We regularly survey area CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers for their feedback on services they have used. For our survey on computer stores, we asked consumers to rate their experiences with firms they had most recently used "inferior," "adequate," or "superior" on several aspects of service, including "advice on choice and use of products," "promptness of service," "staff attitudes/atmosphere," "quality of products," "variety of products," "ease of looking at/testing products," "reliability," and "overall quality." Our Ratings Tables show the percent of each store's surveyed customers who rated it "superior" on each question.
We have included on our Ratings Tables all of the stores for which we received at least 10 ratings on our customer surveys. If a store is not listed on our Ratings Tables, it simply means we did not receive at least 10 ratings for it.
Since many firms were rated by rather small numbers of raters, small differences between two firms in the percentage of raters who gave a particular rating (say, "superior") should be ignored. The table below gives a rough guide to minimum differences you should look for in deciding on one firm over another.
When using these survey data, remember that the questions are to some degree subjective and that the differences among firms might be explained by differences in the personalities, backgrounds, critical standards, and other characteristics of the raters or by biases these raters might have.
To compare prices, our researchers (without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK) shopped prices for nine software titles and nine different hardware models from the stores listed on our Ratings Tables. We also collected prices-including firms' charges to ship the items to the area-from a sample of large online, mail-order stores.
We used the prices we collected from the local stores and online outlets to calculate the price index scores reported on Ratings Tables. For each store, this index is intended to suggest the price a customer might expect to pay for computer software or hardware that would cost $100 at the "average" outlet that quoted on the same items. A price index score of $110 for a store means that its prices were about 10 percent above average; a score of $90 means that its prices were about 10 percent below average.
The price index score, then, is intended to indicate the relative prices we found for the firms, adjusted to the base of this flat dollar amount. These index scores are imperfect for various reasons: for instance, the items checked may not be representative; the weighting of various items in the index may not accurately reflect typical expenditure patterns; and the number of items is small.
All of the data must be interpreted in view of timeliness. Our customer survey data are from surveys conducted from January 2004 to July 2012. Survey respondents were asked to report on experiences in the preceding year. Our price data were collected from August to November 2010.
Our tables include firms for which we collected 10 or more ratings on our customer survey during the customer survey period mentioned above, but we do not report data for periods prior to firms' changes of name and ownership. As a result, some large firms are not listed at all. If only name or ownership changed, we do report the data. Changes subsequent to the dates listed above may not be taken into account.
We give checkmarks to firms that score highest on a scoring system that we devise for each service field. Our scoring systems weight the various data in our tables and text based on our subjective judgment of their importance. Since the scores are based entirely on information presented, you can apply your own subjective judgments, and decide whether you prefer firms we have not given checkmarks. Where we do not have important data on a firm, we cannot give our checkmark.