Friday, May 25, 2007
Back to Retail for Dell
Dell announced today that they will be selling several PC models in Wal-Mart stores. It's a very interesting development, not only because Dell is so well-known for its direct business model, but also because Dell did not succeed when it tried to sell PCs in the retail channel back in the early 1990s. What's the challenge for Dell as it tries to sell through retailers? It goes back to why many traditional PC makers had difficulty imitating Dell's direct business model. The two ways of doing business (selling through retail and selling direct) are somewhat incompatible with one another. Selling through retailers means producing and distributing large volumes of standardized products. Selling direct means producing customized PCs on demand. The processes and activities required for each business model are quite different. It's easier for a firm to completely optimize on one business model, rather than trying to operate two models simultaneously in the same corporation. That's one reason why Dell did so well in the 1990s, while IBM, Compaq, and others struggled to launch their direct businesses while still selling through value-added resellers and retailers. Dell was a "pure play" - those often trump firms that find themselves "straddling" between two somewhat incompatible business models. Hewlett-Packard ultimately figured out how to make the two models work together - now Dell must learn the same if they wish to succeed in the retail channel.