Lionel Menchaca over at Dell is a great guy. He represents Dell to the blog-world and takes the heat, makes the meetings, and spreads the love the best he can. I’ve been working with him for years. However, he’s been given the unenviable task of cleaning up after a major gaffe at the company involving missing Inspiron M1330s, the color laptops that have apparently had paint and delivery problems the past several weeks. We posted about it last week and the story has been brewing for the past few days.
The root of the problem lies in the laptop’s colorful outsides. The black models are apparently easier to produce than the candy-apple red they’re selling, mostly due to economies of scale and the ability to produce a good finish on a comparatively less popular product. While it’s nice to get a pink laptop in the mail — and the ads that have been running for the past month (“A vegan didn’t buy the green laptop” or some claptrap) are giving a personalized cachet to what is, at this point, a commodity product — you don’t make money selling 1,000 pink laptops a day. You make money selling 100,000 black laptops a day. Lots of companies, Sony included, are doing the same customization thing, apparently with fewer issues but here’s a reason MacBooks come in black or white.
That said, this snag is really tearing Dell down. The margins on laptops are very thin. If I can go to Best Buy and pick up a clunker for $400 then Dell can’t be making much off of their goldenrod laptops.
At this point in the game, a laptop is a laptop is a laptop. I’m reminded of the scene in the Simpsons where they go to the Springfield peer and order food at four different food stalls. All of their meals are pumped out of one central kitchen and onto their trays — it’s all the same food. Apparently Taiwan OEMs is now able to promise colored laptops with few defects, which is why you are seeing them right now. Unfortunately, Dell got caught out in this new “custom” supply chain and is now paying the price.
I know this is frustrating for customers but it’s also frustrating to see the company that bravely launched a “premium” gaming laptop — the XPS — fall into the “let’s just make it a different color” trap. This problem will shake itself out eventually, but I’d like to see more innovation. Thinking outside of the box isn’t any good if the next box you jump into is just filled with crayons.
Latest on the XPS M1330 Notebook [Direct2Dell]