Should students avoid buying tablets on campus?

A college student who awaits her campus arrival to purchase a tablet or laptop could be making a costly mistake.


Nearly every college student owns a laptop, while just one in five have a tablet computer of some kind, but for those looking to make the investment in a mobile tool like an iPad, purchasing one online or at a retail store could save upwards of 35 percent when compared to tablet prices at campus book stores, according to an August report released by DealNews.

DealNews, which examined tablet prices at six university book stores, found that in the most extreme examples of price differences at campus stores, students were paying 135 percent more than they would at a “normal” store. DealNews compared those prices to the myriad back-to-school sales online and traditional retailers launch in the waning weeks of summer.

The survey of university stores only “compared items with similar configurations and hardware,” according to the report. DealNews is a site that documents sales on low prices on various technological gadgets. The site does not “claim to work without influence of advertisers,” as “it is critical that we work with our advertisers to craft deals for our readers.”

Laura Massie, a spokeswman for the National Association of College Stores (NACS), said college students and their parents should view the DealNews report through a skeptical lens.

“Picking only six universities out of nearly 4,600 colleges and universities in the U.S. is hardly scientific,” Massie said. “One problem we have with this unfounded slam against college stores is with the methodology, lack of research, and checking only handful of self-selected products the company already identified as special deals by their affiliate partners for prices online without verifying prices or getting comment from the stores themselves.”

Massie said NACS has never charged that campus stores were the only place students should shop for tablets and laptops. “We strongly encourage students to shop wisely by looking carefully at not only price, but customer service and support as well,” she said.

One example of a price difference mentioned in the DealNews report: a store on the University of Virginia’s campus sold a first-generation iPad mini 16GB tablet for $299. That same tablet could be found at Target for $199.

Not every tablet and laptop were pricier in on-campus stores, but almost seven in 10 items examined in the report were sold for less by off-campus retail stores. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, sold the HP Pavilion SmartTouch laptop for $319, while the same laptop was available elsewhere for $229.

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