Last week, I wrote a post titled, “A day in the life of a serial stacker“. The gist of the post is that I’ve been looking to buy a new laptop (out of necessity since a bit of damage to my regular laptop is finally getting in the way of day to day functionality). Really, that post was to show the ways I had been thinking about stacking for big savings. Over the weekend, I bought a new laptop — saving stacks of cash with no discount or rewardsstacking at all — and I arguably got a much better deal. Here’s what I bought and why I changed my mind.
Original stack at HP.com
I settled on buying a 15.6″ HP Spectre x360 laptop. There are a number of reasons for my decision (the combination of wanting an Intel i7 processor, a numeric keypad, touchscreen, and dedicated graphics card limited my choices; I also just liked the look of the Spectre laptops comparatively and that matters at least a smidgen to me since I spend an inordinate number of hours looking at my laptop). I ordered this laptop. It didn’t quite fit my dream specs (I was hoping for more RAM), but it had the must-haves above and a screen that would hopefully be bright enough to work outdoors when the weather is nice.
The price on HP.com was $1449.99. I used the private store sign-up I had mentioned in last week’s post to drop that price to $1369.99. Then I shopped through the Capital One offer for 10% back on HP.com (note that this is different from the Capital One shopping portal that Stephen wrote about last week, in my case I see this in my Capital One login). Because I am not yet sure whether or not Capital One will pay out on those offers if you pay for your purchase with a different card, I used my Capital One Venture card to pay. You may remember that I previously had a terrible Capital One Mastercard that I product changed to the Venture card. Interestingly, my Venture card remained a Mastercard. Since it is a World Mastercard, my Venture card has price protection and extended warranty, making it a not-horrible choice to use to buy the laptop since I can claim a price drop within the next 120 days to get some money back. I expected to receive 10% of the purchase price back from Capital One ($136.99). I also linked my Capital One card to Dosh hoping that the 3% back they were offering at HP was a card-linked offer that would trigger another $41.10 back even though I hadn’t clicked through the Dosh app. It didn’t (neither on this purchase nor one that my wife made separately). I originally had my fingers crossed for a net cost of $1191.90 plus the ~$110 in tax I paid on the purchase price).
However, I had some issues with my order. A few hours after placing my order, I received an email saying it was declined and to call the sales support team to talk about how to resolve it. They wanted me to verify some basic info. Then a few hours later they called again to verify more info. Past experience tells me that if customer service has to do anything manual with your order, it typically negates any shopping portal cash back. Thus, at this point, I was thinking that the interference of customer service would likely negate my Capital One cash back, so I was already thinking maybe I’d order elsewhere. They said they would update me within an hour. When they didn’t and my order status went from “declined” to “Bank declined”, I assumed it was over. Later that same day, I got an “order approved” email. I got on chat and asked to cancel my order. The next day (about 17 hours later), they shipped it anyway.
In the meantime, I ended up snagging a much better deal at Best Buy as detailed below figuring that I’d just return the laptop I bought from HP.com. What I didn’t realize at the time was that HP charges a restocking fee on returns (their website says that they “may” charge a restocking fee of “up to 15%”. Their chat customer service agent tells me that they always charge a restocking fee if the return isn’t HP’s fault and the fee depends on the item but that Spectre laptops have a 15% restocking fee. Ugh). I requested a return via email anyway and am still waiting for them to tell me in writing that it will incur a restocking fee. I’ll end up either eating that fee or trying to sell the laptop on Ebay or Amazon for (hopefully) less than a 15% loss. That part stinks. I’ll still save money overall, but had I skipped this step I would have saved more.
Update 1/16/21: HP has agreed to waive the restocking fee since they initially declined the order. They asked for screen shots showing that it was declined. I always advise readers to take screen shots of everything, and luckily I had saved several that were helpful in demonstrating that the return was a result of HP’s mistake, saving me the restocking fee.
Best Buy Open Box sale
Best Buy was running (maybe still is in some cases?) a huge open box sale on laptops, with open box prices up to 50% off of retail in some cases. I had read about the sale on Slickdeals. The deeply discounted pricing was more widespread up until a couple of days ago, but I still see some models available at nearly half off. YMMV, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for this sort of thing to return.
