Doing It Yourself
Officials at both Acer and Hewlett-Packard confirm that all of their notebooks sold at retail come with instructions and software for creating recovery discs.
I also discovered that paying a PC vendor to make the discs costs considerably less than some sales reps suggested: HP sells recovery discs for most notebooks for $15 (shipping included) through its technical support services. An Acer spokesperson told me that the company charges $40 for notebook recovery discs, plus $10 for shipping.
Best Buy Weighs In
Best Buy spokesperson Jeff Dudash responded that my experience at the company's Watertown store may have been the result of miscommunication between the sales rep and me. He added that it is not the company's policy to market recovery discs as a safeguard that customers can't create on their own; rather, they are offered as a convenience to customers.
Dudash characterized creating those discs as "a process that, while possible [for customers] to do on their own, can be cumbersome to the average PC buyer."
In the wake of my queries, Dudash stated that Best Buy would work to make it clearer to customers that having Best Buy create recovery discs is an option, but that alternatively they can do it themselves.
Similarly, Circuit City spokesperson Jackie Forman denied that the company advises its sales reps to tell customers that they cannot create their own recovery discs. Rather, Circuit City offers disc-creation service as a convenience. "Many customers are time-constrained and find the service a great value," Forman says.
Dudash and Forman said that their companies' respective sales staffs don't work on commission and therefore have no incentive to pressure customers to purchase additional hardware and services.
At least at Best Buy, however, sales reps are rewarded for selling more products and services through what is informally called a "score card" system, according to a Best Buy employee who asked not to be identified. The employee told me that sales teams that score well receive the opportunity to work longer shifts (and thus make more money).
Dudash confirmed the score-card approach to staffing, but denied that it created a high-pressure sales environment. "Every employee is trained to create a no-pressure sales environment," he says.
If you're shopping for a new PC, don't let a salesperson talk you into buying recovery discs on the grounds that you won't get them with the product. We checked with five major vendors--Acer, Dell, Gateway, HP, and Lenovo--and all told us that you can create such discs yourself from the preinstalled software on their retail PCs (if they aren't automatically included with your new system). If you would prefer to pay for the convenience of having someone else make recovery discs for you, check with the vendor: Most (but not all) will sell them for less than the $30 or so that the retailers typically charge.