Big-box warranties aren

My laptop died on a Saturday night. I felt a rush of panic, but was confident my extended warranty with a big-box retailer would cover it. But, after fighting my way through the Caribana crowds in downtown Toronto to the nearest retail location, I found out I’d have to wait at least two weeks to get my laptop back — making the warranty pretty much useless.

In the end, I went to an authorized Toshiba dealer at the start of the work week — they got the parts I needed within 24 hours and fixed my laptop while I waited in the lobby. Sure, I paid for it out of my pocket, but in the business world, time is money, and being out of commission for two weeks is simply not an option.

Many small businesses — and even larger ones — are buying laptops, PCs, printers and other IT equipment from big-box retailers, such as Future Shop or Best Buy. And they may believe they’re protecting themselves by purchasing extended warranties, relying on those big-box retailers for service and support.

But read the fine print. It’s one thing as a consumer to bring your DVD player into a big-box retailer and wait two weeks for it to be repaired. It’s another thing if you’re a business that can’t afford any downtime. In the end, you may end up going to a service firm or direct to the manufacturer and paying for the repairs out of your own pocket.

Big-box retailers typically outsource warranty support to a third-party company and have no clue when you’ll actually get your equipment back — and will treat a business no differently than a teenage boy with a broken gaming device. This differs significantly from the service and support that a larger enterprise typically receives from more attentive consultants and vendors — which is often a sore spot for smaller businesses.

If big-box retailers want to bring in more business customers, they need to upgrade their warranty programs to differentiate between consumers and businesses — and provide a consistent level of service to business customers, small or large. It’s hard to imagine any business on the planet that could afford to wait a couple of weeks — or up to six months — for diagnostics and repairs.

At the same time, however, the convenience of big-box retailers is hard to beat. Service firms and manufacturers usually operate on nine-to-five business hours, and are typically located somewhere in suburbia in southern Ontario, which means you may have to rely on couriers and numerous phone calls to get the job done. And if you’re waiting on parts, and don’t have the clout of a larger enterprise, you may end up waiting longer than you can really afford.

The advantage of a big-box retailer is that, at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night, you can pop into one of several locations in most major centres across Canada and talk to a live human being. Sometimes a warranty is not worth the paper it’s printed on. IT shops and business owners should consider service and support to be as critical as the equipment itself, and this can save a lot of money — and headaches — down the road.

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