I have always felt the view that all business is cyclical is too simplistic to be true. But I can see the point: there are cycles, it's just that the landscape is always different. We move on.
While the internet is changing everything, all it's really doing is driving the axle and it's still the same part of the wheel hitting the ground.
It's always interesting to hear the views of someone from outside your own environment who has an intelligent perspective on the business.
At the recent Computer 2000 Consumer Forum, I spent time with Terry Bazzone, vice president and general manager of strategic business development at Tech Data, who delivered a speech.
She gave an excellent presentation that highlighted just how much the internet would affect the consumer market. Over lunch, she told me that she was asked by one very well-known UK retailer what she thought the real impact would be on it. "I told them that no formats will go out of business in the next three years. The main thing is the customer experience, not just the pricing and promotion. The expertise and friendliness of the staff is very important."
Yet her experience of perhaps the best-known high street electronics store, she added, was disappointing. We have much to learn about retailing computers here, but it's the word 'experience' that really interests me.
Talking to a small-business dealer recently about selling servers to customers with low-budgets, he said: "We tell them they can buy products somewhere else and it will probably be cheaper. But if it goes wrong, they'll have to take it back to where they got it from.
"More often than not, they'll buy the system from us because they're more comfortable with us being the one-stop shop," he added.
Not all customers are the same, but experience, on both sides of the fence, is starting to draw users back towards resellers.
Initially, poor experiences with dealers that only wanted to make a fast buck drove many users towards retail outlets and mail order. Now, poor service in these routes and the lure of low price tags will drive many to online buying. But there will still be users who want to touch and feel products, so what Bazzone calls the bricks and mortar outlet won't go away.
Small-business users who know that PCs can be problematic and haven't enjoyed the retail or online experience, are returning to the reseller community. But resellers, stung by selling products at no margin and having to offer limitless service and support free of charge, are applying the brakes. They won't support a product that's come from beyond the blue horizon.
We're back to where we started in pre-PC days: there were no dealers, only systems integrators that put packages together, took a commission on the sale of hardware and then charged customers for ongoing support and software maintenance. Retail is fresh ground, so is the internet, but it's still the same point on the wheel - the point at which what matters is making the customer's experience a positive one.
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