A Holiday Debate: Does Where You Buy Your Tech Matter?

This holiday season I got to spend some quality time with family, and one topic that came up and was unexpectedly divisive (unlike politics, which is always divisive) was where to buy tech devices. The discussion quickly grew heated, separating into two camps: brick and mortar versus online, "bargain" vs "quality." The division is not surprising, but who was in which camp was…

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Who was the champion of thrifty online shopping this holiday season? My dad.

While I heavily favor brick and mortar after having had several great customer service experiences this year in tech shops for large purchases, my dad believes price is the most important factor, so he buys most of his tech from eBay. Often these items fail, especially the cheap accessories, which is not surprising considering they cost him a few dollars (yet he bemoans, "they don't make anything like they used to"). I've introduced my dad to Etsy, but he thinks goods sold on the site are too expensive, so he returns to eBay time after time because paying more than $5 for a smartphone case doesn't seem reasonable.

While I do love shopping online as well, my habits are very different from my father's, and I was wondering if this is something that is generational and just skipped him. It seemed like 5 years ago the conversation was different, with my dad championing Walmart for the deals while I explained to him the wonders of the online marketplace. If I'm making a large purchase I want to build a relationship during the sale and so better cement the support foundation that will almost inevitably be needed.

I like returning to the same places and having people greet me by name, and my grandfather agreed, while my father could only shake his head at us. My grandfather loves the gents he buys lumber from know him and are always on the lookout for the kind of pieces he needs for his work (he makes classic wooden toys), and I understand why a store like that is worth going back to. Granted, not everything is always available locally and so shopping online is often necessary, but you can still have some of that relationship if you're shopping small even when using the internet.

The biggest point of difference that came up is when I can, I'd rather pay more to someone I like and purchase a quality object that lasts than go the "bargain" route, only to have it break after only a few uses. Is this true for everything? No, but give me an tablet case made by an artisan in Iceland any day over something possibly made under harsh conditions, cheaply, in a factory. The other similarity between my grandfather and I is that we're less likely to buy something than we are to make it, and are firmly in the less is more camp. We're also more than a little weirded out by bulk shopping and find Extreme Couponing to be all sorts of terrifying.

My dad says price is the most important and that I'm getting sucked in by marketing/liberal hype when what I really need to be is focused on the bottom line. He thinks my grandfather is old fashioned but that there's not excuse for me since I'm not 89 years old and I need to "get with the times." We say that there's a value in buying only what you need and doing it from businesses that you like.

Where do you stand?

(Images: 1. Flickr member Breibeest, licensed for use under Creative Commons, 2. Jason Loper)