Fry's Sucks
Fry's Sucks

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Disclaimer: These are my own anecdotes and do not represent a statistically significant sample of user experiences. However, one of the great things with the Internet is its ability to let people to share individual experiences. All of the stuff below happened to one person: me.

In the Western part of the United States, there's a chain of computer supply shops - what I refer to as computer grocery stores - called Fry's Electronics (or just plain "Fry's"). Almost everyone who works in high tech in Silicon Valley has gone to Fry's at least one time or another. I think people should receive a Purple Heart with their first Fry's purchase, but that's just me.

This little article explains why I loathe shopping at Fry's.

Myth: Fry's is cheap

Fact: Fry's used to be cheap many years ago. Then one day, they jacked up their prices to be more or less on par with everyone else. They advertise sales items in the local newspapers, typically a full page ad in the back of one of the technology or maybe business sections.

Usually, these sale items are rather cheap. However, their goal is to get you into the store so while you're picking up the sale item, you'll browse the aisles and grab some stuff that's not for sale. I would never buy things like hard drives or memory from Fry's.

Many very similar items will be priced differently through the store, depending on which section and aisle you walk down. Some good examples are A/V cables and connectors as well as video components and parts. If you're buying in quantity, it's good to wander around.

Myth: They have a good inventory

Fact: The Fry's Electronics stores have enormous inventory, but it seems like every time I have go to one of their stores with a grocery list, they are out of something, whether it be tools, cables, connectors, you name it. Occasionally, this means that I need to visit two Fry's Electronics stores in one day. Ugh.

They are crummy at restocking. They also seem to sell out of rather common items all the time (particularly the sale items). On the plus side, occasionally you'll see the same item priced a couple of ways, so it's good to dig around the rows and see if some have a cheap price tag.

The product selection is very uneven and often curious stunted. For example, they don't stock Asus motherboards - one of the most reputable brands. They carry a wide variety of stuff, some of it good, some of it not too good. If you go to the household appliances area, you'll find mostly lousy, low-end models.

Myth: Fry's Electronics is a good place to buy golf equipment

Fact: That's a different Fry's, the venerable Fry's Warehouse Sports. These golf specialists have enjoyed almost eight decades of business. There's one in South City (a.k.a. South San Francisco) right off of Highway 101. It's been a few years since I've been there (I went shopping with someone else), so I don't have any comments on Fry's Golf (plus the fact that I don't golf).

Fry's Electronics is a closely-held family business founded in the mid-Eighties. They're different companies.

Fact: Fry's sales associates don't know their product

Scenario: When I first got introduced to PC hardware a few years ago, I was trying to build my own NT workstation. After a couple of hours of unsuccessfully trying to get the WinNT installer to recognize a couple of moldy old SCSI CD-ROM drives, I caved in and decided to buy an IDE CD-ROM. So, I drove down to Fry's and looked at the wall of CD-ROM drives in all ranges and prices.

I pointed to a cheap $50 IDE CD-ROM drive, and asked one of the salesguys, "Will this one work with Windows NT?" He shrugged and said, "I don't know. But that one will," pointing at a $199 SCSI CD-ROM. I figured that this guy was pulling the wool over my eyes and decided to buy the cheapo ATAPI drive. When I got home, I found that the drive was damaged and had to return Fry's to exchange it. In the end, the cheapo CD-ROM drive worked fine, and I decided never to ask another Fry's salesperson for any information ever again.

Fact: The book section at Fry's sucks

Fry's now sells books, mostly technical guides, programming references, etc. There are better places to buy computer books. Sadly, my favorite store, the University Avenue (Palo Alto) branch of Stacey's Professional Bookstore has shuttered its doors. Computer Literacy bookstores used to be okay.

Fact: There's a really lame entertainment section

Fry's also sells CDs, DVDs, etc. but the selection is horribly lame unless you're looking for Top 40 crap. Utterly laughable.

Fact: Avoid anything with a Fry's white tag

Fry's puts their own little white sticker on boxes that have been opened and returned back to the store. This stickers are often dated and initialed, "I'm okay. I was checked by a genuine Fry's employee."

Don't buy white stickered boxes! Those are things that are probably broken or missing things like cables, etc. The Fry's people don't check the returns. You will probably get screwed. The worst part is that you have to go back to Fry's and undergo the misery that is their returns process.

Actually, you're probably better off avoiding the stuff that isn't shrink wrapped, too. My guess is that Fry's employees would probably run out of white stickers at some moment and just put unmarked boxes back on the shelves. Remember, it's less work not having to put a sticker on a box and find a pen!

