Main      Site Guide    
Computer Stupidities

Stupid Salesmen

Users can lose their common sense while they're learning about computers, but there are some salesmen out there -- who ought to know better -- that are content to remain blissfully ignorant about the products they're selling.

A friend and I were looking for a C compiler in a software store. We went in and searched the shelves but found nothing. We asked the salesperson. He went looking through the games section. I told him it was a programming language. So he took us to the foreign language software.

The clerk spends a whole minute explaining how USB transferring is some sort of bottleneck affect and even use his hands to show the bottleneck effect.

This happened in finland in the early nineties. I was eleven years old. I overheard the computer "expert" of a local office supply store extolling the virtues of extra memory to some customer.

My interest was piqued when I heard the salesman name a price for two megabytes and the customer asking how to install it on his Amiga. I knew that no local store carried anything but the standard 512kB expansion.

When I rounded the shelf I saw the salesman holding two SIMM combs. I butted in and commented on them being for PCs, not Amigas. At first the salesman tried to belittle me and asked what I could possibly know about it. But when couple of my friends came over, said the same thing, and pointed out the Amiga expansion on the next shelf, he started getting angry. (Which we thought was very funny. In retrospect, the sniggering probably didn't help.)

He would not relent. Finally, one of my friends went over to the display Amiga and started to pop open the lid on the memory module to show it to the customer. The salesman completely lost his top and manhandled us out of there. We all ended up being barred for couple of months.

The funny thing? The customer walked out of there the proud owner of two megabytes of PC memory.

The other day I walked into this little place that sells old software, old computers, and some new software. I walked up to a sales clerk and said, "Do you guys carry Linux?" He took one look at me (I am 15 years old) and, not knowing what Linux was, he checked the rack with games. I said, "No, Linux is not a game -- it's an operating system."

He looked confused, then stuttered, "Uhhh...yeah...well check that rack, we've got stuff like Quicken there."

One day I received a catalogue from a mail order company. I tried to find Linux. It took me a while. It was in the games section.

I collect old computers as a hobby, mostly 20 year old microcomputers -- Apple II, Commodore, etc. Once, in an attempt to find one, I called a computer surplus store.

Then I cracked up.

Once I was told by a salesman that an Athlon 64 is so called because it is 64 times more powerful than a normal one.

Here's a story where some degree of fault lies on both sides. I was at my local Walmart, walking through the electronics section like I often do. A young couple was looking at a computer, assisted by a salesperson. I overheard the following conversation:

The couple conversed for a moment.

A few years ago I visited a computer store and saw a computer equipped with this new Microid Research BIOS which was unfamiliar to me. I would like to know something about the performance of this BIOS, so I asked if it was a fast BIOS. "Well yes!" he answered, "Take a look at this!" He rebooted the computer and pointed at the "Press DEL to enter SETUP" message, which was on the screen for five seconds. Then he rebooted the system again, entered the BIOS, and decreased the "Display enter setup message time" from five seconds to one second, left the BIOS, and rebooted the system once more. While it was booting, he pointed again at the "Press DEL to enter SETUP" message which was now on the screen for just one second. "See how fast it is?" he said proudly. "I increased its speed by a factor of five! Is this a fast BIOS or what?"

Back in the early days of personal computers, I remember once a salesman at Radio Shack was telling me some system could even read ASC 2 files.

I sent him a link to Google and wished him luck.

He quit a week later.

In a small computer store...


The sales clerk returned with another.

Sales Clerk 1 handed me a cable.

I was repairing a broken PC and had finally narrowed the failure down to a dead COM port. I didn't have a spare I/O board in stock, so I headed down to the local PC shop, which I had avoided as much as possible up until now -- too many horror stories about them were making the rounds.

At the counter of the shop (which, by the way, "specialized" in PC repairs and upgrades) I asked for an I/O card. The person behind the counter just stared at me blankly. I rephrased my request and asked for a serial card. Still the blank look. Just then, someone walked up from the back room, where he had been jabbing at the interior of an open PC with a screwdriver.

"This guy wants a serial card," said the first one to the second.

"Oh, no problem. We've got plenty of those around here somewhere," the second person said. I was relieved that I would be able to get the system online that day instead of having to wait over the weekend for a replacement part in the mail.

After ten minutes of searching high and low, he brought me the "serial cards" he was proud to have found. It was a 10-pack of the aluminized serial number identification tags that you can stick to your system for inventory control.

