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There's cost, and then there's value - and they're not always one in the same when it comes to purchasing a power wheelchair.

While many mobility consumers still rely on insurance funding to buy power wheelchairs, more and more are paying cash, out-of-pocket, for what they want, when they want, based on increased economic power of those with disabilities in the U.S. And, self-funding is working well for those of financial means, often allowing them to buy higher-performance, better-quality power wheelchairs than insurance will fund.

However, along with the expanding cash mobility market comes those who understandably wish to get the best deal possible, looking to save money off of a power wheelchair's retail price just like they would, say, when shopping for a big-screen TV. Interestingly, as a result of this cash-discount demand, one can now easily log onto the Internet or call a toll-free phone number and find pricing that's at least 35% lower on a power wheelchair model than its retail price. What's more, online transactions often seem all but effortless, where one can fill-out an online check-box order form, enter a credit card number, and in about three weeks, a power wheelchair arrives at one's door.

However, does buying a power wheelchair via an Internet or long-distance provider to simply save on cost truly offer value? After all, paying less for a power wheelchair is unquestionably better than paying more when strictly analyzing the dollar amount. Yet, value is where the difference comes in - that is, what value are you truly receiving for the lower price when purchasing a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider?

Where Value Enters
The fact is, if you purchase a power wheelchair from a quality, reputable, local provider, there's value built into the transaction. Firstly, the provider performs an in-person evaluation of your needs, often including allowing you to physically trial several power wheelchairs. Secondly, the provider works with you in defining and interpreting the order form, face-to-face, ensuring that the correct configuration is specified and ordered. Thirdly, when the new power wheelchair arrives, the provider properly sets it up in-person and fits you to your new wheelchair, including follow-up visits for adjustments, if needed. And, lastly - and, arguably, most importantly - the local provider is only a call and a short drive away for in-person warranty service and repairs when needed. In these ways, there's no question that there's tremendous value to dealing with a local, in-person provider when purchasing a power wheelchair.

By contrast, buying a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider can risk true value. Sure, outright cost may be very favorable, but will the transaction offer you real value over the life of the power wheelchair? From the start, if you use an online or long-distance provider, what in-person mobility professional will help ensure that you select the right power wheelchair model and physically ensure that your needs are met? Next, who will set-up the power wheelchair, and make any adjustments when it arrives? And, lastly - and, again, arguably the most important - who will service the power wheelchair in-person when repairs are needed? Unfortunately, in many online and long-distance transactions, the alarming answer is, no one - that is, beyond your payment, and the power wheelchair's delivery via freight truck to your driveway, you're on your own.

Now, this isn't to say that all online or long-distance mobility purchases are bad. In fact, some online providers offer a tremendous balance of cost versus value for certain products, in certain cases. For example, with light-rehab power wheelchairs, which are basic in offerings, some reputable online mobility retailers are very helpful in the selection process, go on to arrange for set-up at the time of delivery, and have local, in-person warranty service contracts (either through a local provider or a manufacturer's area technician). In such cases - that is, a basic mobility product, with guaranteed local service - online or long-distance providers can provide a very value-oriented purchase.

Knowing What You're Getting
The caveat is to know the risks that you're taking when considering purchasing a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider - that is, knowing what value you're truly getting for your money. To weigh the cost versus value befits of purchasing a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider, you should consider two fundamental questions:

Do I fully understand exactly what I need in a power wheelchair, and are my needs basic?
If you're unsure of your needs, and/or the power wheelchair that you need is advanced in its electronics, seating, and features, then you'll unquestionably get the best value with a local provider where your needs can be fully assessed and met in person (and, as a rule, it's only recommended that you purchase an advanced rehab power wheelchair from a local provider).

Does the online or long distance-provider have the ability to properly service my power wheelchair over the long-term, in-person?
If the answer is, no - or, unclear - then there's tremendous risk toward a purchase of value. Eventually every power wheelchair needs service, and if you purchase one from an online or long-distance provider who has no ability or intention to warranty or service your wheelchair, it entirely compromises your ownership and mobility. However, if an online or long-distance provider can offer both a terrific price and in-person service, then there is value to the purchase.

Trying to Take the Middle Road
Of, course, you may be wondering, if I purchase a wheelchair online or via long-distance, why can't I just take it to a local provider for adjustments, service, or warranty work? In some cases, you can, but with tremendous added cost and complications. For example, if you purchase a power wheelchair from a local provider, most adjustments and service calls are included with the purchase price. However, if you call a local provider to come adjust or service a wheelchair that you purchased online or from another provider, the local provider will charge you, from service time, to adjustments, to repair work (namely because they didn't sell you the original wheelchair, and thereby have no obligations to service it as typically included with a purchase). Additionally, it's the policy of some providers to only service wheelchairs that they sold, so even if you're willing to pay for local service, it can be hard to obtain for a power wheelchair purchased via an online or long-distance provider.

Knowledge is Power
When it comes to self-funding a power wheelchair, getting the lowest purchase price should absolutely be a consideration - it's simply wise. However, value should never be sacrificed solely for a lower cost. If you're considering purchasing a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider, do so with caution and knowledge. Fully understand the service risks of buying a power wheelchair via an online or long-distance provider, and if you choose to go that route, make sure that you do so understanding the limitations or by verifying that local, in-person, long-term service support is in place. Of course, local providers will often negotiate on cash sales, so aggressively comparison shopping near where you live, as well, striving to obtain both a great price and local service.

As this began, there's cost, then there's value - and they're not always one in the same when it comes to purchasing a power wheelchair. When paying cash, out of pocket, of course it's smart to analyze cost savings. However, if you're really wise, you won't overlook value in the transaction, either.  Online or long-distance purchases may promise the best cost, but it's your goal to analyze the best value.

Published 1/09, Copyright 2009,