If you’re aiming to become a system builder like many established enthusiasts in Australia, you’ll often wonder where you’re likely to get good prices and good customer service. Sounds like a paradox, we know. So is it possible to find a business that has mastered this magical formula for good prices and good customer service in the computer market? Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the way some Australian PC stores operate and our experiences with these companies.
Buying computers if you’re not a system builder is kind of daunting. That’s why a lot of people still go to big box retail shops to go through the options presented to them. That’s probably another reason people are now just buying tablets and relying on their smartphones. Shops like Myer and Harvey Norman are the go-to places for people who prefer to just buy something that works from a big brand.
But what if you want to dip your toe into building a PC for yourself and your family, or if you’re itching to jump ship from console gaming into a real system? Where would you go and what kind of prices would you expect? Here is a guide to some of the biggest and well-known Australian PC stores. Before we begin, we should point out that there are two kinds of stores we’ll be examining; online stores and what we call “full service” stores. Both exist in the Australian PC stores market and depending on your needs, location and what you’re actually buying, one or the other might suit you just fine.
A full-service store is basically what it sounds like: a store that can and will do as much for you as possible. They’ll do servicing and diagnosing problems with new systems, sales of parts or whole systems and the whole shebang. Of course, this comes at a cost of having to visit them and taking time out of your day to do so. The mainly online stores are out there to sell things. They’ll still look after you if something goes wrong, but it’s a bit more of a hassle to deal with them.
We’ve also looked at what little empirical data has been gathered from people who buy from these shops and how they rated the experience; whether they have a positive or negative experience from their purchases, as well as any required follow-up support. Let’s begin with the predominantly online stores.
Online Australian PC Stores
PC Case Gear
One of the most popular stores in Australia is a Melbourne based store called PC Case Gear. The business is a mostly online only store and stocks a wide variety of gear. It even has exclusive brands, such as XFX for AMD graphics cards. Also, the prices on the store are comparable to the other sites, and you’ll enjoy decently fast shipping with Startrack or Australia Post. PC Case Gear also builds full systems, but if you’re not in Melbourne, you’re going to find technical support a little difficult. It’s not that the company won’t honour the warranty. It’s not that individual components’ warranties won’t get honoured. It’s the simple fact that you’ll have to mail things back to where you bought it from. This, plus the fact you might not have a functioning system when something critical goes bang, might make you reconsider buying from the store.
It’s not because the place is dodgy at all. In fact, we’ve bought things from PC Case Gear and always received good feedback, support and quick postage. Rest assured of being treated right if something does go wrong. When you buy from PC Case Gear that it has something like 90 percent positive ratings from online communities. It’s also a Google Trusted Store, which lends it a huge amount of credibility with its overall rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. PC Case Gear does have a shop front, it’s run by a small team, and if you call them, you might have to leave a message as they have a huge volume of work. If you live in Melbourne and can make it before closing time, you can pick up your purchases from the warehouse rather than pay postage, though this is strictly a Monday to Friday thing.
As it’s predominantly an online business, it can mean that you may have to mail things back on your own dime if something goes wrong. However, that could be a small price to pay for dealing with a highly reputable business.
The Good: Well designed, simple to use website with variety and exclusive brands. Great reputation among the PC building community for customer service and honesty.
The Meh: Small and busy business means it can be difficult to get help on the phone. Not open at all on weekends.
The Bad: Melbourne storefront only, so ordering from anywhere else means being at the mercy of Australia Post or StarTrack.
MWave is based in Sydney and is one of the largest online stores in Australia. It has quite a large selection of brands and products, and it even has some really good deals on the front page. For instance, it will do some really good discounts on stuff, and it can stock some relatively obscure but good brands. For one, it seems to be the only wide-ranging store that stocks iKBC mechanical keyboards, which are high quality, high option boards. It’s also one of the rare stores that stock Lian Li cases, which have become difficult to find in Australia, mainly due to their cost. MWave also runs short “group buys” for unique products, which offers a discount on the normal retail price should there be enough buyers of the product.
In a similar vein to PC Case Gear, it sells a huge variety of parts and ships all over Australia, except you get the feeling that its range is even better. MWave also seems to run prices a little lower than a brick and mortar store, though you’ll pay the difference in postage. So, in this case, it’s in one hand and out the other.
Another good thing about MWave is its website, and also its smartphone app. You can actually see product reviews from customers on the relevant product page. It’s helpful to see what people who are using both the store and the gadget think of their purchase and experience. It’s actually far more useful than having to run around on the internet trawling through professional reviews, not because they’re not helpful, but because many of those reviewers don’t use the products on a daily basis.