Fact: The lines are long and slow

I've never figured out if there's a "good" time to shop at Fry's. Only a couple times have I gotten lucky with short lines. The cashiers work at the same speed whether it's crowded or not, though.

Generally speaking, the weekday lunch hour is not a good time to go. That's when the stores are packed with engineers and IT folks making their weekly Fry's run.

Fact: Fry's cashiers are inefficient morons

Scenario: One day, I bought maybe thirty of one component and twenty of another. I put them in separate piles and said, "I have thirty of those and twenty of these" One would think that the person would scan one, then change the quantity to thirty. But, noooooooooo.... Not at Fry's. The person spent the next few minutes scanning each and every one of the thirty components, then proceeded to the pile of twenty components.

Always, always, always check your receipt. Make sure you get your credit card back (they seem to forget quite frequently to hand back mine).

Fact: Hold onto that receipt

If you're expensing your purchases back to your company, you often need to fill out a petty cash or expense report and attach the original receipt. Wait a few days: there's a decent chance that something you bought will need to be returned or exchanged.

Fact: Some people use Fry's as a free 30-day equipment "rental" place

There are folks who use Fry's 30-day money-back customer satisfaction guarantee for their own convenience (last time I checked, there was no restocking fee). Basically, you buy a bunch of stuff, use it for an event like a tradeshow or conference, return it to Fry's before your 30 days are up, and get a full refund on your credit card. I will refrain from making any judgments about the people who do this.

The worst part about this is that the bashed up stuff ends up getting white stickered and tossed back up onto the shelves.

Fact: Returning merchandise is excruciating

I've had to return merchandise several times to Fry's because I've bought items that were mislabeled or just plain broken. Standing in those lines, then explaining five or six times, "No, it's broken. It doesn't work. Yes, I read the instructions. Can't you hear the rattling inside? No, the bag says that this is a one hundred foot cable, but the actual length is fifty feet." Going through the whole hassle of filling out forms, approvals, waiting around for the easily distracted employees to finish chatting is one of the worst customer service nightmares.

The return area is usually separate from the cashier, forcing a couple of trips between the two. Cross your fingers that the people can understand what you're doing (trying to get a credit back on your charge card, exchanging the item with an identical one, replacing the item with a different model, etc.).

This is actually the single most important reason why I hate shopping at Fry's. There's a high chance you will buy something that's missing components, damaged, or just doesn't work right. That forces you to drive back and endure the torture that is returning merchandise at Fry's: the Holy Inquisition of Computer Retailing (but by slow and lame retards rather than cunning and sadistic Dominicans).

The absolutely weirdest thing about Fry's Electronics

Fry's Electronics is an ISP.

Their web site used to offer DSL accounts, but maybe the recent closures of NorthPoint Communications and Rhythms NetConnections has halted their DSL service.

Interestingly, they sell no merchandise on their web site. Having sampled the quality of their in-store customer service, it will be a Cold Day In HellTM before I ever subscribe to their ISP service.

Note: I am constantly updating a list of my very own ISPs Who Suck. Take a peek for yourself and see how Internet "Service" Providers continue to make Internet connectivity miserable for me.

The Saga Continues

August 18, 2001 update - Fry's acquires some of's assets

Fry's Electronics is acquiring some of the assets of bankrupt (NASDAQ: EGGS). The latter started out in 1983 as a bricks-and-mortar computer store, Egghead Discount Software and unsuccessfully tried to jump to e-tailing.

Egghead was always a rather lame computer store (well, at least the one I was patronizing in the early Nineties in downtown San Francisco's Financial District was lame) so I guess it's possible to go from lame to lamer.

September 6, 2001 update - Fry's is acquiring

There are news reports that Fry's Electronics is going to buy Cyberian Outpost (NASDAQ: COOL), the failing online retailer that runs Fry's tried to buy Outpost once before in a hostile cash-and-carry takeover bid, but Outpost freaked out and attempted to sell itself to PC Connection. PC Connection waffled around and finally decided that Outpost was overvalued in the terms of the proposed deal and pulled back. Cyberian, now flailing helplessly, ran back to Fry's and let it back into the house.

Yes, I know these sort of stories are common in the world of corporate mergers and takeovers, but it still reminds me of a tawdry little trailer trash romance (Tonya Harding?).

October 10, 2001 update - This is getting weird

In an ever-increasinly bizarre turn of events, Fry's backs out on acquiring The spurned e-tailer cries foul play. 191 FC points.

