Black Friday and Cyber Monday are upon us, and I know at least half-a-dozen people that are planning to go technology shopping. Many of you are like me and are wise to retailer shenanigans leveraging seasonal enthusiasm and internet hype to separate us from our hard-earned cash, but there are deals to be had if you look hard enough and are willing to battle the crush of humanity at the brick and mortars instead of just doing your shopping online like any sane human being. If you are one of the hardy Black Friday shoppers physically participating in one of America’s finest traditions (definitely sarcasm that time), please don’t let the shopping bug blind you to shady retailers taking advantage of your holiday spirit. In Office Depot’s case, they didn’t even have Black Friday chicanery as an excuse to sell completely unnecessary malware cleanup services on computers that were brand-new in the box.
Someone’s heart was clearly “two sizes too small”
Let’s be clear: big-box retailers sell technology at costs that most providers like C2 can’t hope to match. Their volume and industry position allow them to cut deals on hardware that sometimes seem impossible, and here’s a dirty little secret: those invisible margins are in fact not so thin due to bundled software deals and, in some cases, extended 3rd party warranties. Software manufacturers like McAfee, Symantec, and even Microsoft and Adobe will pay computer manufacturers to ship their software pre-installed on your brand-new computer. Sometimes it’s a convenience – who wants to go shopping for anti-virus software after fighting the crowds for your shiny new computer? But not always, as is the case of the above scam. Office Depot seems to have benefited on both sides of the market by selling computers pre-installed with a questionable anti-malware app called “PC Health Check”. This slick piece of work (more sarcasm!) was finding malware on brand-new computers, prompting concerned buyers to go back to Office Depot where they were sold unneeded “cleanup services” often to the tune of several hundred more dollars.
Are dwindling big-box margins to blame for driving adoption of these scummy sales practices? Probably, but it’s a flimsy excuse to take advantage of your customers. If anything, you are driving them online and to companies like C2 who are more interested in partnering with customers instead of merely profiting from them. As always, caveat emptor. If it seems like a deal too good to be true, it just might not be a good deal after all.