I just bought a small monochrome laser printer for our office. The experience (probably predictably) more painful than it should have been. Here are my notes:
- There are just far too many printers on the market. This is probably true of any consumer electronic device. Anyway it meant that searching through the product reviews and listings on CNet was difficult, so I anchored on products receiving high scores or their “Editor’s Choice” ranking. This led me quickly to the HP LaserJet 1320. Unfortunately the review was done in 2004, and the site did not say the product had been discontinued, and the entry still was far too easy to stumble upon in their listings.
- I went to HP’s site and found very many printers listed of all kinds, without a real attempt to break down into categories of use - for instance I don’t really need the high duty cycle office printers, but I do want high performance and duplexing. The site listed the 1320 amongst other printers, making no mention that it had been discontinued other than not listing a price and offering the suggestion to “see retail stores for pricing.”
- Since we wanted the printer soon, rather than wait and do an online order I thought I’d try and find a local store nearby. I’ve come to hate big box electronics stores and feared it wouldn’t go well. I talked to Best Buy in Mountain View and Fry’s in Palo Alto. Best Buy said their Santana Row store had one unit. A heavily accented man at Fry’s said they had one. I drove to Fry’s since it was closer. When I got there they didn’t have any. It’s one of those moments where you know you should have expected it, but at the same time you are just utterly disgusted at the fact that these disinterested twits can’t even do simple tasks correctly. I went down to Santana Row but the unit they had had been returned, was in a battered box and made no claim of the duplexing functionality I sought. I drove to Fry’s in Sunnyvale and once again had the most unpleasant experience with a salesperson who when I asked if they had any of a certain model on display just said “I don’t know” and then ignored me. No walking 20 feet to check, no, that would be too difficult.
In my view, the reason to shop for electronics at a store rather than online is for that “instant gratification” sense and ideally for the sales staff to know something about their product lines, the pros and cons of each model, etc. You know, back in the old days people didn’t used to have to do lots of research to buy things. They could go into a store and talk to a salesperson who would explain (aside from the standard bias towards the more expensive and more profit-making products!) These days though it seems the consumer electronics industry is devoid of this pride of salesmanship. I get the sense that I could go in there and figure out more about the different products by poking at them and reading the documentation in 5 minutes than the staff there already know. What’s even worse is that they lack the ability to learn or problem solve and figure out the answers to customer’s questions.
I feel like I put a reasonable amount of effort into this transaction - I did some cursory research online. You have to understand, I don’t care that much about printers and purchasing them to want to expend a lot of bother. I would happily spend more money at a physical store if the experience would remove the need for tiring online research.
In summary, my thoughts are basically that CNet and HP should improve their websites so that it’s easier to find the relevant products. If I were an engineer at HP working on the 2955dtx I’d be ticked off that the product was being advertised with little distinction alongside the completely different and wholly inappropriate 4933pld. And the retailers, they need to improve their displays and include product rankings, and find a way to give their staff the incentive to do actual work, since right now they just seem to stand around.
By the way we ended up with a HP LaserJet 2015dn. I have no idea how well it rates. It has worked so far and is exceptionally fast especially for the first page which I like. The Mac driver is buggy though and duplexing doesn’t seem to work nor do printing page ranges, so I need to figure those out.