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Dell Rethinking the Direct-Sales Market 278

Dell has always sold directly to consumers via their web site and phone operations; it's a basic element of their business. Chairman and chief executive Michael Dell is now conceding that the company may need to rethink basic practices by considering alternative methods of selling their products. While initially no specifics are given, the thought seems to be than eventually the company will begin working with a retail chain. "Dell's direct model came under pressure as the market for PCs shifted to notebooks from desktops last year. It is harder to custom configure notebook computers, so they had to be manufactured in advance, which lost Dell some of its cost advantage. In addition, consumers were showing a preference for touching and feeling a notebook PC before buying it."
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Dell Rethinking the Direct-Sales Market

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  • by Darundal ( 891860 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @07:42PM (#18922285) Journal
    ...considering how your average Dell customer is probably not the most tech literate, might have boogeyman type issues with buying something online, and might not have a Dell booth at a mall near them.
  • Dell's slide... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by raydobbs ( 99133 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @07:56PM (#18922373) Homepage Journal
    Coming from someone who used to work at a retailer who serviced machines - Dells are the WORSE. The quality of their product has gone downhill ever since the late ninties - and now are just horseshit. Specialized cheap hardware with crappy support. They reap what they sew in this case. People have stopped shopping with Dell not because they are direct-to-customer - they have stopped because the product is poor, and there are better alternatives now.
  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Sunday April 29, 2007 @07:59PM (#18922387) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, I find it really odd that while the rest of the world seemingly moved on, Dell still makes laptops that are vaguely reminiscent of plumbing fixtures.

    Squarish corners, clean, straight lines, and monotone color schemes are in; Dell's laptops all cheap and plasticky compared to Apple's or IBM/Lenovo's. In particular, the two-tone color scheme they seem to like just emphasizes the seams in the case, rather than minimizing them like a single color (white, black, silver -- doesn't really matter) would. And round corners say 'toy' while square ones say 'tool,' which I think is something they ought to be going for.

    What's particularly odd is that although (at least in the black color), the better IBM/Lenovo laptops really haven't changed too much in external appearance over the years -- their styling is pretty consistent -- Dell's somehow end up looking more "dated," even though they've presumably been designed more recently.
  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:03PM (#18922399) Homepage Journal
    I hate-hate-hate the Toshiba inverted upside down "L" enter key. It's impossible to work with. So, I stay away from *all* Toshiba laptops online, because I don't have the tactile in-person guarantee that I will find their keyboard acceptable.

    I'm pretty sure that's not just a Toshiba thing, or at least they didn't really invent it. I used to have a Panasonic electric typewriter (one of the very late, high-speed, daisy-wheel ones) that had the same thing. I was never clear on what its purpose was, or if it was a Japanese thing or a legacy of some older typewriter keyboard. (Oddly enough, though, modern Panasonic computers such as the Toughbooks don't have it.)
  • by Rob.Mathers ( 527086 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:16PM (#18922487) Homepage
    While you list valid issues with laptops vs. desktop, a lot of consumers just don't care that much. Computers have become a commodity good, and people toss them aside as such. It doesn't matter if it dies in 2 years, because by then people want the latest and greatest anyways, and when you can get one that does everything you need for well under a grand, a lot of people won't hesitate to get a new one, whether or not it's the most economical and efficient thing to do.

    I think standardisation of laptop parts isn't that likely to happen any time soon, mostly due to hesitance on the part of the manufacturers. They use those non-standard parts to squeeze the most they can into tiny spaces, and differentiate themselves from their competitors, since they can't do so on features very much. Why pay more for Lenovo's build quality if it's the exact same parts as HP's, or why pay more for Sony's design if the cases are available elsewhere? (examples obviously)
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:24PM (#18922541)
    Whenever sales go into the crapper, it's every direct-model vendor's sworn duty to look at "the channel". I can't tell you how many times Dell's announced that they'll do right by "the channel" who uniformly hates Dell's very existence for sins over two decades. Dell's advertisements dissed "the channel", and each time Dell tried to bolster sales by stuffing alternate channels with product, the price dropped out like a rock, no one made any money, and Dell got a nice looking quarter to report to Wall Street. Yet people fall for it every time.

    It's like the Look-Mikey Uses Linux PR that so many swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

    Dell was built on direct sales. They do it very well. They found that they can't do support out of India for domestic North American consumption, and so their costs are up. Once again, they'll have to squeeze somebody to make their quarter look good to Wall Street. Guess who it is this time.
  • by JoshDM ( 741866 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:31PM (#18922579) Homepage Journal
    Every time I call Dell service, I get some guy who requests a number from my PC.


    Actually, I did buy a PC on my account, but I bought it for my parents and it is 7 states away.

    So when I call in for technical support for my monitors, one of which had a short circuit last weekend, it takes at least an hour to even begin actioning the call. I have to explain that this is in no way related to the computer that I don't actually OWN, and it relates to DELL monitors that are not associated with a DELL computer in any way, shape or form.

