Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Saturday, March 26, 2005 1:24 am
Sell your products properly already!
I have been buying my Apple stuff at the Apple Australia Online Store for 3 years now. The online store hasn’t changed much over the years, which says something about Apple — get something done right the first time, do it well, and stick with it. The purchasing experience has been excellent. Desktops over here, notebooks over here. iPods here. Software and accessories over there. Click add, customise, checkout. Free shipping. Easy. The images are clear, and consistent throughout the Apple website. The customise pages are short and to the point. Links point to the Apple product page. Over there years there have been some glitches. Once, there was a notebook/iPod deal that wasn’t publicised on the education website at all until days before the promotion ended. And once (so I’m told), the G5 specs were leaked onto the Apple Store site.

Apple has it relatively easy, making a very limited set of machines compared to the likes of Dell, HP/Compaq and so on. While the PC world has to state whether they are using Celeron or Pentium X/M or AMD chips, with such and such RAM, in a tower/compact tower/ desktop configuration and bundled with such and such monitor, with XP Home/Professional ± network card etc; Apple just says “eMac 1.25/40/256” or something. Simplicity personified.

That alone cannot explain the extraordinarily terrible layout of the Dell, HP/Compaq websites and online stores though. I recently bought a Dell 1905FP 19" LCD screen to go with a PowerBook G4 15". Excellent monitor at a relatively low price (at the time). The Dell website is fantastic in some ways — having e-voucher boxes to bring the buyer directly to a “great deal + benefits” offer advertised in a brochure or magazine advertisement. That’s an excellent idea I think. However, the rest of the online store is quite mediocre.

For one thing, the first option to choose on the front page, is Home, Small Business, or Medium/Large Business. Now, why does that matter to the consumer clicking on the front page? Sure maybe it’s relevant, but one can’t help but wonder if choosing one of the other options may reveal a better deal or lower price. I suppose Dell may be selling different products to different markets. But doesn’t that really just mean a different level of support, software bundle? Why should a “Home” user not be able to see the options a “Business” user has?

Anyway, at some point after clicking on the “Home & Home Office” link, a new pop-up window appears, and every link is a javascript, so the back button is a-bye-bye. Is this really necessary? It is such a pain to have to make a purchase in an environment where Dell controls the navigation. All this is aggravated by the plethora of options that Dell allows.

Thank goodness I wasn’t getting a Dell laptop. There are craploads of options. Oh, the options! I suppose the plethora of options are Dell’s strengths though. It must be my failing as a Macintosh user, to be overwhelmed by them.

The Dell/Windows mindset is clear in the Dell store. Note that the front page http://www.dell.com.au brings one directly to the Dell Store; probably emphasising that Dell’s modus operandi is direct online selling. It’s all odd and chaotic in design; with underlying order. It’s messy; but the prices change daily/weekly. It offers lots and lots of options, and somehow works despite that. I only wanted a simple LCD screen, and found what I wanted at a low price. No customisation needed. I was quite confident when actually typing my credit card details in. The monitor arrived safely. A-ok.

Now, I went to HP.com.au, just to have a look at their LCD monitor prices. HP looks like a real schizophrenic company. I know they sell stuff quite successfully at the Harvey Norman stores; but they also want an online store. It shows that the online store is not a big priority for them. The look is staid, and serious, just like their company; or their laser printers, which I love. Right at the first page they started to stratify their stuff as “Home” products or “Office” products. Now, if I wanted to see the RRP of the HP 23" LCD monitor, um… which did I want? I eventually correctly chose “Office”, deciding that HP’s rationale was that it probably costs a bomb, and surely no one in the “Home” market could afford it. Yea right…

This “Home/Office” distinction extended to the HP printers as well. “Home” revealing nice homely photo inkjets, and “Office” revealing hunky grunty double sided laser printers.

The 23" LCD link I clicked on, showed me the specs, but asked me whether I wanted to search for the local retailers, or whether I wanted to buy online. I clicked online, to find the RRP, but once I “entered” the store, so to speak, I couldn’t actually find the link to “Monitors”.

Further down the page there were Options, and Accessories. But no monitors. I gave up at that point.

Online purchasing is incredibly convenient, and has for many years been a mature reliable way of procuring products. It’s off-putting to see poorly laid out sites like HP’s. Many years ago, I started out using Outpost.com when it was still called Cyberian Outpost. Since then, purchases from America have become rare, since the Australian distribution of products is so much better now. The Australian online buying experience is excellent. Dell’s presence in the LCD, printer, PDA market will hopefully keep a downward pressure on technology prices.

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