Cheap Computers and Electronics Stores: Buyer Beware
ABOVE: Bargains and scams can be found in this cluster of storefronts west of the airport off Milan Dairy Road.
About 15 miles from the glamour and glitz and price gouging of South Beach, in one of the most industrious, enterprising and unassuming areas of Miami, you will find one of Miami’s best-kept secrets - a haven for bargain hunter electronics shoppers.
But like everything else in Miami, you have to be extremely careful whom you’re dealing with in this commercial area just west of Miami International Airport.
But you can find deals like a 37-inch Vizio high definition television for $670; a 750 GB internal hard drive for $150; and a Dell Vostro desktop with Windows XP and 20” monitor for $700.
The same high definition television sells for $749 at Costco, which is renowned at offering better prices on electronics than major department stores.
The same internal hard drive sells for $179 at Tiger Direct, another store that offers cut-rate prices on electronics. (However, if you go on Tiger Direct’s Website, you can find it for much cheaper, but that’s another story altogether.)
And a comparable Dell Inspiron desktop sells for $600 at Best Buy, which is clearly not the best buy considering it doesn’t come with a monitor. For an extra $199, you can purchase a 19-inch monitor at Best Buy. But you’d still be stuck with Vista.
These bargains can be found among almost 200 stores that line both sides of Northwest 31st Street, just west of Milan Dairy Road.
Most locals are unaware of the bargains that can found here. Or maybe they are just wary. At least I will be after my first and only experience purchasing anything in that area.
I needed to purchase an APC battery backup for my computer. Tiger Direct had it for $45. I drove to the computer district near the airport and asked around.
A place called PC DIY Center had it for $35. They said it was brand new. They even gave me a printout of a “Quality Assurance Test” that stated this particular item was made in September 2007 and had passed all sorts of tests.
But when I took it home and connected the battery to multi-socket surge protector, I noticed there were a multitude of scratches on the battery. It looked as if it had been around much longer than September 2007.
I installed the battery anyway and connected the computer, printer and numerous external hard drives to the surge protector.
Within hours after setting it up, my computer suddenly turned off and the device starting emitting an annoying beep, indicating that the battery was dead.
I was confident I would be able to return the item because the sales receipt stated the following: “All parts have 90 days warranty. OEM CPU has 30 days warranty excluding physical damage.” It had only been a week since I purchased it.
But the store’s owner informed me that I would have to send the item back to the manufacturer if I wanted to get a new battery. I bickered with the owner and his wife for a few minutes, but they would not exchange the product nor explain why the battery appeared to have been much older than the actual surge protector.
Because this was my first and only experience purchasing anything in the area, I asked a friend who has been shopping there for years about his experiences.
“I’ve had some bad experiences with things that were not under warranty,” said Ron Norman of Miami, who builds computers for a living. “But I’ve mostly had good experiences in that area.
Norman, who has been shopping in that area since 2000, said the stores would originally only sell to other businesses. “But then one of the guys started selling to everybody, cutting rates and driving prices down,” he said.
Norman said the key to shopping in that area is to stick with an established business. “There are only certain people that I deal with over there,” he said. “There is a very high turnover rate there. I’ve seen stores come and go for years.” Norman recommends stores like Kaidu, Wescom Miami Corporation and King International.
However, King International was one of two stores in that area that were sued by Microsoft last year for allegedly selling unlicensed software. Other stores in the area were sued by Microsoft in previous years.
“There is so much competition there that some stores install unlicensed software to beat the competition,” Norman said.
The competition keeps prices low. One of the area’s long-timers is Frank Lin, owner of Comtek, which specializes in laptop computers, and claims he offers up to 25 percent off on retail prices.
“I’ve been here 18 years and I’ve seen many changes,” he said. “The number of stores peaked ten years ago. There is not as many now as there used to be.”
Lin said that before the stores would focus mainly on computers, but now many stores have been selling security camera kits that enable people to set up a monitoring system in their home or business.
Like many of the stores that clutter the warehouse type strip mall, most of Lin’s business relies on exporting electronics to the Caribbean and Latin America.
“The local customers used to be 30 percent of my business, but because the economy is not good now, it has gone down. But the economy is still good in the (Caribbean) islands and South America.”
Andres Solano, a cargo pilot from Colombia who frequently purchases electronics from this area, says his friends back home constantly ask him to buy things for them.
“Everything is half price here of what it is in Bogota,” he said.
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