If you’ve never bought an open box item, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were turned off by the thought of buying a computer that somebody else bought and returned or worse yet buying a computer that was a floor model.
Let me kick off with the spoiler: I paid $877 for a laptop that sells for $1599.99 brand new today. After a little sleuthing, I was able to determine that the original buyer purchased it on November 25th (the day before Thanksgiving) and returned it exactly 2 weeks later on December 8th (Best Buy’s return deadline). It came in the original box with the original accessories (including the unopened leather laptop sleeve and unopened HP pen). I ran a battery report to see how much time the computer had spent powered on via either the AC power cord or the internal battery and found that the laptop had been powered on for a grand total of forty-six minutes and fifty-nine seconds during the week of 12/2-12/9, which was likely just was the time the Best Buy Geek Squad spent checking the computer / factory resetting it.
My best guess is that the original buyer just found a different deal between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and returned the Spectre. I essentially got a brand new laptop in the original box with all of the accessories and 10.5 months left on the warranty for about 35% off of the price to buy it new at the time (it had been on sale for $1349.99 over the weekend) or about 45% off of today’s “new” price.
Personally, I’ve bought tons of Best Buy open box stuff before. I was into product resale before working at Frequent Miler and I loved to stalk the cages at Best Buy looking for stuff with open box labels so I could buy stuff to earn credit card rewards and then sell it for a small (or sometimes large) profit. I was also a very regular customer at Cowboom.com back when it was Best Buy’s online outlet for returned merchandise. I rarely kept those open box items for myself, but I often played with them before listing on Amazon or eBay since one of the perks in secondhand resale is getting to play with stuff without paying for stuff. I was often really surprised at the next-to-new quality of the open box items I bought (though I shouldn’t have been so surprised as I’ve certainly returned items before that were neither defective nor abused. Sometimes I just found a better deal or realized that I didn’t need that impulse purchase after all).
On the other hand, I got a few “open-box” floor models over the years that looked like they had been handed to a classroom full of preschoolers hopped up on ice cream and coca-cola, so I know that open box items can be the luck of the draw. They definitely aren’t always as next-to-new as the laptop I just got.
My experience with a Best Buy open box “satisfactory” condition laptop (YMMV)
Best Buy rates several levels of open box condition:
- Open-Box Excellent-Certified: This stuff should look brand new with all of the accessories in the original box. It has passed some Geek Squad certification process.
- Open-Box Excellent: This should more or less be the same as certified based on the description. I’m not sure what the practical difference is.
- Open-Box Satisfactory: This is the most highly variable category. Here is what Best Buy says of this condition: “Products in Satisfactory condition show minor to moderate signs of use that affect cosmetic appearance, but have no impact on performance. If the product has a screen, it is intact and fully functional, with no visible blemishes in the viewing area. (A Satisfactory product does not include dents, chips, cracks or deep scratches.) In addition, original packaging is typically not present, and nonessential parts or accessories might be missing, such as a commonly available cable or remote (identified on each individual product). Products in Satisfactory condition can be found in Best Buy stores (selection varies), where the factors mentioned above are accounted for in the savings you’ll see.”
- Open-Box Fair: These items operate as intended, but can include scratches & dents and may be missing vital accessories like a proprietary cable or something. Again, this can vary widely in practice.
I had checked through the Slickdeals thread about the sale and noticed quite a few people reporting having bought laptops listed in “satisfactory” condition that appeared like-new. One person in the thread reported that when they arrived for pick up and the employees couldn’t find the “satisfactory” condition laptop he’d purchased, they gave him a brand new one. Another person had a similar experience with a laptop that was missing the included pen. Those are likely extreme exceptions, but they were encouraging data points nonetheless.
It’s worth noting here that while Best Buy has the option to order for delivery for many laptops in “excellent” or better condition, all of the “Satisfactory” or “Fair” condition laptops were store pick up only. You can order online, but you have to pick up in-store. In the past, they shipped items in all conditions – I don’t know whether this is a new restriction or laptop-specific. The key here is that it is entirely luck of the draw as to whether or not your local store has any open box inventory at all. However, if they do, the online pricing is the same at all stores that have a laptop in the same condition (i.e. “Satisfactory” is the same price everywhere for the same laptop). In my past experience, open box pricing has been somewhat negotiable in-store. I’ve gotten a manager to take an additional 10% off of an open box price in-store before (though not on a laptop, so I have no idea if it is possible to negotiate these prices any lower).
