers need to carefully consider other factors, too.

There are great deals out there. Don McCarty is one bidder who can attest to that: he bid on, and won, a Pentium II 233 MHz PC with 96 MB RAM, a big hard drive and fast CD-ROM for $329 plus shipping.

Despite a bad hard drive "which took me many hours of frustration to discover," McCarty was pleased with the transaction. "The company not only stood behind the product, but they FedExed a replacement drive immediately, no questions asked. After all is said and done I am very happy with the system and feel that I got a very good deal," McCarty said.

Snagging the best possible deal can take time, patience, and some technical savvy. McCarty bid on many computer systems before he finally walked away with a winning bid. Placing a bid, waiting for that auction to end, then -- if you lose -- researching another system and placing another bid, is a process that can take weeks.

Buying a computer via auction may be the cheapest route for careful bidders, but it isn't the best choice for everyone. Retail computer shops will generally offer the best service and support, which are essential for first-time buyers and technophobes. Mail order catalogs and online stores often offer lower prices than retail shops, while still providing some level of post-sale service. With auctions, though, there's no telling what you'll get: you'll find everything from as-is, take-your-chances computers to ones with full service and support.

So auction buyers need to be sure they understand what they're buying and who they're buying from. Carefully read the details in the item description regarding the condition of the computer (is it brand new or used?) and the warranty (is it covered or sold strictly as is?) If the system is used, has it been refurbished, cleaned, and tested? Also, verify that the computer comes equipped with the essentials -- like RAM and a hard drive. (Don't laugh -- "stripped" systems abound -- they're just paperweights until upgraded.)

Is the seller a company or just Mr. Joe Random trying to unload an old PC? Careful buyers may prefer buying from a wholesaler or refurbisher -- companies that fix up then sell off-lease, returned, and old stock computers. This way, buyers can still get a great deal on a computer, while receiving some sort of guarantee that it will work.

The biggest problem you might have with buying a computer via auction is choosing which one to bid on. Face it, in a computer store there are a dozen or perhaps two dozen machines to choose from. Online, there are endless options at countless auction sites. You can use a general auction site like eBay or Yahoo!Auctions, or opt to search a site that specializes in computers, such as uBid or With tens of thousands of computers to choose from, it helps to know exactly what you're looking for and what you're willing to pay.

Articles by Kevin Savetz