How To Shop on Behalf of Clients as a Computer Technician

shopping

If a large part of your client base is residential then you may have been asked “shop around” on a clients behalf. The client knows they need to purchase something but want to do it alone because they want to make sure they dont purchase the wrong one or get ripped off. This usually occurs in two ways:

  • 1. The client tells you what they want, you look around for an item that does what they need and gives them the best bang for their buck, then they purchase it through you.
  • 2. The client already had a store in mind to purchase the product from (usually a Bigbox store) and wants you to help them choose the right one.

While this sounds like an easy way to make money, how do you charge? Do you charge for your time or do you place a markup on the product?
Well, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this and if you get it wrong, you can end up wasting a lot of time or upsetting your customer.

The client will generally let you know whether they want to purchase through you or purchase from another business but you may have to ask. Here is what to do in each situation:

The Client Wants To Purchase From You

If the client wants to purchase the product through you, then you simply to treat this like you would with any other stock you carry, where the markup makes it worth your time. You do the research for your client, you buy the product through your business and place your markup on it that is appropriate for the amount of time you spent, and the client never knows who your suppler was.

The Client Wants To Purchase From Another Business

If the client has another business in mind like BestBuy or Newegg, you need to charge based on your time rather than have a markup. Marking up a product is difficult to do in this situation without looking like like you picked a price out of thin air.

For example, which way sounds sounds more legitimate?

  • “Here is the screen from BestBuy which cost $150. That’ll be $200 please”
  • “Here is the screen from BestBuy which cost $150. It has been an hour at fifty dollars an hour, so that’ll be $200 please”

The first looks like you plucked a price out of thin air, the second sounds fair enough.
The best way to go about this is to shop with them either physically or using remote support software to shop with them online. This way they know they are taking up your time and that you need to charge for it.

Otherwise, if you tell them what to purchase after you put in the time researching for them, it is possible that they will just go buy it from a Big Box store and circumvent you entirely. There was a topic similar to this in the Technibble forums recently where Lisa from Call That Girl said: “We tell the clients to pay us for our shopping time. Remote time with me is our normal rates, $59-$79 to shop online together, or they can take my lead tech to Microcenter and he’s $125 an hour. We save people money by shopping with them.”

Following the simple guideline above, this should help prevent you from getting stung when shopping on behalf of your clients.



Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (15)

  • TheNomadSoul says:

    Let me just say that I love Technibble! It has been a great source of information for my small business. I have got to say that you guys really need to start double checking your grammar before you post an article. Several articles including this one have had such glaring issues as to make certain aspects of the article confusing to read. I say this as a fan and as a reader, quality content (which you have) and solid writing skills can go a long way in newcomers trusting the information you provide.

    • Bryce Whitty says:

      My apologies, I shouldnt write late at night :)
      I plan to change things up a bit in the writing department here at Technibble, of those plans a proof-reader will most likely be hired to read articles before they go live.

    • Mobile Computer Repair says:

      We are tech not English Majors

  • Chad Faison says:

    Bryce, thanks for the great tip! This truly is the best way to communicate to a customer why the price is more than just the item, while at the same time not seeming rude or greedy.

  • Sam says:

    I agree with TheNomadSoul. The first paragraph threw me, but I knew what the author was saying. Otherwise, I enjoy the stories I get from Technibble.

  • Matthew Keathley says:

    I run a very successful computer repair shop. I love technibble and use ti often. I disagree about the grammar. I do not see or care about any grammar problems. Its perfectly readable and useful information.

    As for helping customers shop. I’ve found more often than not the customer doesn’t want the cheapest price. What they want is my knowledge in getting the right product. And they would rather buy from me, so I will warranty it, not some big box store.

  • Ben Williams says:

    Excellent article and it is exactly what I have been doing with my customer.
    Thanks yet again for helping us new guys out here. :)

  • Matt says:

    You know I’ve never had a client ask me to go shopping with them or ask me to purchase something from a particular store. Maybe I haven’t been in business long enough to have experienced that, but for the most part, I purchase replacement parts, etc., on my own (usually from Microcenter or Newegg) and mark it up about 5-10% depending on the overall cost of the part + service.

  • Randy R. says:

    EVERYONE is looking for a deal, especially in this economy. As a consultant as well as a consumer I’ve felt the sting plenty, so while I sympathize with my clients there is of course the need for self preservation on my end. My business clients usually just call with what they need, and my markup is 33 to 50% plus time, depending on what it is they need. If it’s something external such as a monitor or other peripherals they sometimes go get it themselves. In my experience my residential clients are a whole different breed.

    I would venture to say that a majority of residential users look at a PC as a form of entertainment secondary to their television set and phone, and in many cases their phone is primary. They have no problem slamming down $2500 for a new television or $600 on a phone or ipad, or breath a sigh of relief after spending $450 to have a washer or some other household item repaired but when it comes to having a PC repaired, it’s grudgingly. Many times I have had clients call and tell me they have a problem with hardware, malware or some other problem just begging for a fix because all of their important data is on the machine, but upon being given an estimate they nearly faint because they just can’t grasp the idea of something that means as much to them as their left tennis shoe could cost over $100 to repair, and with that, saying “Well, for now lets just…..”. You get the idea.

