John Lewis – The High Street Rip Off

I hovered around the electronics department in the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis, with an expression that said, “Help me.” Nothing happened.

John Lewis - The High Street Rip Off

After about five minutes I realised that there’s a sort of rota system you have to join, so I hung around the help desk area instead and got myself put on the waiting list for assistance.

A mere minute later I was explaining my mum’s made-up plight to the salesman. I waved my arms helplessly in the direction of the laptops and looked as clueless as possible.

Before he moved, the first question from our salesman’s lips was, “So what sort of things is she going to be using it for?” A few brownie points there, I feel.

“My mum just wants a machine for email, web browsing, and I think she wants to use iPlayer,” I explained.

Between this component and this one, the more RAM you have the faster the information can go between them

“This is what I’ve been recommending to my customers who want a basic computer,” he replied confidently, showing me an Acer 5738Z.

It’s a 15.4in laptop costing £379 inc VAT. He explained it had 3GB of RAM, a 160GB hard disk and a “4000-series processor” (actually a Pentium Dual Core T4200).

“So is 3GB a good amount of RAM to have these days?” I asked. He waved the printed spec sheet at me, by way of illustration. “Between this component [he pointed at the CPU] and this component [he pointed at the hard disk] the more RAM you have the faster the information can go between them.”

A little mime ensued, in which he pretended to multi-task: “So if you’re doing this and this and this, you can do it all at once!” Okay, so the technical accuracy wasn’t exactly there, but the general thrust was correct.

“Um, so is this a netbook?” A shimmer of annoyance briefly crossed his face, as if this was the 92nd time he’d answered that question today. “No, this is a laptop. A netbook is smaller and cut down.” We trundled to the netbook section.

He correctly identified that my mum wouldn’t be able to watch DVDs on a netbook because of the lack of an optical drive, and that netbooks run Windows XP not Vista. “All the specifications are cut down, except the hard disk, which is the same.” Correct.

I had to admit my mum probably wouldn’t be interested in such a tiny screen, so we ambled back to the Acer. The impressive part was that in doing so we passed shelves displaying higher-end Sony and Toshiba models at twice the price but he didn’t even flicker towards them.

A netbook is smaller. All the specifications are cut down, except the hard disk, which is the same

So for a little under our budget, our man was recommending a solid machine that would cover all my mum’s made-up needs, and he didn’t once attempt an upsell to something she wouldn’t need.

The technical explanation of RAM wasn’t great but he got there eventually. A good show overall, which was matched by an equally impressive display at John Lewis’s Kingston branch a few days later.

Good to see that, even in these tough times, not everyone’s out to flog the highest priced laptop they can.

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