I looked at it, turned, and walked away without a word.

I once went to our local computer store, known for the stupidity of its employees. I decided to test the rumors, so I asked which joystick was better, the normal Microsoft Sidewinder, or the Force Feedback Sidewinder.

After looking through what they had, I spied a Gravis multi-button gamepad that clearly stated on the box "includes both a digital pad and an analog joystick."

I was in the Mac section of a huge chain computer store when a salesperson mosied over from the PC section to help an older couple. I suppose the Apple salesperson was at lunch or something.

Later, when the salesperson went to look something up, I approached them, took them back over to the Mac section, and sold them an iMac and an iPod mini.

Two days later, I got a call from the store and was offered a job. The couple had called in for their customer service survey, and apparently the store was impressed with the nice things they had to say. As for that sales rep -- well, I have his job now.

I am constantly frustrated with the level of inexperience at major computer stores, yet they constantly boast an expertise unrivaled by their competition. One day, when I was feeling mischievous, I required a certain piece of software and decided to visit the local national chain store. I picked up a copy of the software and walked to the till to pay for it and asked a leading question.

The lady paused for a few moments and then answered matter-of-factly:

I was barely able to contain my laughter yet at the same time felt just a little sad.

I was in Circuit City one day, idly playing Descent on one of their low end package computers. A salesperson was showing many computers to a naive customer, and when he came by the computer I was playing Descent on, he said, and I quote, "See how blocky those graphics are? That's because of the MPEG compression I was telling you about."

Once I bought a computer from a store with less than perfect customer service. Some of the problems it had: the speakers broke, the screen started showing everything in blue, the CPU ventilator shorted out the computer, and the graphics card refused to work with its own drivers.

But the worst was when the DVD drive "changed" its region setting. See, I put in a DVD, and I got the wrong region code error. So I checked the settings and noticed the DVD drive was set to the wrong region. I checked all my other DVDs, and they were all region 0, which explains why I hadn't discovered the problem before.

So I brought the computer in and told them they set it up wrong. The tech guy got all offended, and when I returned later, he said:

A friend and I visited a computer store in a mall. They had aisles of software and cabinets of hardware in the back. I was curious to know how much they charged for RAM, so we headed for the rear of the store.

Suddenly the salesman turns down a software aisle.

Overheard in a nationwide computer retail store:

I couldn't stop laughing.

I once asked a salesman in a computer store about a monitor I was interested in buying.

I recently purchased a new PC from one of the major computer manufacturers. I placed my order via the web but asked for them to call me for my credit card information. So, after a couple days of phone tag, I got in touch with the saleswoman handling my account. I was thinking I'd just give her my credit card number and be on my way. Almost.

I stayed on hold for five minutes and hung up.

I went into a "Software Etc." store at the mall just after Quake came out to look for a demo CD. When I got it, the salesman was telling me about one of those CDs with Quake levels. Since the game had just come out, it was obviously one of those cheap CDs where they just download all the levels off and burned them to a CD.

But the sales guy told me that it was the only one that is approved by Id Software. However, no Id Software logo, seal, or note of approval was found on the box.

It was 1995. I was a freshman in college. I'd just gone to the computer labs for the first time to get signed up for an account on the campus network. The tech support guy I talked to wanted the specs on my machine, so I told him. At the time, I had a 28.8 modem. He told me I must be mistaken.

At this point, I just gave up and walked out. I went back to my dorm, grabbed the modem's box, which I had used to transport some electronic gadgets, and brought it back to the tech guy. I brought my friend along because I figured he'd be entertained by all this.

At this point, several people, including my friend, were laughing at this moron.

The tech support guy got mad and suggested that we all enroll in the "Introduction to Computers" seminar they were offering.

In our office we had an older DOS application that was still being used daily. We had just upgraded all of our computers, so I thought I would check to see if the company offered a Windows version. When I called the salesman and asked about Windows software, he proudly stated, "We're a Windows 95 beta tester!" Great. This was in late 1996. I asked again about a Windows version.

Back in my "less mature" days, I loved nothing better than going to electrical shops (not specialist PC dealers, but the type of place where you can by toasters, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, etc) and winding up the less experienced salesmen.

So I hung out in the shop one Saturday and poked around the PCs until a salesman approached me.

I had to leave the shop and sit on a bench until my sides stopped hurting.

