(Setup: after writing a post that was critical of Dell’s branding strategy, I was asked by a friend who is still at Dell, “So how would you fix it, Mr. Mac?” This post is my FIRST response. Turns out they wanted to know more about my idea. “This is not a complete solution and you know it. You worked here.” SECOND post coming up, shortly.)
Back in the day I used to propose these types of simplifications to Dell while I was employed by them. They didn’t listen. In fact the VP in charge of this “cow path” structure alerted my manager when I requested a coffee with him. Here is Manish Mehta’s post from July 7, 2006 on the, then new, Direct-to-Dell blog. Un-concreting the Cow Path (INTERESTING NOTE: You will find the 4th comment on the blog to be from one, Andy Lark, who was to become the CMO of Dell after Mr. Mark Jarvis crashed and burned.)
So Dell no longer solicits my advice. But I think I know a little bit about Dell and branding and online sales. And waaaaaay back in the day, I even suggested Dell get into the ecommerce space before anyone knew what ecommerce was. We were building the initial unified structure for dell.com. So you could say I’ve been working on Dell.com my entire career, with varying degrees of success. They didn’t listen at that point either. Even so, a year later Dell.com was the largest ecommerce website in the world. Oh well, I can say, “I was there.” And that’s about it.
Jump cut to 2012. I have written a few pieces critical of the Dell.com architecture in the past. Most recently I broke down Dell’s dizzying array of computer “lines” or “brands” and how there are more than 35 different models of Dell laptops to choose from. (Losing my Way on Dell.com) I think that number of options is overwhelming to visitors of Dell.com. And then add the “cow path” pricing and deal searching and you could easily spend all day trying to find the best deal and the computer that you really want on Dell.com. This “might” have something to do with why Apple’s market share grew 10% in Q4 2011, while every other major manufacturer’s share dropped.
(IDC, Bloomberg News, 2012)
So here is my idea to simplify Dell.com and finally get to a UNIFIED PRICING structure on Dell.com. It is fine to put a 2nd BUSINESS or CONTRACT specific site up for all the vertical markets that Dell needs to cater to. But let the buyer choose what they want then give them the BEST PRICE. No matter what “path” they go down, give the end consumer the SAME PRICE. Today it’s like used car shopping. You go down one “path” get a price for an Inspiron. Go down another path get a price for a similar Vostro. And finally go down a third path and get a price on a Latitude. And that’s if you don’t want to compare all the options. You can’t get the same configuration or price twice in thirty minutes.
Now, there will be many complaints about my concept of eliminating the cow path. And nothing will happen on Dell.com. And I will go on trying to figure out how so many really smart people continue to make such huge mistakes. The answer is much simpler than the hierarchy of power that exists in Dell’s matrix organizational structure. And a proposal like this is heretical. I would be, and was, labeled a “loose cannon” and my Dell career trajectory would be redirected towards the exit.
My sincerest hope for Dell’s continued success does not prevent me from speaking out when I see something that does not make sense. I remember one morning when I saw Dell’s NEW BRAND the “Studio.” I asked the Director over me, “Can you please explain to me what the Studio has that the Inspiron does not, and why are we adding yet ANOTHER brand to the consumer market?” She never answered me. The Studio line is now gone. Good move Dell. You’ve only got 4 more product lines to go.
Disclaimer: I was not paid, am not paid, in any way for my opinions or advice on Dell.com. I worked at Dell from 2007 to 2009 and I loved most of that time.
- Apple Macs Land on More Corporate Desks, January 18, 2012 (Wall Street Journal)
- Un-concreting the Path on Dell.com (Direct to Dell Blog, July 7, 2006)