I love gadgets and have done for many years. New computer devices fascinate me, especially ones that no one else possesses. I love grappling with new hardware and trying to get it to work with the often ropy beta versions of software supplied with the early models that are so often thrown at the press.
As a journalist, I am in the privileged position of having companies contact me with offers of extended loans of everything new and shiny. My long-suffering wife always eyes a new toy with suspicion before quietly checking the credit card statements to make sure I haven't been lurking around the local Dixons or PC World filling up on PDAs.
So when it comes to upgrading software I use regularly, I usually have no major problems. But many of the ones I do encounter on a regular basis, have taken years of fiddling to get to my present level of experience where I can deal with them without hours of wasted effort.
There is still a large element of being an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to using a PC. There are few pieces of software which don't give at least token resistance before settling in to work properly.
So the decision by Tesco to launch what will be taken as a brave attack upon the high street is either very well planned and resourced or doomed to failure.The idea that Tesco can ever become one of the main outlets for PCs mystifies me. If I was a retailer, I would be rigid with fear over the implications of this move.
I can imagine the scene in a typical Tesco Metro, just before closing time on the big day this scheme is launched. The marketing team of Joceyln and Philippa, who have been given the task of launching the scheme in the pilot store, have had a good day - they've sold three PCs. Not bad for a first attempt.
The day is almost finished and the doors are about to be locked - the bubbly is on ice and they think it's all over. Just then, the doors open and Dad Shellsuit and his family storm into the store. Their trolley is brimming over with the bits of the PC they bought only hours before. Dad has thrown away the PC packaging, hence the trolley. 'The telly screen doesn't work and none of the cables fit,' comes the cry.
But the troubles have just begun.The first big problem Tesco will have is how to be nimble enough to outmanoeuvre Dixons Group. PC World has already announced a PC for #599 (inclusive of VAT), #200 cheaper than Tesco's option. How are the punters going to feel when their supermarket is more expensive than PC World, which has been criticised before for being overpriced.
Dixons is taking advantage of the strong pound to drop prices - I wonder whether Tesco is taking advantage of the strong pound for purely profit-related reasons. It could do better than to read Dixons Group Plc's results for 1998. These show that the brown goods market grew by eight per cent over the financial year, with computer games, widescreen televisions and camcorders showing particularly strong growth. But the computer market fell in value by 16 per cent, despite the fact that unit volumes were slightly up year on year. If Tesco is going to improve upon this, it will be an interesting autumn in the retail sector.
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