My last two laptops have both been Dell. I had always loved the fact that I could customize my laptop fairly specifically at the same time as getting a great price. At the time, other companies generally could only offer one of those options: a prepackaged bundle with a good price or customization with a premium.
During that same time, however, Dell was not without its faults. Its computers often weren’t as aesthetically pleasing (more utilitarian and clunky looking than some of its competitors more slick and glossy offerings). And the phone support system was (and still is, to a certain degree) a nightmare of touch tone loops which felt like its sole purpose was to make sure you never spoke to a human.
But those disadvantages never bothered me specifically. My laptops’ boring looks were good enough for me. And I went years at a time without ever needing tech support (though I had plenty of friends with Dells that had serious issues). Bottom line: I need a shopping model that provides me the best price on the exact configuration I specify.
This past month I decided it was time (it’s been almost three years) once again to get a new laptop. So I, of course, started at Dell’s website. But it didn’t take long before I was confused and annoyed. Any of the consumer models with a decent price also has pretty obvious limitations in their customization options (i.e., no option for a dedicated, rather than built-in, video card).
I could, of course, customize to my heart’s content if I were to select the appropriate higher-end model. But then the price seemed especially inflated when the only reason I was looking at the particular model was because it has one or two more features available when compared to a perfectly acceptable lower model.
So that’s when I began exploring alternative brands (including HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Acer). And that’s also when I discovered just how well HP has taken the Dell model and made it work better than Dell itself (all while keeping its existing model of selling through retail).
I got exactly what I wanted for a price hundreds of dollars less than the Dell equivalent. I’m sure Dell could offer me a similar competitively priced laptop. But it chose instead to gamble with my loyalty by focusing more on the upsell than on the specific customization I needed.
So for me, at least, HP is the new Dell.
I should note that I’ve kept details intentionally vague because in a matter of weeks hardware configurations will change. What I wanted to capture here is a principle that won’t go out of date as quickly as the hardware used to illustrate it.