Losing My Way on Dell.com < How the Retailer Still Confuses the Buyer

Losing My Way on Dell.com < How the Retailer Still Confuses the Buyer

So a few days after Christmas Dell began pushing YEAR END DEALS. Exclusive, of course. And a few days ago, of course there were NEW BETTER FASTER CHEAPER DEALS for 2012! And I’m sure in the next day or so I will get Dell’s WEEKEND OVERSTOCK BLOWOUT. But is all this urgency adding up to additional sales? Or does the flood of coupons and exclusive screaming promotions actually fatigue the customer?

Dell has made a business out of dropping the price war quickly to the bottom of the pile and forcing everyone else to follow or perish. But today, as most of us have computers and are looking to understand what we want to buy next (tablet, huge flatscreen computer/tv, faster laptop) the urgency that Dell tries to light under the sale of the moment sort of works against them. If Dell is the Walmart of computers, Low Prices Everyday, how do they expect us to believe that the deal that is just around the corner (Valentine’s Day Special, Easter Egg Surprise, Spring Break Blowout) is not going to be THAT much better than the offer I am being hammered with here at the beginning of 2012.

And their website is still one of the most poorly-designed and overly complex ecommerce sites on the web. Yes, HP and Best Buy do better than Dell. Try this experiment go to Dell.com and search for a laptop to buy. Go ahead, just do it, I’ll wait.

Let me show you what I get when I try to find the computer that’s right for me on Dell.com.

The brand confusion on Dell.com could drive potential customers away

The cow path begins here. Am I a Small Office (1-9 employees) or a Small Business? And if I go down one cow path how do I know I won’t get better pricing down one of the other cow paths? The answer is YOU DON’T. And so, IF you are shopping for a Dell, you have to go independantly down both cow paths and build an excel spreadsheet to try and keep track of the processor, memory, pricing structures Dell offers at various discount or business levels. Do you think you as a small business will get the same discounted pricing as say, the Federal Government? I didn’t think so.

Okay, so let’s choose a cow path, Small Office:

The computers are buried under deals and navigation and crap

So with a fairly large screen I don’t even get the computers yet! That’s a bad sign. Srolling down I get:

The brand confusion on Dell.com could drive potential customers away

If you’ve gotten this far you are now given Dell’s classic GOOD, BETTER, BEST sales pitch. Let’s see if we can ferret out the advantages of each BRAND within Dell’s Brand. VOSTRO = BUDGET. LATITUDE = BEST IN CLASS BUSINESS. PRECISION = POWERHOUSE.

What happened to Laptops, Netbooks & Tablets? That’s the tab I clicked on. And, by-the-way, my friend has an Inspiron that’s pretty cool. Where are those? And isn’t there something called a Studio? I’ve seen those, with the cool colored covers.

So we’ve gotten pretty far down the rabbit hole (or cow path) at this point. Three BRANDS shown, with marginal advantages, though I can see the price difference of the cheapest models of THREE of the FIVE brands. I’m a bit confused about where the Inspiron and Studio are listed. But I’m going to make a guess about what I want anyway. I’ve heard of Latitude, and it looks like the mid-level pricing I’m interested in. Here’s the next page:

Dell's Latitude Page is so confusing, you don't even see computers on the first screen

Um, okay Dell, you’ve failed to get your product above the fold on the products page? On the Latitude page I don’t see any Latitudes yet? GRRRR! (As a consumer I’m already a bit fatigued by too many choices. Do I know what kind of processor I need. Intel is Intel right, Core vs Duo vs Celeron?

Okay so let’s scroll down and see if our choices get easier. (Are you ready for this?)

Okay first grouping is Business. Yep, that’s me. Okay there are two different lines with $3 difference in their starting price. And 4-stars vs 3.5 stars. Okay, keep scrolling down.

Full-featured is kind of a funny grouping isn’t it? Do you wonder what features were left out of the ones above? Or what new features were added to make them full instead of partial? I wonder, and I be the consumer, trying to make a smart decision, wonders too. Okay, so the starting price on these has a $40 difference between them. I wonder what’s the big difference?

Now, holding those four sub-brands of Dell’s Latitude Brand, let’s go down again, to the next grouping.

Ah, something called ULTRA-MOBILE. Okay, Tablet, good. and Really Expensive Laptop and Less Really Expensive Laptop. Do you think they have all the full-features of the laptops above them? Now I’ve got 7 Latitude sub-brands. And there’s yet one more scroll down and one more grouping.

