Dell’s Consumer Debacles Continue

I’ve remarked before that Dell should rethink its strategic priorities. It doesn’t have the depth and breadth — not to mention the prodigious resources — of a Hewlett-Packard (HP).

If Dell is to succeed, it will have to focus on a specific set of customers in defined markets. The company needs to stop trying to be all things to all people. That just isn’t working.

I think Dell should place more of its bets on SMB and enterprises markets, and that it should begin withdrawing resources from the consumer space. Just as Microsoft is hopelessly tone deaf when it comes to understanding consumers, Dell is similarly out of tune and out of touch.

Dell’s disconnect with consumers doesn’t just relate to its brand, or to its marketing prowess, or to the fashionability and design of its products relative to those of its competitors. The problems run deeper than that. At a fundamental level, Dell is attitudinally and philosophically maladjusted for the consumer space. To make matters worse, the condition is chronic and seemingly permanent.

How many times have we read or heard about the company’s ham-fisted dealings with exasperated consumers? Well, add several more instances to the list, as a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal demonstrates. (For additional flavor, read the comments that accompany the story.) A blog post at the New York Times echoes the frustrations of customers who placed their orders with and trust in Dell.

As many of you might have heard, we just experienced the holiday season. Typically, that’s a period where people buy gifts, including computers and consumer electronics, for their family and close friends. You would think that Dell, as a putative purveyor of consumer products, would understand the seasonal demand and the consumer expectations that come with it. But you would be wrong. Dell apparently has no clue.

The WSJ story recounts that many would-be Dell customers made orders well in advance of the holidays — sometimes months ago — only to be dismayed as delivery of their goods was repeatedly delayed, sometimes beyond the holiday period.

Quoting disaffected Dell customers from the WSJ story:

“I ordered an Inspiron 17 on NOVEMBER 28, supposedly to be delivered on Dec 14. Just checked the status page, and it has been delayed for the fourth time and now not set to deliver until JANUARY 7, 2010!,” wrote one customer.

Said another: “I haven’t received a single email from Dell, either proactively about the delays or in response to the two emails I have sent…Some people here report problems cancelling orders. I can’t even get in touch with anyone to be able to talk about cancelling mine!”

Dell didn’t respond to a request for comment. But on its blog, Dell blamed the delays on increased demand for computers and an inability to get the appropriate components from suppliers.

Perhaps I’m being unreasonable, but shouldn’t Dell, as a consumer-serving PC company, have anticipated consumer demand for its computers? Other PC vendors seem up to that task. And shouldn’t Dell have ensured that it had an adequate supply of components at hand? Why market and sell PCs if you have no means of, you know, actually assembling them and getting them to customers? It’s unconscionable, and it provides further evidence of why Dell needs to get its consumer house in order or get the hell out of it before it burns down.

The WSJ story, written by Ben Worthen, ends with this paragraph:

In the current blog post dated December 17, Dell offered to send people who were waiting for computers intended as Christmas gifts a holiday card to stick under the tree instead. That didn’t go over so well. The first response: “Thanks Dell my son will be so thrilled to receive his holiday card instead of his netbook, you really came through this time!!”

A holiday gift card, at Christmas, instead of a computer? This is a company that just doesn’t get it.

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