I decided to take a stab at an open box laptop when I found this HP Spectre available in satisfactory condition at my “local” Best Buy (which is really about 70 miles away). Full sticker price on that machine is $1599.99 (as is the “new” price at the time of writing), but it was on sale for $1349.99 at the time. I was able to snag it for $876.99 in “satisfactory” condition.
Note that the laptop isn’t that price now, but the key is that the open box discount is proportionally the same as compared to the “new” price. In other words, check out the current and previous pricing for the same laptop in open box “satisfactory” condition:
- When I purchased:
- New = $1349.99
- Open box satisfactory = $876.99
- Discount = 35%
- New = $1599.99
- Open box satisfactory = $1,039.99
- Discount = 35%
I found that interesting. I also noted within discussion in the Slickdeals thread that people were noticing that when a laptop went on sale, it’s open-box price also adjusted downward. I do not think that these discounts are constant over the long-term, but it’s worth keeping an eye out if you notice a laptop (or other item at Best Buy?) on sale as it may mean that open box pricing has adjusted accordingly.
So what did it look like? Well, it came in the original box with the unopened accessories (leather sleeve, HP pen). The charger looked to have been opened at some point. Any dust or smudge you see here is from me having used it. The thing looked brand new.
There was literally nothing wrong with the laptop at all. When I first looked it over, there was what appeared to be some scratches around the charging port. That made me think I had perhaps gotten a floor model. However, I ran the warranty check and battery report (shown above) and determined that it definitely wasn’t a floor model. I then took my thumb and wiped at the “scratches” and found that they weren’t scratches at all but just some sort of smudge on the shiny material at the corner of the laptop. It looked brand new a minute later.
I don’t know why this laptop was graded “Satisfactory” rather than “Excellent”. Best Buy lists any pertinent rationale for grading on the sticker that the Geek Squad puts on the outside of the box. In my case, the sticker said “Satisfactory” but then said “No missing accessories”. I would love to find the employee who graded it satisfactory and nominate them for employee of the month.
Of course, your experience may vary quite a bit from this. From reading through the long Slickdeals thread, I can see that some had experience closely mirroring mine and others got absolute lemons. The nice thing here is that Best Buy has the same return policy on open box items as they do new items: in this case, a “My Best Buy” general member gets 14 days (you may get even longer if you have Best Buy “elite” status).
So which card did I use?
In the end, I went with the Bank of America Premium Rewards card. Since we have Platinum Honors, the card earns 2.625% back everywhere, which would help mitigate a chunk of the sales tax (note that terms excluded laptops on all of the shopping portals I checked; I still went through a portal but don’t expect rewards). I don’t know for sure that Bank of America will extend purchase protection and extended warranty on an item that was purchased “open box”, but I hoped that those benefits would apply. Part of my rationale in using the Bank of America card was that I had recently had occasion to test out purchase protections from Amex and Chase. I hope I don’t need those protections on this purchase, but figured I’d use Bank of America to have a comparison point if I do need to file any sort of claim.
Unfortunately, we did not have a personal Amex Platinum card in my household prior to 11/1/20. If we did, I’d have certainly used that card given the awesome Amex Offer for older consumer Platinum cardholders.
After spending a lot of time working on stacking the best possible deal last week, in the end I saved a bundle without stacking at all. I wish I’d have realized HP’s restocking fee before purchasing as it will cut into my savings, but I can’t complain too much given how much I saved overall (and the fact that none of the stacking I tried to do at HP.com was likely to pay out). While I had looked at refurbished laptops, I hadn’t really considered buying a used or open box laptop until I finally took the time to read through the comments on the Slickdeals thread. After reading about the experience others were having with laptops graded at lower levels, I decided to take a stab at it and I ended up with a nice little win — reminding me of advice I often give to blog readers: it always pays to read the comments. In this case, that was to the tune of a few hundred bucks.