Like PC Case Gear, MWave has pick up locations should you be in the area, and the great thing is that they’re open on Saturday too. The company has some really high aggregate reviews on places like Product Review Australia. In terms of customer service, speed and quality, we’ve found MWave to be rather good. However, if you do buy something from MWave interstate, be prepared to things to take longer to get back to you, as postage and handling takes time. If you’re buying something mission critical, you might want to consider going into a brick and mortar store.
The Good: Great, simple to use website with what seems to be the largest variety of products in Australia. Also has a mobile app, which may float your boat. Similar to PC Case Gear in terms of service and delivery times.
The Meh: Has slightly lower prices, but you’ll pay the difference back when you check out and pay postage.
The Bad: Sydney storefront only, so ordering from anywhere else means being at the mercy of Australia Post or StarTrack.
Brick and mortar Australian PC Stores
PLE Computers is a relatively small chain store, which focuses mainly on Perth. It also has a small store in Melbourne. While we certainly can’t speak for the three main stores in Western Australia, the smallish Melbourne store has a good selection of components and some pretty nifty displays. In general, the customer service experience with PLE on places like the Whirlpool Forums are pretty positive. As a full-service brick and mortar shop, you should expect decent customer service and a relatively quick turnaround if something goes wrong.
On the review aggregate website Product Review Australia, the company gets a 3.6 average rating. It’s not the biggest sample size, but it’s enough to tell you that their customers are generally happy. PLE has a generally good range of products, and also some stuff that you wouldn’t see at other stores. These guys have some brands of Chinese PC cases that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in Australia, like Jonsbo and ID-COOLING. No, I’ve never heard of them either, but if they’re good, they’re good, right?
The Good: Small business with great presentation and a good selection of products, including exclusive brands. Tends to focus on Perth, so you’re in luck Westies.
The Meh: Tends not to be the cheapest, but you’re also hoping for decent customer service.
The Bad: If stock is only available on one side of the country or the other, that wait can be quite annoying.
Now, most people who have ever built a PC themselves have probably heard of MSY. In fact, many of you probably buy stuff from them, due to the convenience of location and the fact they’ve historically had the cheapest prices anywhere in the country. The place is old school. So old school in fact, that their website still relies on the good old fashion PDF pricelist that was the most advanced method of communication at the dawn of the internet age. The company shows no sign of actually building a new website.
In fairness, their price list is relatively comprehensive and takes the form of one of those complex menus you get at Asian restaurants stacked full of options and no real idea what you’re ordering. Because of this, the purchase of goods from MSY requires you to have done a bit of homework prior to even setting foot in the store. You need to know exactly what part (brand, model, etc.) you’re looking for, otherwise, you’re just seen to be holding up the line. And we know they generally have a decently long line.
The good thing about MSY is that they have stores in every single state and territory in Australia. The bigger cities tend to have a heavy concentration of them. We tend to look at MSY as the McDonalds’ of Australian PC stores. They’re found in a lot of places, but you know when you get there, that you should expect certain things to be perfunctory because you’re paying low, low prices for it. On the other hand, even McDonalds’ has got a decent website. The other thing to understand, at least from anecdotal information, is that their customer service is basic and brusque at best. That’s not to say you won’t have a good experience buying parts here, but you should be prepared rather than pepper the staff with questions.
MSY has an aggregate opinion of 2.4 out of 5 from nearly 300 customer reviews. Most of the complaints relate to the way it conducts its customer service, which is something you’d expect from MSY. This isn’t a new phenomenon. If you want to be treated like a king because you’re spending money, MSY isn’t the place for that kind of attitude.
The Good: Lots of locations. Cheap
The Meh: Learning to read a jammed packed PDF price list.
The Bad: Customer service is kind of non-existent. Might as well stick K2-SO at the front counter.
Centrecom is a store that, for some reason, tends to forgotten about. We can’t really figure out why. It’s quite a big chain based in Victoria, and some of their stores, especially the Clayton one, are massive. They have a huge choice of stock on display and their prices are, of all the brick and mortar stores we’ve bought stuff from, the lowest. Of course, there are some products, like top of the line Ryzen processors, where their prices align pretty much exactly with everybody else’s. We don’t perceive that to be an issue because it comes down to who actually has stock of what you’re looking for most of the time.
We’ve found that Centrecom has a lot of staff on hand to help demonstrate things, which is actually really important. As much as people can read reviews on the internet and understand which brands are good or bad, there’s nothing like going into a store and poking around with things. In that regard, big stores like Centrecom are really helpful when you can touch things like keyboards, or look at their expansive range of PC cases. Even a wide gamut of monitors are on display so that you can see exactly what you’ll be putting on your desk.
From nearly 400 customer reviews, Centrecom gets a decent tick of approval, with an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5. Remember, it’s a bigger company than most, and some of the negative experiences (and positive) need to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Good: Big business with big stores and great presentation. A good selection of products, and at very competitive prices.
