Eager to purchase a computer?

Across the region, computer sellers are preparing for a flood of business next weekend, and with good reason: Combine the back-to-school rush with sales tax holidays Aug. 1-3 in North Carolina and South Carolina, and you get a tech frenzy second only to the holiday season, retailers and experts say. If you're considering a new machine, it could be worth your while to join the crowds.

Like everything covered by the states' tax waiver, discounts on computers are only as big as the sales tax rate – 7.25 percent in Mecklenburg County, and slightly lower elsewhere.

But the larger the purchase, the more money you save. And of all the items eligible for the N.C. tax savings, computers are the priciest – purchases up to $3,500 are tax free. (South Carolina's tax holiday doesn't have a price limit.)

Plus, computer prices tend to fluctuate less than those on other items, like clothing. Apple, for instance, never puts its computers on sale. So the chance to save even a little can make a big difference, whether buying online or in person.

“People know about (tax-free weekend) and they wait,” said Randy Tackett, owner of Randy's Computers in Fort Mill.

“We probably sell in that weekend about what we would generally do in two weeks,” said Jon Foster, the owner of Slayton Computers in Charlotte. “We ran our first back-to-school weekend ad (last week) and the phone just lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Other local stores large and small have discovered the same response. Best Buy sees “a pretty significant spike in traffic” during tax-free weekend and is bulking up staffing and inventory, spokesman Jeff Dudash said. Randy's Computers and Access Computer in south Charlotte also said their business increases by about 50 percent that weekend.

To help you prepare – and end up with a good value that will serve you well – we consulted a panel of experts about the buying process. Their experience stretches back to the time of room-sized IBM mainframes, so they're equipped to assist.

“It's kind of a Black Friday mentality,” said Foster, referring to the shopping-extravaganza day after Thanksgiving. “Don't get into the frenzy and just buy because it's there. Really think about…(is it) really enough savings for me to purchase this weekend?”