Friday, February 11, 2005

Dell and buying via the Internet

May 2004 - On the first day of my new job I arrived at my new office punctual at 9am. I met my new colleagues, and after a while someone asked: did we buy a computer for him? Hmmm. Apparently not. No worries: the CEO gave me his car keys and his debit card and he suggested I buy a computer myself. So by 10.30 I was on my way. Unfortunately the recommended store was in the middle of Amsterdam, so by the time I arrived and found a parking spot it was 11 o'clock. Then I was waiting in line for 20 minutes in the 'fast lane', just to hear that buying a laptop did not qualify for the fast lane. Waiting. Model not in stock. Go to other store. Drive. Park. Wait in line. Then finally got it: too bad the CEO's debit card wasn’t accepted, so I had to pay for it myself. Hmmm.

After a small while, I became responsible for purchasing new computers for our company and I started buying from Dell: no hassles, just order via their website, via e-mail or over the phone. The computers are usually delivered within 2 weeks, and they offer good value for money. So if you manage to look ahead for about 2 weeks it sounds like an ideal solution.

Then some patterns started to emerge. With almost every order there was a new account manager, because the previous one was either fired or promoted. With 6 purchases over the last 8 months I had 4 different account managers. All of them were trying to sell me the professional line of computers (Latitude and Optiplex) instead of the cheaper Inspirons and Dimensions. They gave a high discount, but it was still more expensive than the consumer line. When you ask them for the differences between both lines, you hear a lot of vagaries, nonsense, lies and only 1 possibly valid reason: the consumer models change more often, which could result in higher support costs. Is that really true? I don't know, but for our company (30 employees and growing) it's certainly not relevant. One thing is sure: the Dell sales reps get more commission when they sell Latitude and Optiplex.

Of the 4 sales reps, two were fairly good so they were promoted almost immediately. Two were different, but similar in that they:
- Lacked any technical competence
- Broke their promises frequently
- Lied outright more than once
- Talked so smooth that it was either scary or hilarious
They promised things like 'I will take care of it today' and 'it will be delivered by October 1', and of course that didn't happen. They tell you lies like 'we don't sell Inspiron to corporate accounts anymore' and 'you will qualify for buying on credit'. For 5 times in a row they submitted an unsuccessful request to buy on credit (taking a couple of days), while we were perfectly happy to pay up front.

Finally I was so disappointed with the Dell sales reps that I decided to order without human intervention: via the Internet! I entered my order and indicated that I wanted to pay up front. A couple of days later the account manager called me: the request to buy on credit was denied (?), and if I could resend my order directly to him via fax. Even buying via the Internet doesn't work with Dell, apparently.

The Dell website itself is an interesting case, though: on the one hand it's great that you can configure your systems online, but from a usability perspective there’s a lot that can be improved. And they don't seem to have made any real improvements in the last couple of years. At my company we've created a demo application with some ideas how an improved Dell shop could work. It’s not intended to be completely foolproof, but it offers an interesting new perspective. Especially drag-and-drop and the animated sort-functionality are highly appreciated. Now just wait until Dell realizes their website is out of date...


Blogger John said...

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6:06 PM  

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