Moving beyond its direct sales channel creates an opportunity for Dell to expand its brand and increase awareness among customers who buy through retail," Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius told Marketing Daily. "Retail is extremely competitive. Customers that absolutely love the direct experience-those who buy their books from Amazon.com, their Christmas presents from eBay-will still buy from Dell directly, but Dell is trying to capitalize on those customers who value an alternative channel."
This is the latest restructuring initiative introduced by Michael Dell since he returned to the company's CEO post in February. "Michael Dell has said that "a direct business is a business decision, not a religion," Margevicius said, "and if it's time to move and do something else, including moving the company off its mantra to survive, [Michael Dell] has the gumption to do it."
One of Michael Dell's most successful initiatives has been the creation of IdeaStorm, an online community where customers post their ideas about products. The community can vote on the ideas and discuss them with other users.
Since its launch in February, Dell has implemented two new strategies based on ideas suggested by users via IdeaStorm: it will sell Linux-loaded desktop and laptop machines, and, most recently, responded to customer demand to continue to offer Windows XP on consumer machines in addition to Windows Vista.
That decision raised many eyebrows, as it was seen as a negative consumer comment on Windows Vista, which many consumers have found to be incompatible with popular consumer applications, like Apple's iTunes.
"It was a no-brainer to us. It made a lot of sense, made customers happy, so we made the decision to continue to offer XP," Dell spokesman Kent Cook told Marketing Daily. "Customers felt like they were heard and that the company responded to their feedback."
More than 100,000 user posts have been made to IdeaStorm since its launch on Feb.16, Cook said, and Dell has received over 5,000 unique, customer-generated ideas from IdeaStorm to date.
"IdeaStorm is a wonderful vehicle," Cook said. "Dell has always been about direct communication. Hopefully, customers are seeing that we do listen and respond to their posts. It's a huge win-win for customer satisfaction overall."
Margevicius agrees. While Dell hasn't placed much focus on marketing or branding since Michael Dell has returned to office, IdeaStorm has given the company free marketing about the fact that they are listening to their customers, he says.
"IdeaStorm is what every company ought to be doing anyway-listening to its customers!" Margevicius says. "It's a technique that has two benefits: it solves perceptions issues about Dell's ability to listen to its customers, and it's pretty good marketing."