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Joel on Software

Why Dell.com Still Feels Like Buying a Used Car

by Joel Spolsky
Monday, July 31, 2006

A looong time ago I complained that “Dell doesn't think like their users think. When you go to their website, the first question they ask is what kind of buyer you are: home, small business, large business, etc. I don't know what I am!”

They've never stopped trying to segment their customers. They seem to know that people hate it. Today on their corporate blog (where, I daresay, you'll never see comments about politics), they brag about their new homepage design. They mention the three things that everyone told them they needed to fix, and number 3 was that whole segmentation business. Quoting Dell:

We still ask you to identify what 'segment' you best represent.

Why? Just show me all the products you offer and let me decide . . .

Seems like a fairly easy thing to do… Can't be that hard, right?

Unfortunately, it is a bit more complicated than just changing links. When you call Dell on the phone we have specific phone numbers depending on your customer type. This way we can offer you the right product, the best solutions & accessories, and the proper warranty/services coverage for your system.

We think this creates greater value by providing information that is relevant to your specific needs.

This business about creating "greater value" is a bit of a whitewash. We all know exactly what's going on. They're trying to charge business customers more. That's all there is to it. It's Pricing 101. Camels and Rubber Duckies. Please don't make up stories about how you're offering us the right system. Somehow Apple and IBM/Lenovo have been happy to sell computers on the Internet to people without needing to know their "customer type."

The reason this pisses people off is that nobody likes to feel like they're getting ripped off. You feel less ripped off buying a way-overpriced Apple MacBook Pro because everyone else is paying the same price, and Apple is hardcore about not letting any dealers sell it for less.

Whenever we buy servers from Dell, even though they eventually offer us a price that beats the competition, we still have to spend a week or two negotiating, gathering competitive bids, etc. By the time we place our order the price we pay is about 20% to 30% less than the price advertised on the web, and we're still not sure if we could have paid less.

Bottom line: I'd love to just order the damn servers from their website, clicking on the links to configure it. Dell would have my money sooner and wouldn't have to pay any sales people to talk to me on the phone. But you've trained me to negotiate every time if I don't want to pay the sucker price, so now I have no choice.

Unfortunately, this is obviously a decision that starts all the way at the top, and the poor designers working on fixing the website clearly don't have the authority to change the way Dell does business.


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