Okay, well at least these are easy to rule out for my needs. Remember I’m a small office now, with 1 – 9 employees. What is the likelihood that I am looking for a Starting Price of $2,300 and $4,500 respectively? Sure they’re ruggedized and all, but at those prices I could by 4 of the computers in the top grouping. And these bring the Latitude Brand a total of NINE sub-brands.

So let’s do the math for a second.

Latitude X 9 Latitude sub-brands PLUS
Vostro X 7 Vostro sub-brands PLUS
Precision X 2 Precision sub-brands PLUS
XPS X 4 XPS sub-brands (the XPS wasn’t even listed on the main laptop page)
EQUALS 22 Latitude Branded Laptops to choose from. AND THIS IN ONLY IN THE SMALL “OFFICE” PRICING. I’ve got to repeat the process in SMALL “BUSINESS” PRICING to make sure I’m getting the best price.

And if I go looking for the other two brands that I know Dell has I can add a few more models to my crowded lineup.

Inspiron X 9 Inspiron sub-brands (which somehow include XPS naming on them as well)
Studio X (Oh, it looks like the Studio has been removed from Dell’s Brands. But it still shows up in some searches)

Dell's Studio Laptops are gone, but still show on the website

But never fear, we’ve got one more Brand to roll into your options.

Dell owns Alienware but can't keep their products off Dell.com

So looking like a brand from another planet, Dell can’t seem to keep Alienware machines off Dell.com. So the UBER-brand becomes a sub-brand on Dell.com and offers 4 more laptops for your consideration. Bringing our grand total of Dell Laptop Brands/Sub-Brands to a remarkable 35 systems.

And if you can figure out how to cross compair all those options and models across one cow path (Small Office for example) you will probably want to do some searching down the HOME and the SMALL BUSINESS cow paths to make sure you are not missing a great offering, or maybe even yet another sub-brand.

And the real issue behind cleaning up Dell’s online store is this. Dell’s divisions compete with each other for business. That means the Latitude group is competing for contracts with the Vostro group. And it’s even more complicated by the matrix of business size too. So SMALL OFFICE is competing with SMALL & MEDIUM business for your business. And the Latitude team within SMALL OFFICE is sort of competing with the SMALL BUSINESS Latitude team.

And somewhere at the top, at the top of the top, Dell believes this is the way YOU like to shop for computers. That the deals put forward by each TEAM and each Business Segment will cause you one way or anther to buy a Dell. And at the top, Dell just wants to sell you a computer, so divisions and brands be damned, if it’s good for Dell it’s good for the consumer.

One last note: When I first joined the Dell team, I was inspired by a post on Dell’s new blog by the VP at the time, Manish Mehta. Where he wrote a very inspiring post about how Dell currently Concrete’s the Cow Path and forces consumers to pick their path before even deciding what they are looking. And his “vision” was to breakdown the pathways to purchase and give Dell.com a unified approach to pricing and buying computers. And if coupons compete with coupons on Dell.com, and Latitude “buys” better web page positioning than Precision, well, what’s the problem with that. It’s best for the buyer, because each team is forced to create better and better deals.

Manish is now the head of Social Media at Dell, and the cow paths are still well-concreted. I wish I could offer the solution, but in the 2 years that I was inside Dell, I didn’t see more than a theoretical strategy to level the silos and allow the Dell.com shopper to get one deal across the board. Sure there will be vertical sites, and contract deals that go offsite, but the current solution is not a solution it’s a morass.

I could tell Dell-ios to look at Apple’s brand strategy, but they already do. And they will argue (I heard it every time) “But Dell is not in the same business as Apple.”  Heck, who am I to say the concrete cow paths are not working for Dell?

UPDATE 1-6-12: Here is the post-Christmas, post-New Years, post-first 2012 weekend, Dell emailed deal. Again, do you spot a problem with this layout?
Dell's post-holiday deals

Two main problems with this ad. 1. The product is off the page on a large format screen (all you can see is the desktop). 2. The picture is of a desktop computer, the most dead of the dead computer categories there is. (The generic laptop is offscreen in the photo.) I wonder if the Optiplex division paid for the ad. Next thing you know, Dell is going to start promoting “free shipping” as the offer.

So does this ad inspire you to “Don’t Miss Out” ? Do you think Dell could be a little more aspirational in it’s ads? Have you had enough DEALS and COUPONS from Dell? I guess you could let them know via Twitter at @dellcares . If you care, that is.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth

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