Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 3:07 am | Fair 51º


TechEase Computer Solutions: Circuit City Closure Leaves Limited Options

Ron Ainsworth, a retired pharmacist from Austin, Texas, has seen a lot of changes since moving to Santa Barbara a year ago. Earlier this year, CompUSA closed its doors, and last week Circuit City announced it will be shuttering its Santa Barbara location. Now, consumers such as Ainsworth are faced with a tough decision when making technology purchases.

“It’s getting to where you have to drive to Ventura to buy anything,” Ainsworth says as he looks around for somebody to help him decipher the printer models at OfficeMax. “You have to drive 35 miles ... and then you’re paying sales tax to another city.”

The recent financial crisis paired with a growing number of consumers purchasing online has increased the pressure on traditional retailers such as Circuit City, which had employed 61 full-time employees in the Santa Barbara branch. The decision to close nearly 25 percent of its locations and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is an attempt to help its ailing stock price, which is hovering around 11 cents per share.

With the computer and electronics market drastically changed in Santa Barbara, consumers may not know where to turn next if they wish to avoid commuting to Ventura for purchases. Office supply stores, warehouse stores and local retailers offer a diverse mix of inventory, convenience and expertise.

Some consumers, such as Ainsworth, turn to office supply stores out of convenience. “It’s really about whatever I’m closest to,” he said.

While OfficeMax stocks 13 laptops, some consumers may be disappointed to see both OfficeMax and Staples offer only four desktop models. Consumers also may be frustrated to find that employees are not officially trained on the technology they sell. Instead, employees with the greatest personal aptitude usually take responsibility for technology assistance. Each employee is responsible for the entire store, in contrast to CompUSA and Circuit City’s dedicated computer support and sales staff.

“In this economy, it’s hard to tell where people may choose to shop for their computer needs now that Circuit City is closing. We may see a little increase, but it’s very hard to predict,” Staples General Manager Shelly Stewart said. Staples doesn’t seem poised to change its strategy in light of Circuit City’s closing. “The decisions about what to carry are made at the corporate level,” Stewart said.

For those shopping for a desktop, Costco offers the most diverse selection in the area with seven models in all. Beware, though: True to their bulk purchase nature, all desktop systems are sold in bundles complete with LCD screens. For those looking to replace just their computer and not their screen, it’s best to look elsewhere. Costco also stocks eight laptops, but don’t expect to speak with trained computer staff about your purchase; Costco doesn’t employ any.

Ordering direct from manufacturers is more viable than ever now that Santa Barbara’s options are limited. However, the store closures are not bad news for all. For those seeking professional advice on technology purchases, there are still local computer shops that are benefiting from the recent turmoil.

One such shop, TechEase Computer Solutions in downtown Santa Barbara, already has seen an increase in traffic since CompUSA closed, and anticipates more in the wake of Circuit City’s demise. “Purchasing a computer can be an intimidating experience, people naturally want advice they can trust. We’ve seen a recent increase in calls from people looking to purchase computers, and expect this news won’t change that,” co-owner David Robin says. 

In response to the changing technology climate, TechEase increased its inventory of Dell computers running Windows XP. “We are the only place in town where you can get a Dell with Windows XP now,” he said. “Windows Vista can be a nightmare, yet it’s your only option at other stores. People want what they’re used to, what works, what’s reliable.”

Consultants at local shops such as TechEase may not offer the diverse selection of OfficeMax or Costco, but they are betting their clients are willing to trade selection for a few expertly chosen models combined with service. Techs can help purchasers in their home to transfer information from the old computer to the new one, as well as setup programs and hardware. For some consumers, having the extra assistance is the deciding factor.

“It was great to be able to ask questions of somebody who really knew what they were talking about,” said Lisa McCann, a business owner and consultant in Goleta, and a TechEase client. When deciding where to purchase her new computer, “having somebody set it up with everything from my old computer made them the obvious choice.”

Whether at an office supply store, a warehouse store, direct from the manufacturer, or through a local retailer, there are still several great options available to Santa Barbara residents once Circuit City closes its doors for good. The key is figuring out which solution fits best for you.

Evan Asher is co-owner of TechEase Computer Solutions LLC in downtown Santa Barbara.

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