Despite recent moves by PC vendors such as Compaq, IBM, Packard Bell and NEC to provide more direct sales channels, many US corporate buyers say they aren't ready to shop for computers themselves.
They say the built-in service and support they get from their resellers is easier to deal with.
Despite the hype surrounding the advantages of direct sales, Hildy Stover, vice president of information systems at Boston-based Arabella Mutual Insurance, said she remains unconvinced it is a better deal.
Proponents of direct sellers said their advantages include a quicker availability of product, generally lower prices and a direct connection to the manufacturer, which can custom-build and configure PCs to a buyer's liking.
Getting rid of the legwork
"We buy through [a systems integrator] that does a lot of the installation work for us, and we outsource more than that, including the service and maintenance of computers," Stover said.
Stover's sentiments were echoed by other corporate executives who now buy through resellers.
They said they like being able to go to one place to pick from many brands of PCs and peripherals, as well as service, support and timely price options.
"We find that this is more cost-effective and keeps the people we have internally more focused on what's important to us, which is keeping critical systems up and running and testing out new technology," Stover said.
"It's a mixed bag," said Jim Prevo, chief information officer at one US company.
He said he likes the idea of being able to order outside of a standard configuration, but he doesn't want to have to shop at several places for third-party products such as modems and monitors, which direct vendors offer in limited variety.
And although analysts say direct vendors such as Dell Computer can react more quickly to falling component prices with lower PC prices and don't have the costs of selling through the channel, both Prevo and Stover said their resellers are quick enough to respond to price cuts.
However, direct vendors do have other advantages. For example, Dell typically ships PCs to customers within three days of receiving an order, and vendors such as Compaq take up to two weeks to fulfil orders they receive through the channel.
To reduce this time lag, Compaq has announced a build-to-order program, but much of its line is still built based on forecasts.
"We go through a [reseller] and buy hardware, and I don't see a noticeable difference on our end" in areas such as price, hardware, performance and support, said Mike Bennett, a Scientific analyst.
But, because PC buying is easily outsourced, "it is just one less thing we have to worry about", Bennett said.