Wal-Mart launches build-to-order PC effort

Wal-Mart launches build-to-order PC effort

-- They sell just about everything else, so why not built-to-order PCs?

US retail king Wal-Mart last week began offering custom-configured PCs on its Wal-Mart Online Web site.

The computers, sold under the Avail brand name, are powered by Intel processors and come with a one-year warranty on parts and labour, the company said. The units are available in tower, desktop and laptop models.

"We believe this is what our customers are looking for," said Wal-Mart spokesman Bryan Holmberg. "What we're finding is that by the time someone comes to Wal-Mart Online for a computer, they have typically owned three to four PCs before this and know what they're looking for. Because they already know what they want, our offering of custom-configured PCs allows them to get it at a lower price point and more quickly than some of the other retailers."

For a desktop PC, Wal-Mart includes an Intel Celeron 266MHz microprocessor, Windows 98, 16MB of SDRAM, 3.2GB hard drive, internal 32-speed CD-ROM drive, 512KB cache, floppy drive and a 14in. SVGA colour monitor.

Dan Kunstler, an analyst at JP Morgan Securities said Wal-Mart is targeting home users with its new build-to-order scheme. Rather, he said, the retailer is hoping to attract consumers focused more on price than on brand names and service.

Other direct PC vendors, such as Gateway and Dell, have little to worry about in terms of competition, he added, because they tend to attract users who are looking for slightly higher-performing PCs.

These shoppers also demand established brand names and proven service and are willing to pay more to get what they want.

The challenge for Wal-Mart will be to convince shoppers to log on and buy a big-ticket item such as a PC online, Kunstler said. "They're going to have to do some brand-image management to get the message out that this is something they can sell and support" if they're going to succeed in this niche, he said.

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