    The same applies to their need for peripherals such as monitors, scanners, printers external drives etc., they’re looking for a deal and they will call for advice on a purchase. I usually look up a deal at a local bigbox store, send them a link, tell them to go pick up, follow directions in the box for installation and be done with it, minimal time and hassle and the vast majority of the time I get no call backs on installation problems and the customer is happy and I know I’ll have their business the next time they have an issue. Personally I don’t like the idea of a residential client phoning in a request for hardware and then walking in with a box from Best Buy and sticking them for the mark up because they will in turn go look it up and feel they got screwed knowing they could have went and purchased it themselves. It just leaves a bad taste for them. I prefer taking a little time to fully explain to the customer what will transpire on the transaction from start to finish as it could mean the difference between losing or retaining a customer, they want to know that you are taking care of them and that doesn’t just mean their equipment but their wallet as well. They want to feel that you care. I would rather lose a few dollars here and there than the customer all together. Word of mouth works in evil ways upon your bottom line.

    I figure if there are long periods between calls from customers, you’re either doing your job right, or they think you’re a knucklehead and have already sought help elsewhere. If you nickle and dime a customer to death it could very well put you in the latter category.

  • Kevin Berg says:

    For my regular/frequent clients, I don’t charge to send them a couple links to products I’d recommend. For physical shopping, I charge an hour of time to help them pick out what they want, but that amount is credited towards any setup/installation of that product within 7 days. The most common scenario is helping a client shop for a new computer at Fry’s, and they just hand it off to me untouched so I can get it all cleaned up and set up for them. In this case, I don’t even bother charging them for the shopping trip.

  • Tony Scarpelli says:

    I sell monitors and computers so if they want me to quote one I do, free. I warn them that any pc they buy from best buy, HP or dell will be so loaded with bloatware from the factory they need to spend 1 hr for someone to clean them up to get their advertised speed, which might be ok for their son’s game machine but not for a business machine. Where as I build them for performance from the start.

    USB drives, I order them and mark them up 100% markup. I do not spec out equipment for them to buy from someone else. Sometimes I am on site and a piece of equipment fails and I will run to BB or Walmart to pickup a replacement and then come back and install it. They are paying my $120 per hour on site fees from the minute I begin until the minute I am done, including the trip to BB or Walmart to get the USB backup HD. If they give me their visa to pay for it then that is it, if I buy it then I mark it up also.
    It is not uncommon for my clients to ask me to read their Camera book and explain the important parts to them, or set their continues shooting photo settings. They pay the time. If they are in no hurry, Once in a while I will read something on the night stand and not charge for that time but anything they are waiting for, I have to stop and research their questions, they pay for.
    I’m pretty sure that someday soon I will be hooking up refrigerators to their iphones.

  • Notto Jensen says:

    This is an excellent topic to discuss and I appreciate the article Bryce. Most techs don’t realize how much time they spend researching and browsing, purchasing, picking up, and delivering, when a client says “Can you help me buy a new laptop?” It’s not that simple. You need to get paid for your expertise and time.

    • Randy R. says:

      Agreed Notto, even after explaining to a customer my fee and itemizing what for, I still sometimes get asked why so much which I then in turn have to remind them why it is they called in the first place; my expertise which of course means time. I’ve even had to go so far as to remind them that I don’t work for free and inquire if they did(which takes me back to a previous article ”
      Knowing When to Let Go of Bad Computer Repair Customers”). What I didn’t explain fully in my post above is that I don’t mind shopping for a customer if I’m out and about, but generally I just don’t have the time to actually accompany a customer to a store. In any case, they are always aware of any costs and many are fine with it because they just don’t want the hassle of having to do it themselves and that is almost always the case with my business clients as they are told up front that I don’t cut corners with mission critical equipment because I don’t want the liability of downtime or lost data. If a customer wants to make a laptop, desktop, phone or tablet purchase I ask what brand they prefer, create a list of what it is they will be using it for and then schedule a time to either shop online with them or point them locally to get them the best bang for the buck. They know that any savings they may have had is negated by my fee, but they also know they are getting what they need and I don’t get any calls relating to buyer’s remorse. One thing that I never forget is that right now time are rough, and sometimes you have to give a little to get it back. I have physician clients from dentist’s to vets and I’ve taken to bartering with a few of them which isn’t a bad trade off for healthcare for the family including the dogs :)

  • Phil Swaim says:

    Very good advice. I usually shop with my customers at a bigbox store or they trust me to do it online. They purchase it themselves with their money so my person is not involved in the transaction. I then include “product research” time on my bill to them.

    They have always been happy with this arrangement and I don’t have customers who prefer I put up the money to buy something and then have them pay me. I think my clients have appreciated the control over some of the buying they have. They know exactly where their money is going and where they are getting it from. And I am never in a position where they could say I bought something that was not agreed to and have to eat that cost.

    You really have to do what is best for you and your clients. But always explain the increase in price for your services of purchasing or bringing the clients to purchase. Most people will realize they don’t know enough to buy these things themselves and get the right equipment. They will show their appreciation for your time and your efforts to get them the best deal.

  • VuDa says:

    One issue encountered with clients buying items (especially higher priced) from you if you don’t accept credit cards is that they would have to pay full price completely, versus using credit. Thus, they would rather buy from vendors that accept credit cards. Feedback?