Tech Support Showdown: Battle of the Big-Box Chains

Small and midsize businesses have most--if not all--of the same IT needs as larger organizations, but they lack the resources and dedicated IT departments to manage them. At the same time, small-business managers and owners would rather focus on effectively running their companies than on trying to resolve various computer issues.

Unfortunately, technology requires maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair. For assistance with those tasks, small and medium businesses (SMBs) have a choice between relying on independent IT consultants and working with IT services from big-box stores.

In most instances, the technicians at big-box retail chains are not just low-wage sales reps wearing a different hat. Usually they have at least some entry-level experience as technicians, and in some instances they may obtained certification such as CompTIA's A+, which demonstrates expertise with basic PC hardware.

Tech support pricing at big retailers.
Nevertheless, big-box IT service techs rarely possess the experience and skill typical of a successful independent consultant. The big-box role is essentially entry level, and technicians who build up significant experience tend to move on to greener pastures.

That said, what do the large retailers offer, and can their tech support do the job for a small business?

Best Buy Geek Squad

The Best Buy Geek Squad offers a comprehensive suite of services for SMBs. With more than 11,000 technicians nationwide--most of them zipping around in signature Geek Squad Volkswagen beetles--and with numerous mammoth Best Buy stores conveniently located for drop-off service, the Geek Squad is familiar to most SMBs.

Best Buy is a major retailer of PC and networking hardware and software, and many SMBs also look to it for support and troubleshooting as well. The Geek Squad provides services ranging from PC or network installation and configuration, to installation of peripherals, to basic training in tasks such as e-mail and social networking, to PC security and troubleshooting.

Technicians can perform most of these services in-store, remotely (via online tools), or on-site in a home or office. Housecalls cost more than the equivalent services performed at a Best Buy store or remotely online. Best Buy backs up its tech service with a 30-day guarantee.

Staples Tech Support

Though not as widespread or recognizable as Best Buy, Staples is a major presence in the U.S. retail landscape. Aside from selling office equipment and supplies--including computers and networking equipment--Staples offers IT services through EasyTech.

Staples is typically not the cheapest of the big-box IT service providers, but it unlike its rivals it offers volume discounts. For example, Office Depot charges $70 for PC tuneup services, while Staples charges $120-- but Staples volunteers to work on additional PCs at the same site for only $30 each.

A business with one or two PCs in need of attention might be better off with Office Depot, but a company with four or five such PCs will save a bundle by working with Staples EasyTech. And Staples will perform PC tuneup services free of charge if you bring the PC to the store.

Office Depot

Another familiar fixture of big-box strip malls is Office Depot. It provides less-comprehensive services than the Best Buy Geek Squad does. Office Depot offers around-the-clock service, however, which can be a tremendous benefit for an SMB staring at a "blue screen of death" on a crashed PC at three in the morning.

Most of Office Depot's services are designed to be performed remotely online. The few on-site services, such as setting up a PC in an office, are priced significantly higher than comparable services from rival big-box chains. Office Depot does offer a monthly support option, though, that might be worth looking into for ongoing maintenance needs.

Next page: More types of tech support--and which should you choose?

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