I was channel surfing the other night when I came across this guy on QVC giving a demo of Windows on a ThinkPad 500. After a few choice comments from the slick salesman, I started taking notes.

He started out by explaining that icons were like glimpses of what was behind them and proceeded to show the Accessories "menu." He talked about how wonderful this deal was since the machine came with so much preloaded software, and then gave a brief description of each icon in Accessories. First there was "A-Write" the "word processing package" (I think he called it "A-Write" because the icon for Write has a fountain pen drawing an 'A'.) Then there was Paintbrush, which allows you to "do your 3D work," he said. "For example, if you were designing a house, you could keep all the floor plans and layouts in here."

Next was Terminal, "which lets you uhhh, uhhhh, add another uhh, terminal to your computer." He fumbled a little more and skipped Notepad, presumably because he couldn't make up anything good to say just after describing "A-Write." Next: "It has this Recorder, which helps you be a little like Steven interfaces directly with your VHS cassettes." While pointing at the next icon he proudly announced that the machine even came with a built-in Clock.

There was Calculator, which of course "manages your finances." He mentioned some of the "executive" features, like Calendar and Cardfile. He pretty much gave up at Object Packager, but saved the moment by kicking into a demo of the "word processing package" because, "If you're like me, that's where your family will spend most of its time."

In his "A-Write" demo, he drooled about how versatile the software was. (Somehow the common font picker dialog just didn't convince me to pick up the phone and order a ThinkPad.) As proof of how useful the "word processing package" was, he "printed in" a sentence: "Dean shows hot computers on QVC." Then "Oh jeez!" he exclaimed, "It's been a long day folks, I misspelled my own first name!" (Dan) He proceeded to hit the backspace key 31 TIMES, leaving only the 'D'. He started retyping the rest of the sentence but gave up midway and moved on. "Let me tell you something: This thing will really change your life!"

He started babbling about "executive" features again and fired up the Cardfile "database system." It kind of took the punch out when the camera zoomed back in, and you saw that there were three dessert recipes on the screen.

The stupidity went on, but mostly on other bundled things like "C-Mail" (I think he meant 'Lotus Cc:Mail') and some IBM antivirus utilities.

An interesting note: In one screen shot it was evident that IBM had replaced the MS-DOS icon with a PC-DOS icon that looks almost identical to the OS/2 logo. Later on, while showing off the manuals, he held up the clearly labelled "IBM PC-DOS" book and said, "You get an MS-DOS manual...."

After a while...

Overheard at a computer store:

He leads me to his terminal. There is much typing.

He puts in Armageddon and turns up the volume to a ludicrous level.

He turns up the volume the rest of the way. People nearby start giving us dirty looks.

At a rather large electronics chain I was looking at the new 3D accelerators with a friend of mine. A salesman overheard me and piped up.

Overheard in a computer store:

I was in a computer store, waiting in line at customer service. I overheard this, between a customer and the sales clerk:

Once a salesperson told me that Windows 95 was only for desktop computers and that I'd need to buy Windows CE for my laptop.

After comparing feature lists and sample print-outs from several printers, I finally decided to buy a certain model. I flagged down a salesman and as we went to one of the "sales" desks, he continued to tell me about additional wonderful features of this printer and how top-of-the-line and reliable it was.

Finally, before completing the sale, he asked me if I wanted to purchase a service agreement, saying that I really ought to buy one, since printers are prone to all sorts of problems and breakdowns and may have a 50 percent out-of-the-box failure rate.

"Wait," I asked him, "you just told me how high-quality and reliable this printer is. Are you saying it really isn't that good after all?"

He didn't really have an answer for that and didn't mention the service agreement again.

Once my father asked a computer salesman about the interior of a hard disk. The salesman replied, "It's not really a disk -- it's just a piece of electronics that's called a disk because you save things on it."

Overheard in a computer store:

My boyfriend and I were shopping for computers and mistakenly wandered into a chain store. While we were looking at a system, a salesman raced over.

A friend of mine needed to upgrade his 386 with some new memory (this was a while ago). At that time, there were two basic types of memory -- 30 pin and 72 pin. He went into a computer store and asked about the memory they had on display. He picked up a box containing a 72 pin SIMM, but the salesman stopped him.

