Did your new computer come with free packaged software? Here’s why you shouldn’t open it.

Earlier in the summer, I bought a new MacBook Pro at Best Buy.  That’s all I bought, just the laptop.  Before the sales rep rung me up, though, he grabbed a retail box of software off the shelf, told me it’s included for free.  I said “no thanks, if I wanted to use anti-virus software, I wouldn’t be buying a Mac.”  He said he had to include this box of software with the purchase, all their computers come with it.  I really didn’t need or want it, but I also didn’t want to argue with the guy.  I paid for the computer, took the free software, and left the store.

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A few weeks later, when Apple bumped up the specs of the MacBook Pro, I saw that my model got a significant discount.  I could either return my laptop and get a new one (at full price), or get Best Buy to match the newer price of the one I bought.  I opted for the latter.  I went to the store, asked them to match the newer price… and they said they can’t do it.  This post isn’t about the finer details of big box retailer price matching policies, but let’s just say the use of a coupon complicated matters.  I was still within the return period, though, so I said: “How about I just ‘return’ this computer and buy it back at the newer, lower price?”  No problem.  Easy-peasy, they said.  All I needed was the receipt for the original purchase… and the unopened box of  software that I bought with it.  What?  I didn’t “buy” that software.  It was handed to me as I left the store.

Turns out the software was considered “bundled” with the computer, as if I got offered some special deal and only bought the computer because it came with the “free” program.  And Best Buy, like many retailers, won’t allow you to return just one part of a bundle.  I had to return them both together.  Here’s why that’s a big problem:  Hardware can be returned opened and used, so long as it’s within the return window.  Software cannot.  Software can only be returned unopened.  Had I opened that useless piece of software they made me take, I would not have been able to return the computer under any circumstances.

Fortunately, I didn’t open it.  I was able to complete the “return” and save about $150.   But I’ve now been fully warned and so should you — if a piece of hardware you want is “bundled” with a separate piece of software you don’t want — definitely think twice before opening that software package.

A cynical part of me wonders if this whole faux-bundling thing is a deliberate attempt by Best Buy to cut down on computer returns…

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