Dell Computers coming to a Wal-Mart near you

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The electronics section at your local super store may soon become even more cluttered and difficult to navigate. In a recent interview with CRN, Micheal Dell explained that the company he founded will soon begin selling computers in retail locations worldwide. As any nerd will explain with much wide-eyed giddiness, this move will not prove beneficial to the consumer and will likely make things worse.

For those of you who have followed Dell through its 23-year history, you already know that Dell pioneered the direct computer sales model now in use by every major manufacturer. Over the years Dell has become less of a leader in the industry it created, and it has slipped to No. 2 in worldwide sales of computers (though it still holds the No. 1 spot in the United States).

You may have noticed that Dell has been slowly adding kiosks called &uot;Dell Direct Stores&uot; in malls where dapper blue-shirted employees push their wares on people who are really just looking for a new pair of shoes. I spoke with one of the Dell Direct employees and asked out of curiosity how business was in the mall. He reported that they were doing quite well and seemed as surprised to be reporting such news as I was to hear it. I simply couldn’t imagine walking into a mall in search of a new computer, let alone actually purchasing a new machine there. After all,

purchasing a new computer requires a careful assessment of your needs, doesn’t it? It should.

Retail locations are the worst possible place to shop for computers. Employees of these super stores can never be trained to answer even the most basic of questions a consumer would ask about his computer purchase. Comparison shopping is pointless when there are only a few other machines in store to compare to, all with middling components at best. It would be like comparing a red Ford Tempo with white trim to a black Ford Tempo with silver trim: Neither one is worth buying, and both will leave you unsatisfied. In most cases, computers sold in super stores are to be avoided like the under-warrantied, under-supported, crapware laden machines that they are.

Despite remaining strong in overall sales figures, one area that Dell has always been weak in is channel or &uot;solution provider&uot; sales. There are many reasons Dell hasn’t invested much time into solution providers, ranging

from the time and effort needed to maintain a dedicated division to support them, to the fact that they will always maintain higher profit margins when selling directly to customers (solution providers often pass their discounts on to their customers). After years of neglect the providers are now receiving some much-needed attention. At the same time as its new retail push, Dell has indicated that it is putting more of its internal resources into channel sales and services. My own company has been a solutions provider with Dell for many years now, and we are experiencing first-hand the changes Dell is making in its handling of resellers. We’re seeing better pricing than ever before, better sales tools and higher levels of customer service from our account team at Dell. I have a feeling that Dell moving into the retail sector – while it may sell a few more computers – will not help the company or the industry move forward.

Solutions providers can provide customers with unbiased recommendations and answer the complicated questions that today’s savvy users are asking. Ask a Wal-Mart employee how much RAM Windows Vista requires to run the Aero

interface, then wait for the sound of crickets chirping. It’s not their fault, though; they have never been trained to answer these questions. Most retail store employees cannot advise you on how to set up a wireless network either – a common question that we answer as solution providers. Those are just a few examples of how you can’t get the service you need at a retail location.

Yet Dell is moving forward in this arena. It will sell its low-end machines next to other low-end machines. It will offer variations of monitors and features, but none of them will come with a great warranty or state-of-the-art components. Send Dell a message and buy its computers – through any method but retail sales. Show Dell that consumers demand service and information in order to make a smart decision when buying a new computer. Send the message that cheaper isn’t better – and that just because it is easier to buy a machine from Wal-Mart doesn’t mean you will.

Scott Carter is CEO of United Networks, a computer sales and consultation company located in Franklin.