The Meh: Victorian only, and in some categories, choices aren’t all that good – AM4 motherboards, anybody?
The Bad: The choice at the store can be quite overwhelming if you’re not prepared or understand what you really need.
Scorptec (or Scorpion Technology) is one of the smaller computer chain shops out there, but it also has a good reputation. In the past, it hasn’t had the lowest prices in the market, and that might put you off. However, we’ve always had a good experience when buying stuff from them, and their staff seem to take their job seriously and try as much as possible to help their customers.
The staff here give good advice, which is helpful for those new to the hobby, and they’re generally very supportive when it comes to enquiries about products and warranty. We have noticed that their prices have now recently become aligned with every other store in Australia. Like many other companies detailed in this story, Scorptec also carries exclusive brands of certain things, like Galax graphics cards, which are cheaper (and just as good) compared to stablemates from bigger brands like MSI and ASUS.
Scorptec is also able to help with business and government work. While you shouldn’t expect them to be able to provide huge numbers of desktops quickly for a new office fit out quickly, small, dedicated projects such as non-standard stuff that your typical IT department would be too scared to support is available. In general, the company gets good reviews on the internet, and though you’ll read some horror stories, we’ve never had any issues with their service. There are always two sides to every story, and sometimes, a company gets a bad rep from somebody who demands something unreasonable or impossible. Aggregate customer reviews give Scorptec 3.3 out of 5, which shows general customer satisfaction.
The Good: Smallish business with great store displays and a good selection of products, including exclusive brands in some categories like graphics cards. Additionally, for those who don’t know how to build a magnificent PC, Scorptec can build them for you.
The Meh: Victorian stores only, but they do ship nationally.
The Bad: Sometimes their stock arrival estimates can be quite far off. But that’s not usually their fault. Their prices are generally competitive, but they have been slightly dearer, historically.
So who should you choose?
Much of what’s been written has been based on our experiences with the various companies, and anecdotal empirical measurement from others on the internet. We’re pretty agnostic when it comes down to where we spend our money. To be honest, if you’re out there to simply buy things and then put them together, it’s actually quite a breezy process. Australia has stringent consumer rights laws about warranties. Also, it pays to understand what the returns policy of the company from which you are buying products.
The good news is that prices are pretty much the same across all the major Australian PC stores that we looked at in this story. Sure, in some cases, one store is cheaper than another for certain items, like one motherboard might be $10 cheaper at one place compared to another. But if you’re in the market for saving a dollar or two and driving around the place to get the best deals, you might also find you’re looking for trouble if something goes wrong, as well as spending a lot of time on this saving. If the choice is paying an extra $5 for a RAM kit while getting something else at the same time, you bet we’d recommend just buying it from the one place. There’s no reason to go hunting for bargains when prices are pretty competitive already.
As the internet has become more and more important in commerce, you’ll also find that all of these stores provide stock availability for each product. If they have branch stores, you’ll know where you can go pick one up, or if there’s an estimated time of arrival for stock. It makes buying stuff really, really simple and takes the guessing game out of shopping.
If it’s not convenient to go to a shop, most of the brick and mortar Australian PC stores will do delivery for a nominal Australia Post fee, in the same manner, that the online stores operate. You can certainly seek and receive technical advice over the phone with companies like Scorptec, PLE and Centrecom. This is one facet of these stores that we find to be really good because their staff try to be as approachable as possible. However, if you don’t actually know what you’re buying or should be buying, our best advice is to go to an actual store and find out for yourself. The ability to ask questions and receive feedback face to face is far more helpful than online reviews and Youtube videos. Something as simple as whether that fancy new graphics card you’ve been drooling over will fit inside a case is reasonably easily answered when presented with the real thing in your face.
One aspect of this story that should be pointed out is this: we at What The Tech Australia don’t have a problem with shopping online. At all. Because the Australian market is relatively small, it can be hard to find things. For example, if you’re a mechanical keyboard aficionado, you might find the choices here are relatively limited. But if you’re willing to go and buy stuff from reputable stores overseas, you can get some obscure, high-quality brands or cheap stuff that’ll tide you over. In the Australian market, you can definitely source a wide variety of components from many places and you get a decently quick turnaround time. For example, buying something from MWave would take two business days to ship from Sydney to any other major city. In a rural area, that experience might vary depending on where you live and how often Australia Post drives past your house.
However, if you’re not particularly confident, you might wish to go and get some advice from the experts. Ask for help online, because there are many people out there who are able to give good guidance. Whatever you do, don’t go to Harvey Norman and buy one of their big brand desktop computers. They might look flashy, and you can buy their extended warranty, but you’re not paying what we would consider being a fair price on many kinds of systems. Instead, go to some specialist Australian PC stores and find some real expertise.