    It was like pulling teeth. They did replace the monitor though; with one that has a large line of dead pixels straight down the middle. So they're replacing that one too. :( And once you open up an action, they won't stop calling you with updates. And the guys on the other end are telling you to "wait 5 minutes" and then you say "Ok" and they tell you to "wait 5 minutes" and you agree and they tell you to "wait 5 minutes" and then you say "I will wait 5 minutes" and then they finally put you on hold.

    Pain in the ass.
  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:43PM (#18922639)
    Around here, they have Dell kiosks in the mall to showcase their products. Sort of like the sony stores. You can go an touch and see a Dell, and then order it up and it gets delivered to your door.

    Its good marketing. Even if the kiosks never actually sell a unit, just having them out there will give the 'i wanna touch it' crowd that security so they can go home and order online with confidence -- and hey I'm not mocking them, I am in that crowd. You really have to feel a laptop to determine its weight, get a sense of its build quality, feel the keyboard and trackpad, evaluate screen viewing angle, brightness etc.

    Plus it strengthens the brand recognition, and can put a human face on the transaction.

    All these things benefit Dell.
  • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @08:47PM (#18922665) Homepage
    Let's not forget the fact that while Dell laptops are oftentimes nice machines, their enclosures are hideous, clunky pieces of plastic that can't hold a candle to Thinkpads or Macbooks.

    I have never seen a Dell machine that has made me think 'I have to have one of those'. I suspect that the laptops are designed to sell in bulk to corporate customers rather than stand on their own merits.

    I certainly would not buy a laptop from a company with the customer service reputation Dell has acquired of late.

    Laptops I have seen that I liked are the upmarket Apple models and the Thinkpad X60. For some reason nobody really seems to have gone after the PC market with design cues as strong as Apple's. Sony have come close at times but my experience is that their stuff is fragile.

    In the desktop area everyone I know buys Dell because they are the cheapest brand offering an acceptable level of reliability. I bought my son a machine for $500 including the flat panel monitor. Thats much cheaper than the previous one I built for him myself.

    Main problem with the Dell's is that they are horribly noisy. This is not something that reviewers think worth a mention for some reason. And when you do find comments they can be useless. If you look at any of the bulletin boards for reviews of high end machines there is always a post from some poor slob who claims to have invested his college fund in an Alienware or the like which came in the wrong shade of green and they took two years to fix it attached to the very latest model.

    The PC market seems to be dominated by the DIY aesthetic. Real men don't buy ready made machines. They buy the parts and fit them together. Time is a much more scarce resource for me than money and I don't want a machine that looks like a kit. Thats probably why people by the Voodoo elemental, they just get fed up having to explain to people that they don't need to save $500 building the machine themselves from parts so they drop $3500 having a $7000 machine gold plated. I bought the baseline BAM model and told the wife how much I saved by not going for the 'gold plated' edition, she still thinks it was a figure of speech. Good thing she doesn't read either Slashdot or the Amex bill.

  • by SleepyHappyDoc ( 813919 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @09:05PM (#18922781)
    That's a nice little anecdote. Unfortunately, everyone in the world isn't you, and as such, some people may have differing computer needs. I edit high definition video...a PII-266 wouldn't cut it, nor would your new AMD64 3200+. It's worth it for someone like me to buy a new computer every six months..the tech is advancing fast enough that the latest CPU will be a noticeable upgrade (quad core made a heck of a difference over dual core from six months earlier, for video editing), and the old machine can still find a nice home in a cluster for rendering the effects.
  • Well, sure ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday April 29, 2007 @09:43PM (#18923021)
    In addition, consumers were showing a preference for touching and feeling a notebook PC before buying it.

    No kidding ... if you buy a desktop system and decide you don't like the keyboard or mouse you just replace them with something better. Don't like the keyboard or pointing device on your laptop? Just replace the whole laptop with something better.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 29, 2007 @09:47PM (#18923049)
    > requests a number from my PC.

    Ahhh the service tag trick. Dell has been pulling that ridiculous stunt for years. We've had quite a few employees give-up when trying to get Dell to replace garbage hardware when they demand the service tag for hardware that doesn't have a service tag. The Indians always play that game so that they don't actually have to do anything. I think they're judged on the amount of money they cost Dell so they try very hard to not do their job. Dell has not accountability so their employees get away with this type of thing.

    Most recently I bought ten 20" widescreen monitors from Dell. $219 each was too much for me to resist. Of course less than half worked out of the box. The Dell moron played the "but I need the service tag to do an RMA game." I finally wore them down after about two dozen phone calls, and then I got tripped-up when they asked for the model number of the monitors. It is not on the monitor! There is no model number. The model # listed on the invoice and the box is E207WFP, but they don't use that number internally. So now you have to play the service tag game along with the model number game. I'm still fighting them over getting the six monitors replaced. As always, any money you save by buying the Dell garbage is more than wasted when they screw you over.

It seems intuitively obvious to me, which means that it might be wrong. -- Chris Torek