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In preparation for my upcoming second year at University (a year that would mark a dependence on computer reliability), I decided to ditch my battery hogging Sony Vaio, and opt for something much more mobile. My budget, however, proved to lengthen the search for my laptop's successor. Thanks, however, to the information age's conglomeration of consumerism, nearly everyone is highly keen on getting the best possible deal. And, through the various bargain hunting websites on the internet, I found myself located time and time again on Dell's Outlet website. Yet, besides little tidbits of information available on forums, I couldn't find a solid amount of feedback relating to what I was getting myself into. My journey, down the Dell Outlet rabbit hole, thus begins with the Dell Alienware M11x; a laptop that definitely fit the bill, and touted itself as a battery saving, flying saucer chasing, mobile beast.
Unfortunately, I immediately noticed that Dell’s Outlet was pricing their three categories of units, “Previously Ordered New”, “Certified Refurbished”, and “Scratch & Dent”, at prices barely below their fourth category (one that I have coined) of “Presently Ordered New”. As an example, the Dell Outlet sells only the M11x-R1, Dell's main website sells both the M11x-R1 and the R2. A brand new R1 is listed at $799 before tax, shipping, and an environmental fee (in California, this adds around a hundred dollars to the asking price). On the outlet website, you can purchase a similarly configured non-Scratch & Dent M11x for around $700. And, I was hoping, however, that Dell's Outlet would eat the tax, shipping, and miscellaneous fees. This, however, isn't the case. In all honestly, it initially seemed to be preferable to pay the slightly higher fee asked of Dell's non outlet items. The risk associated with purchasing an outlet item didn't seem worth the small savings.
I quickly discovered that I was going about my bargain hunting completely wrong. It's all about opportunity, and maximum possible savings. So, instead of quitting and accepting my horrendous Netbook fate, I decided to play the waiting game. I lurked on Slickdeals, Fatwallet, various notebook forums, and even Dell's Outlet, waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger on a new mobile computer. And, to save you the trouble, I would recommend joining Slickdeals, and adding “deal alerts” for keywords like “dell outlet” and “M11x”. The deal alerts directly email you when an item matching your keyword is posted. I would also recommend filtering the posting by at least “one thumb up”. Anything less and you might continuously get rubbish in your email inbox.
During the bargain hunt, there were many times I very nearly pulled the trigger, but I learned that Dell is very anxious to liquidate their outlet inventory. I also discovered that Dell is also interested in getting as much money as possible from said liquidation. From time to time Dell will offer free ground shipping with outlet purchases, these opportunities are usually announced on the outlet Twitter stream, and last roughly one to three weeks. Consider this period your maximum purchase window. There will always be better deals around the corner, and this guideline ensures that you get the product that you need, without much buyer's remorse. While in this window, however, you must be smart. Monitor pricing on items on a daily basis to take note of fluctuations and trends. You don't want to pay $20 more because it's a Friday; that would be a fatal bargain hunting mistake. Most importantly, monitor the aforementioned websites for Dell's notorious 10-20% discount coupons. These are usually offered on a monthly basis, and without them I could never recommend a Dell Outlet purchase.
Once you've found yourself within your free shipping window and with at least a Dell Outlet 15% off coupon (make sure it applies to your product), you must very quickly jump on your purchase. If you have been, as I previously suggested, monitoring the ebb-and-flow of your electronic prey, you will notice something very suspicious. Usually, within a few hours of releasing a discount coupon, Dell increases the prices on their outlet products; especially if the coupon targets a specific segment or model. This markup almost completely negates the savings that they have provided, and sometimes even raises the final cost higher than the original price. For example, during the first two of my three Dell Outlet "close encounters", I found that the M11x was priced only slightly lower. On my third attempt, I received a deal alert and checked prices within the hour of Dell's twitter coupon release. Fortunately for me, they didn't increase their prices until the next day, and I received the maximum possible discount (15% stacked on top of free shipping for a Certified Refurbished M11x). This netted me a nearly maxed out M11x for $580 before tax, a price that was very much within my budget.
Also, if you'd like to save even more money, and are willing to play the waiting game, you might try dodging Dell's sales tax. Texas, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, California and Florida are the taxed states. If you have a relative or friend in a tax free location, you could have the item shipped to them, and then you could pay USPS’s inexpensive flat rate to have your laptop shipped out to you. It's certainly a risk, but you'd spend roughly $20 on secondary shipping, instead of $50-80 on sales tax; something that might be worth it to an extreme bargain hunter.
I would, however, advise against using Dell's highly advertised financial services. They offer a 2 to 3% discount for setting up a financing plan with them. Unfortunately, what they don't tell you is that they very rarely pay out the actual discount (and look for any excuse possible to not do so). You also have to go through their financing customer service, which is world renowned for it's absolutely failure. And, you don't get to utilize Dell's return policy - definitely not worth it for the small (potential) savings. The savings I outlined directly impact your invoice, the financial services discount acts somewhat like Bing cash back did, and isn't instant (or even usually present).