My dad -- a man of admirable common sense for a computer newbie -- leaped from editing to managing desktop publishing to selling computers. Once he had to train a new salesperson who claimed a degree in computer science. According to her, there wasn't anything she didn't know. At the start of teaching her about some software their (very big) company was selling, he told her to use the mouse to click on something on the screen. In all seriousness, she picked up the mouse and physically pressed the end of it to the screen. Urban legends abound about stupid computer users, but this woman embodied them. She once attempted scanning once by placing a document against the computer screen. Ultimately, she was fired for incompetence (imagine!) but as expected, she blamed everyone else.

I'm a technician in a small computer store in New York. One day, a particularly distraught man brought his computer in and complained that it kept freezing. I did the usual checks but couldn't find anything. Since he had just bought it the day before, I authorized a replacement but told him he'd have to wait an hour for us to configure the machine properly.

He was very upset at having to wait, so he complained to his salesperson, who has no control or responsibility over the tech department. He came storming in, all upset and fearing the loss of his commission. He laid into me, asking why I couldn't just fix the problem (it would have taken longer), and I just kept pointing out how his silly arguing was cutting into the time I could have spent setting up the new computer.

At any rate, the customer eventually walked over and asked the salesperson what was wrong with the machine -- he was quite upset that his brand new computer didn't work and that he didn't know why. The salesperson cracked a wide smile.

I went into a store to purchase an external modem for one of my customers. He had an older system and the fastest modem that he could use was a 33.6. The salesman insisted that the slowest external modem ever manufactured was 56K. There was not and had never been a 33.6 modem. I pointed out a label on the shelf that said, "33.6 External Modem," and he insisted that it was a misprint. There were boxes on the back shelf that were clearly what I wanted. He refused to sell me one. Losing a sale was apparently preferable to admitting an error.

In late 1995, I called a large computer software/hardware chain notorious for their lack of service and asked them if they had any copies of Windows 95 in stock.

I hung up and called a smaller dealer. They were more than happy to put a copy aside for me.

I recently purchased a game for my son and was having some difficulty getting it to run on my system. After making double sure I had all the most up-to-date drivers, DirectX, and following all the recommended troubleshooting steps, I finally decided to contact the tech support people. After two weeks of not getting any response via email, I broke down and called their phone number, which, by the way, was NOT a toll-free number. I explained the problem I was having along with the steps I had taken in order to ensure that I would not be wasting his time. Yet even though I specifically explained that I had all the correct drivers, he insisted on checking out every last version number. I conceded to this, figuring that he had some sort of checklist to follow, and after all the versions checked out I thought we would finally move on to something more productive. Nope. He then began asking me how I went about installing the drivers for my video card. I explained that I had downloaded the drivers from the company's website and ran the program. He laughed and said that my drivers were not installed properly, as the manufacturer of my video card did not provide self-installing drivers.

Having had three different cards from this manufacturer over the last several years, I knew that they had always provided self-installing drivers. I explained this to the tech, who stated quite plainly that I was wrong and he knew for a fact that this manufacturer did not now, nor have they ever provided self-installing drivers. To prove his point, he logged on to the company's website and downloaded the drivers in question. Lo and behold -- a self-installing execute file!

Rather than admit he was wrong, however, the guy said, "They must have just started doing that in the last couple of days because it wasn't like that last week." Then he dropped the subject completely and told me that I don't have the most up-to-date sound card drivers. I laughed and asked him if he wanted to go through all of the embarrassment of checking that website as well, and he got a little ambivalent about that. Eventually I did hang up on him. As it turns out, the reason that the game would not run is that the system requirements on the box (and in the documentation) were misprinted. My video card chipset was incorrectly listed as being supported by the game. This tidbit of information came via a reponse to my original email inquiry five weeks after I sent it and two weeks after I had returned the game anyway.

Sometime between 1996 and 1997 the first large "American-style" computer chain opened in Sweden. They had managed to become the first home cable ISP in Sweden. They sold a bundled package which included a cable modem, network adapter, and cables. My father and I went down to purchase one.

At the service desk, the salesman slid a box over to me and started ringing me up.

As I was about to leave I made a quick check on the contents of the box.

I gave him a brief description of what PCI means.

He handed me a network card and gave me a patronizing stare.

Halfway through the door, I was stopped by a yelling voice.

He pressed a floppy disk in my hand. On it, he had scratched, "PCI." He found some courage in my puzzled look and boomed:

When I got home, I found that the disk was blank.