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Are you ready for this? I saved $4300 because I had access to the Internet. How? I didn't sign up for DirectBuy.

It started when I saw an ad in the Los Angeles Times for DirectBuy, a company that says it'll save you money on lots of merchandise. Choose from patio, bedroom, living room, and home office furniture, home-improvement supplies, electronics, and, oh, gosh, just about anything.

Buy direct, they say, and bypass the retailer--as well as the retailer's pesky markup.

Of course, there's a membership fee. But here's the challenge: Visit the DirectBuy site and tell me what that fee is or maybe what you get when you join. Give up?

DirectBuy: What's Wrong With This Picture?

I'm inherently suspicious and my synapses were firing up. I Googled "DirectBuy" and hit pay dirt.

In the interest of self-preservation (my attorney, Bernie, said, "Bass, keep your mouth shut."), here's a list of sites that talk about DirectBuy. Give them a look, then come to your own conclusions.

Apparently, you shouldn't say negative things about DirectBuy. The company sent a cease-and-desist letter to (read the blog about it). DirectBuy copyrighted the letter, saying it couldn't be posted online. Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest organization, fired off a response in its blog (see "Don't Post This Cease-and-Desist Letter, or Else").

Dig This: Launchball is a really, really addicting puzzle game. [Thanks, Mike D.!]

Dig This, Too: Quick, are you left- or right-brained? Here's a quick test, with surprising insights. [Thanks, Gus.]

Assurz: Want to Pay for Peace of Mind?

"You want the five-year extended warranty?"

That's what I inevitably hear from the concerned--and salivating--salesperson as I make a major purchase. I can almost understand the rationale on, say, an HDTV or refrigerator. But too often they even pitch it when I buy a $30 MP3 player.

This drives me nuts for a couple of reasons. Philosophically, I can't stand the idea that a manufacturer wouldn't believe their product can withstand a year's worth of use. It's capitalism at its best, trying to squeeze every nickel out of my pocket.

At the end of the salesperson's pitch, I always turn them down.

It might be that consumers aren't buying extended warranties, so retailers have a new strategy. They're teaming up with Assurz, a third-party company that, through the retailer, sells a 90-day return guarantee. It essentially gives you three months to play with the product. If you're unhappy with it, pack it up in a prepaid shipping box, send it back, and you'll get all your money back, including tax and shipping.

I first heard about the Assurz guarantee through TigerDirect. But other merchants--TheNerds, for instance--are also using the service.

What's It Cost?

Of course, it isn't free. You pay a fee--about 3 percent of the cost of the product. On a $1600 computer, say, the guarantee would cost you $48.

I don't think Assurz is worth it for run-of-the-mill products, especially those that cost under $300 or so. But there are a couple situations where the fee could be worth it.

The first is for a big purchase you're unsure about--a $2500 HDTV, say. Who knows, you may be afraid it's not really what you want; you won't like the picture after watching for a while; or you'll just get buyer's regret. So a $75 insurance policy might be a good idea.

The other reason might be that you found that HDTV for a great price, but you're feeling queasy about the company you're buying from. You might be getting a refurbished product or something that was returned by another customer. For $75, you won't have to fight with the company to take it back.

The Fine Print

Is there a catch? Probably, but I can't find it.

Assurz's FAQ says that the company will refund your money only if "the merchant can't return or exchange your merchandise in a satisfactory manner."

I plucked out a few items from the Assurz FAQ that answer my other questions.

  • Merchants can exempt certain products from the program at their discretion. That means an "as is" product is yours to keep, no matter what.
  • You can buy the guarantee only from participating merchants and have to buy it when you check out on the site.
  • Assurz can reject your request for a refund and there are products that it won't cover. For that info, you need to read the fine print on Assurz's Terms and Conditions page.

Dig This: Take a few minutes and watch the latest video sensation. Snowball, the sulphur-crested Eleanora cockatoo, loves to dance and sing to the Back Street Boys. [Thanks, Moe.]

Dig This, Too: PC World' s Webmaster wrote and said, "I saw this commercial on TV this morning while getting ready for work and I could not believe it! It's astonishing and very funny--and I'm betting it won't last long on the air." [Thanks, Michael.]

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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