Now that we are past the bargain hunting phase of my experience with Dell's outlet, I can share non-financial information. When you purchase a “Previously Ordered New” unit, you are getting a laptop that was custom ordered, but never shipped (the end user canceled). A “Certified Refurbished” unit can range from a quick return, to a complete Frankenstein of a laptop. Dell, however, actually tests their “Certified Refurbished” laptops longer than their newly ordered laptops. They don't want to deal with any problems, and try to ensure that the unit is working correctly. You won't be getting a brand new unit, but the cosmetic damage is usually very minimal. Personally, my M11x has a few extremely small hair line scratches on the left I/O panel, the front grill, and the lid. These are things that are expected of usual short term wear, and none of the cosmetic damage was particularly noticeable (unless meticulously inspected with a flashlight)
Their last category, that of the ever elusive “Scratch & Dent”, leaves much to the imagination. I wasn't brave enough to pull the trigger on one, but I have heard many things regarding them. You are guaranteed to have a working, non defective unit. Sometimes, you will actually receive a laptop that is in better cosmetic shape than even a “Certified Refurbished”. You can, however, expect statistics to normalize (as they mathematically do), and deal you out a unit that has a few small markings (scratches on the lid, or paint blemishes). Yet, there is also the chance that you may receive a heavily damaged unit. I have heard of individuals receiving units with scratches on the screen, or damaged keyboards. That's not cosmetic damage! You have a right as a consumer to receive a fully functioning keyboard – utilize it! Many people that have received units with major damage have gotten full refunds (without a restocking fee), and others have had the defective parts replaced onsite. The only major defect with my laptop was a small speck of dust stuck behind the LCD. I called Dell's technical support, was forwarded to the Alienware hot line, had to hold for twenty minutes while listening to what I assume were ambient alien noises (it was better than elevator music), and finally dealt with a wholly incompetent, obviously outsourced technician. At least, however, I was offered an onsite LCD replacement the next day (after the technician realized that he wasn't going to get pictures of the world's glossiest LCD showing the dust). The onsite technician was extremely helpful, and unlike my experience with Sony, no components were lost or misplaced. Dell definitely has terrible phone support, but you're guaranteed a replacement if a known problem is present (broken hinges or dust behind the LCD).
Another advantage of ordering through the outlet is that there is no assembly waiting period. All of the machines are ready to ship. Usually when you purchase a new Dell machine, it will take upwards of a month before you get to use your laptop. I ordered my laptop on a Tuesday, and received it the following Monday. That's pretty quick processing! You must, however, follow your billing statement carefully. Often, with the Dell Outlet, you aren't billed until much later than your purchase date, making for a surprise overdraft. I have read of individuals not being billed until a month after purchase. I, personally, was billed the Monday that the laptop arrived in Sacramento. Usually it's expected of a retailer to bill on shipping the product, Dell, on the other hand, does things differently.
(There be discs in this chest!)
In terms of packaging and presentation, Dell has definitely gone the cost cutting route. And I am pleased, because it also means that they have gone environmentally friendly. Your laptop won't arrive in an awesome glossy box, nor will the laptop be wrapped in a velvet pouch. You will, however, find a recyclable cardboard box, with a plastic wrapped laptop carefully placed inside of a secured cutout, and a small bag containing an AC adapter and manual. The laptop itself will have either a refurbished or scratch & dent sticker on the bottom, proudly proclaiming your environmental concern and lost resale value to the world. Overall, the presentation is about as bare bones as physically possible. I don't, however, think that you are going to miss the shiny box.
I figured it would be a good idea to end this article with warranty advice. It's incredibly important to purchase a warranty, especially if your item is a refurbished product that has known quality issues. Each outlet laptop is given the default Dell one year warranty, and you are also allowed the opportunity to purchase an extended warranty. Dell, however, quoted me at $600 for a three year accidental damage and handling warranty. I laughed at the customer service representative for offering me a warranty more expensive than my laptop. It's not like I'd get a replacement laptop worth $1200. I instead discovered that Squaretrade offers three year ADH warranties for $120. Unfortunately, when you list your purchase location as the “Dell Outlet”, they block you out of this option. You can, however, contact a Squaretrade representative, and if you explain to them that you purchased a “Certified Refurbished” or “Previously Ordered New” laptop from Dell, they will allow you to buy the three year ADH coverage. Squaretrade will not, however, extend this offer to “Scratch & Dent” units. I'd like to note that in most scenarios, when your laptop can't be repaired, Squaretrade pays out your purchase price. Now that's a square deal! Oh, and be sure to find a Squaretrade coupon. They regularly run 20 - 35% discounts. I would recommend adding "retailmenot.com" to your bookmarks.
I hope that you found this article useful during your bargain hunting experience! If you have any questions, tips, tricks, or comments, please feel free to leave them here, and I will respond.