The “Flat Rate” Computer Repair Myth
First published in October, 2010.
Some local computer repair shops are making offers that sound too good to be true.
For over ten years I have owned a computer repair and consulting business.
Not so long ago I moved my operation to Portland from Phoenix, AZ. One of the
first things that I noticed when I set up shop in Bridgetown was the number
competitors that advertise “Flat Rate” computer repair. That phrase is often
accompanied by statements such as, “We’ll fix any problem for $89.00!.”
“Really?”, I thought. “Any Problem? Without prior diagnosis? How can
one make such a claim and be expected to be taken seriously? Does this
include both hardware and software issues?… Parts?… I don’t get it!”
What would a consumer think if an auto mechanic or a plumber made the
I concluded that the “Flat Rate” thing has to be some sort of marketing ploy
that has a different connotation in local vernacular. So I started calling around.
It turns out, of course, that nobody will fix any and all failures for a set price.
As far as I am concerned, the claim is an unethical and misleading attempt
to trick people into contacting a particular repair outfit in hopes that they can
hook a sale.
According to the fine print, with most vendors the so-called flat rate is a fixed
labor charge, so clearly they make up the difference on the price of parts for
repair jobs, but what about software issues? One certainly can not remedy
all software foul-ups, virus removals, data recovery projects, and crashed
systems for an absurdly low price and stay in business.
I have learned (in part from customers who have been first bamboozled by
some shyster before coming to me) that the software related remedies of
the flat-raters usually turn out in one of three ways:
1) They wipe-out the entire computer and re-install the operating
system, resulting in the complete loss of all data, installed programs,
user settings, etc.
2) They claim that they have fixed the problem but did not, collect
the customer’s money and send the poor sucker on their way.
3) They EXACERBATE the problem, making it more difficult and
expensive (if not impossible) to actually to fix.
I understand that Portland has a large number of intelligent, capable,
computer technicians and software engineers who are unemployed and
competing for computer repair business in an economy where consumers
are trying their best to find a good deal. We also have an admirably strong
anti-corporate, buy-local culture. But we should also have an equally strong
local business ethical standard for honesty in advertising our services.
People do not expect find a skilled automobile mechanic, plumber, or carpenter
who will work for peanuts, but for some reason, consumers in this market have
come to expect to have an extremely complex technological problem solved by
a person working for minimum wage.
I believe that this is partly due to the fact that computers have become a
relatively cheap consumer product. It does not seem to make sense to people
to pay hundreds of dollars to repair a device that they could replace for a few
dollars more. Certainly one would not do that with a car or a broken swing-set.
The difference is that from the time one purchases a computer to the time when
the damn thing breaks, they have added intangible value to the machine in
the form of their data, software installations, and their time.
My advice to users is to back-up frequently, to multiple destinations, and quit
expecting to find a highly-educated, highly-skilled individual to solve complex
problems for the same rate as the one who is serving your quarter-pounder
Don’t Rely on Amateurs. Call iNetPlanet.