Analyzing The PC Vendors - InformationWeek

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11/26/2003
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Analyzing The PC Vendors

Hardware is a commodity, so it's price, service, and reliability that separate the PC suppliers on this list

If you've seen one PC, you've seen them all, right? Well, not exactly. It's true that PCs have reached a level of commoditization that makes it difficult for any one vendor to claim its systems are technically superior to another's. But vendors can make a difference when it comes to the whole PC experience, including the purchasing, usability, support, and management of desktop and notebook computers.

chartInformationWeek Research set out to learn firsthand from customers how their PC vendors stack up in critical areas such as price and performance, customer service, and reliability and quality. The Web-based Analyzing The PC Vendors study asked 875 business-technology professionals responsible for the purchase and evaluation of PCs to rank their vendors on nine criteria using a scale of 1, for not satisfied at all, to the extremely satisfied level of 10. The results show that users are generally satisfied. Vendors' scores are in the 7s and 8s on most of the criteria, although some dip to around 6. The survey also shows that while vendors are doing a pretty good job of meeting customer requirements in the all-important area of cost, they need to do a lot better job with customer service--or risk watching an increasingly disloyal customer base shift its business to a competitor.

It was a close call, but Dell takes top ranking in overall customer satisfaction for desktop PCs, followed by IBM and Hewlett-Packard. White-box vendors and Gateway tie for fourth place (other vendors were disqualified from the study because of low share among respondents). The results are the same for notebooks, except white-box vendors don't apply and Toshiba places fourth in front of Gateway. Dell's score of 8.2 in desktop price and performance--the highest score for a brand-name vendor in any category--is a strong factor in its overall ranking. Survey respondents say cost is the most important factor in choosing a PC vendor, followed by customer service, reliability and quality, proven technology, vendor and product reputation, and performance. Less important are service agreements, ease of administration, and advanced technologies.


Ed Wojciechowski -- Photo by Bob Stefko

Cost was an overriding factor for Menasha Corp., CIO Wojciechowski says.

Photo of Ed Wojciechowski by Bob Stefko
Cost was an overriding factor for Menasha Corp. when it decided to standardize on Dell PCs three years ago. "We see Dell as a total low-cost provider," says Ed Wojciechowski, CIO of the $1 billion-a-year holding company in the plastics and packaging industry. All of the company's 3,500 desktops and laptops are Dells. "The PC industry has made a tremendous leap forward in terms of delivering products to the desktop that work right out of the box," Wojciechowski says. "Dell has done a particularly good job of delivering our machines to us with our own software image already on the PC."

Superior cost and value have allowed Dell to hold onto its leading market share of 17.4%, though it's a slim lead over HP's 17.1%, followed at a greater distance by IBM with 5.9%, according to IDC research.

THE UPSHOT

PC buyers are generally satisfied with their vendors, awarding them scores in the 7s and 8s for most criteria on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely satisfied

Cost, customer service, and reliability rank as the top three criteria for PC purchases

Considering the importance of customer service, vendors need to do better at it or risk losing customers

Smaller companies report service problems with brand-name PC vendors, which appear to give priority to their large customers




The area PC vendors most need to shore up is customer service. That category, which incorporates product support and how well a vendor responds to service needs, ranks second only to cost as a deciding factor for PC purchases. Yet not one single vendor gets close to an 8, with scores ranging from 7.5 for Dell to 7.2 for both HP and Gateway. Online support and ordering average 6.9 for all vendors, while willingness and ability to collaborate with customers averages a mere 6.8. Clearly, communication and design collaboration are the weak spots in vendor-customer relationships. For notebooks, customer-service scores range from a high of 7.4 for IBM to 6.6 for Toshiba.

Customer support should be closely scrutinized when choosing a PC vendor, says Bruce Rice, senior network administrator for Parker Hannifin Corp.'s North American Pneumatic Division, a manufacturer of fluid power systems. "Most of the vendors are selling like products and are very competitive with pricing," he says. "Service and customer support are what make the difference." Poor customer support from Compaq (which has since merged with HP) drove Rice's division to standardize four years ago on Dell notebooks and desktops.

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