Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing

Dell Opens PC Showrooms, Walmart Offers PC Assembly in Store

Dell and Walmart, the World’s biggest computer manufacturer and overall biggest retailer respectively, have recently taken contrasting approaches to the selling of consumer computers.

The mainstream business media, such as Newsweek, are reporting that Dell will open its first retail stores, where users can try out Dell products. However, they will not be able to buy Dell machines there and then; they will still have to order online or on the phone. However, the new stores will provide kiosks where customers can place their orders.This development has drawn a mixed reaction from commentators. In particular, Mitch Ratcliffe at is especially critical of the move, suggesting that it will simply increase the number of cancelled orders.

The Dell strategy is interesting to compare with that of Walmart, which is planning to offer ‘self-assembly’ computer components in some of its U.S. retail outlets. Contractor UK, quoting Reuters, reported that:

“Wal-Mart Inc will stock more than one-third of its US-wide discount stores with central processing units, keyboards, monitors and mice so customers can ‘pick and choose’ their PC components.

Initial tests of build-your-own computer counters have already been completed in 20 stores across the US, making way for wider roll out to 1,200 of its 3,200 outlets.”

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Dell’s opening of two retail showrooms is connected to Walmart’s plans. However, the Walmart plan provides an interesting contrast: Dell retaining its centralised production while diversifying its sales channels, and Walmart diversifying production to the point of sale.

The make-in-store model has been shown to work in certain other products, for example Build-A-Bear’s soft toys. But computers are a different issue.

The first question that comes to mind is how newly-assembled PC’s will be tested in the store. After all, factory manufactured machines have to be tested and approved before shipping. Will a Walmart customer be expected to test the machine in the store? Or will the store-assembled machines be sold ‘as-is’? If it was only a case of selecting components like keyboards and monitors, this would not be as critical, since they would have been tested at the manufacturing stage. But to actually put CPU’s in cases in-store adds to the importance of pre-sale testing.
No doubt more information will emerge in the coming months. I’ll attempt to find out some more details myself and will post any more information that I can find.

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