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I never usually went for 'computer shops' before. It's not that the prices are too much higher than buying from a mail order catalogue, although this is often the case, but that the salespeople often treat you as some sort of cattle, waiting to be prodded in the right direction.
However, on this occassion PC World were advertising on television and had one of their many infamous sales, where supposedly everything had been knocked down so low in price that you could probably have got away with buying 10 computers and still have change left from a 100 pound. If only this were so!
The first thing I noticed was that if I didn't say anything to the staff about my knowledge of computers, they treated me as a beginner and took me through each stage of the hardware maze that is the PC market. This was suprisingly well ochestrated and the sales assistant did know what they were on about, always a good sign! They did the honest thing of asking what I actually needed the PC for, then tried to sell me something that was a bit beyond what I was actually testing them for. This is a normal trait in most high street stores, but it's still a sad sight to behold.
After going out of the store and coming back to another member of the sales staff (each one hungry for their commission, no doubt) I lifted my mask to uncover my true computer knowledge and was pleasantly suprised by the staff member, who treated me like an equal. He helped me put a good package together, and I even twisted his arm to knock something off the price if I bought certain items! (it's always possible to do this, no matter how much they insist that the prices are all fixed.)
The actual prices were pretty good for a high street style store, but obviously couldn't match their mail order counterparts. The bonus here is that if you have a PC World near you they are pretty good at helping out with problems, and I can testify that their replacement scheme is also pretty good as well.
So my advice would be to read plenty of PC magazines and get at least a small amount of working knowledge of PCs before you enter the shop. The ideal solution would be to go in with a firm knowledge of what you actually want and an idea of the different makes and models. Do go in and browse, then come back later, cooling off periods are always a good way to keep a level head in situations where lots of zeros are involved.
PC World is a great place for the cautious and prepared, but the staff are trained to make you want to buy something slightly bigger than what you really need, so be ready!