Sony has begun a build-to-order PC business in Japan. The new service is an attempt to win customers away from major PC retailers and comes at a time of increasing competition in the local market.
Sony could make more money selling PCs directly to users than by selling them through retailers, senior product producer for IT and mobile solutions, Junji Tsuyiki, said. Currently, direct sales through Sony's website account for roughly half of all the PCs it sells in Japan.
The company hopes the new service will help it to boost that share, although it would not say by how much. The service, branded Vaio Owner Made, will be aimed at high-end PC users.
Sony had no plans at present to extend the offer outside Japan, Tsuyiki said.
PCs can be found in about one-third of all Japanese homes today. The vast majority of sales are to people replacing a machine or buying an additional computer. Sony said about 90 per cent of PCs it sold in the past six months were to such users.
As such, buyers were becoming savvier about features and often had a wish-list when shopping for a new model.
Sony's build-to-order menu will initially consist of six models, five of which are notebook computers. In all cases, users will be able to choose between the type of Intel processor, Home and Professional editions of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, the amount of memory, the capacity of the hard-disk drive and the type of optical drive. On some machines, choices include the graphics card, capacity of battery and type of keyboard - Japanese or English.
Orders can be placed via the Internet, telephone or through certain Sony shops in Japan. One of the new models available through the build-to-order service or as a preconfigured machine is a new version of the Vaio T. Sony has switched to a multilayer carbon-fibre casing for the top half of the PC, which includes the display panel. This is lighter and yet more than twice as strong as the previous magnesium case. A switch to an LED backlight and a shift of the display circuit board from behind the screen to underneath the screen means the lid is half as thick as the previous model.