The recent difficulties encountered by Hewlett Packard with defective inkjet cartridges have highlighted the problem of faulty products which make it to market.
That this should still be an issue as we approach the end of the century is itself alarming, but the way in which the channel handles the issue of faulty products can lead to further complications.
Long after it ceased to be an issue, the legacy of the LTE 5000 notebook, with its habit of falling over, is still plaguing Compaq. A representative of the company described the ill-fated launch as a rush which resulted in the vendor getting its fingers burned. The company may have put the reliability issue safely behind it now, but it paid a high price in lost channel confidence.
HP may find that if it doesn't get to grips with the poor quality inkjet cartridge problem, it too will have to fight hard to win back confidence.
Lexmark UK marketing manager Kevin Spinks admits that what happened to HP could have happened to just about anyone. 'There's a lot that can go wrong in the production of inkjet cartridges. I'm just glad it's them and not us.'
IBM may also have fallen foul of a quality shortfall. One dealer has brought attention to a problem the hardware giant has had with server production and has pointed to the use of part-time staff in manufacturing plants as a major contributory factor.
IBM server business manager David Cosham denied that Big Blue has any outstanding quality issues. 'I'm not aware that there's anything wrong with the build quality of our servers. We have had some problems sourcing components, but we expect this to resolve itself soon.' He also denied the allegations of sub-standard staff handling server assembly.
Much-troubled AST has experienced quality problems, as well as the widely reported financial problems that its parent Samsung is trying to turn round. AST's new CEO, Young-Soo Kim, has admitted this problem in the US press: 'AST suffered in the last year from quality concerns. We are still getting the aftermath of that. You cannot sell the product if it is not a quality product, and we're suffering from that.'
One US reseller has gone as far as to say: 'Their quality of product is horrible. It's got to the point where AST is the last choice to send.'
The company has just started to push its products into the home PC market, with the launch of the Advantage range and a high-profile buy-as-you-rent deal with Granada. AST cannot afford to be seen to be a vendor of below-par machines at a time when it wants to get its name more widely known.
One of the most talked about languages in the channel has to be Java.
The programming language was designed to be used across the Internet and was held up as being able to work smoothly and efficiently with any platform.
In its initial release, Java proved to be much slower and more problematic than had been anticipated - there was also much talk of problems with its security.
Java wouldn't be the first package to have needed updating almost as soon as it hit the market, just to make sure it could do the task it was meant for. Microsoft has had the same problem most recently with Windows 95, Windows NT and Internet Explorer. The latter rolled over and played dead during a presentation at September's IDC conference in Paris.
For dealers, the discovery of a faulty product can be just the beginning of more problems. The suspect component has to be isolated, removed and logged following standard warranty procedures. If it can't be repaired then it must be returned to the manufacturer and should be replaced.
According to one dealer, who did not want to be named, too many vendors offer too little support to dealers when problems arise. He claimed that that in some cases replacement components from some manufacturers can take up to three months to be delivered. 'If you've ordered a specific system for a particular customer and it then takes two or three months for you to be able to provide a fully working machine, you've got a problem.
'The customer may have taken their business elsewhere by then, or you might not have another customer and the product may be obsolete. The responsibility lies with the dealer to resolve this sort of problem, not with the manufacturer.'
To recover the loss of one u5,000 server, a dealer may have to sell a further 20 new systems. The concern here is that with the dealer responsible for carrying out duties under warranty, the manufacturer need never fully address the problem of poor quality products.
Another industry source was also concerned about this. 'What's to stop manufacturers from churning out rubbish and then leaving it for the channel to pick up the pieces? There's no real link between the manufacturing process and dealers' bottom line.
'It could never happen in any other industry. If supermarkets encountered problems with food manufacturers refusing to replace damaged goods until they were well past their sell-by date, there would be uproar,' he said.
Those vendors which are starting to embrace the direct-selling model may come to find that they miss the indirect channel's input. Having to handle the user without the channel acting as a buffer is likely to take the edge off improved margins. Having to deal with defective goods and warranty issues is likely to be one of the channel's trump cards.
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