November 8, 2001 update

Fry's acquisition of Cyberian Outpost, at 25 cents a share, is complete.

May 2, 2006 update - See you in divorce court!

Yay! See you in divorce court!

Laurie E. Fry sues ex-husband William R. "Randy" Fry (one of the three brothers who co-own Fry's Electronics). Yes, he cheated on her and swindled and/or pressured her out of her share.

Where to Buy Computer Stuff in the SF Bay Area

I recommend two-and-a-half stores in the Silicon Valley/SF Peninsula area:

Central Computer - Silicon Valley's best PC hardware shop

Central Computer is great for browsing since all the product is visible (either in its shrink-wrapped packaging or in glass cases); handy product comparison matrix tables (e.g, motherboard features and pricing) are conveniently posted). Happy customers are the ones that get what they want from the get go; unhappy ones don't get what they want and end up returning things.

They have three branches, but I always go to the Santa Clara store.

Central Computer has earned my highest esteem for buying PC components.

Pixel USA

Pixel USA has some pretty competitive prices, but you really need to do your homework first, call them up to set aside your components, drive there, pay, grab your goodies, and get the heck outta Dodge. Neither store is a particularly good place to buy software, although Central has a carefully selected catalog of nerd titles (e.g., various distributions of the Linux OS and FreeBSD, Windoze games, Adobe products).

Both Central Computer and Pixel USA have Good Stuff and Cheap Stuff That Doesn't Totally Suck. However, at Central Computer, there are a couple of knowledgable folks that can talk Intel stepping numbers and have their own honest recommendations about hardware. Also, the clientele at Central Computer knows its stuff; this is the sort of place where Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, SGI, Cisco, etc. engineers buy components to build their home PCs. If the staff doesn't know the answer to your question, there's a good chance that another customer in the store does.

Best Buy - partial recommendation

Best Buy is not a good place to buy PC components like power supplies, cables, etc. However, it's a place that you should consider if you're buying a major brand-name product (like an HP printer or Sony monitor). If you know exactly which model you want to buy and Best Buy has a rebate or sale, then it's a good place to pick up a component. Otherwise it totally sucks. Don't ask for opinions/information from Best Buy sales people.

Shopping at Best Buy: go in, grab your stuff, and leave pronto. I've never had to return merchandise to Best Buy, so I can't comment on that procedure. The few times I've shopped at Best Buy, the lines have been mercifully short.

There's a Best Buy close to home (San Carlos), so saving myself an extra 45 minutes on the road just to save twenty dollars is always a consideration. Best Buy will sell products that suck whereas (generally speaking), Central Computer will not (because the latter's clientele won't buy stuff that sucks and returns stuff that does).

Summary and Helpful Resources

Fry's Electronics has mastered the concept of "Customer satisfaction is nothing, customer retention is everything." That is, they really don't care if you're a happy customer, they just want you to keep coming back and spend more money, even if you hate the place.

Oh yes, I almost forgot...

When I get home from Fry's, the first thing I do is jump in the shower and toss my clothes in the laundry hamper! That pretty much sums up what I feel about the Fry's shopping experience.

If you'd like, you can read about some ISPs who suck now.

Reader Responses

I love feedback! Here are some of the more interesting things that have landed in my inbox.

Just need to vent a little

That's what this page is all about. Plus, it's supposed to be informative. Anecdotally, of course... :-)

William Grosso says Fry's sucks

On August 14, 2003, William Gross, VP of Engineering at Echopass, writes about his disappointment with Fry's at O'

My Fry's peeves

Obviously, someone who been to Fry's on many occasions... Hello, fellow sufferer!

yo i work @ frys

An actual Fry's employee validates my observations. Thanks!

Love your Fry's filet

Someone's been burned by the rebate scam!

They had lied to me

Sadly, par for the course. New and improved: includes spyware and adware!

But it gets worse for Dave. A few days later...

Let me tell you

Ouch, three dead phones and attitude? That sucks!

Ok former Fry's employee here. Here is some new stuff.

We love hearing from Fry's employees! (past and present)

Fry's run by idiots...

A note from Service Technician, a fan of Fry's

Fry's Etcetera etcetera etc

Another Fry's Disaster!!!

Response to: inefficient morons

LOL, that has happened to me!


Thank You

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Last modified on Mon Feb 12 00:54:56 GMT 2007
Copyright © 2001-2007 Tara Hertz.
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