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Dell to make house calls

The PC maker is eyeing in-home services to go with its new consumer electronics line.

Culture
Dell wants to come over and help you set up your newest electronic doo-dad--whether it's a flat-screen television or a home network.

The Round Rock, Texas, company, which began offering Dell-branded consumer electronics last year, appears to be eyeing a more comprehensive catalog of companion in-home services for setting up the gear. Dell said in an email to reporters that it will outline consumer services offerings at a news conference on Thursday. A spokeswoman declined to reveal further details.

The company, which has already promised to offer several levels of in-home installation services for its latest flat-screen televisions, may want jobs such as installing home networks or assessing consumers' data security. Dell's latest TV offerings include two 42-inch plasma-screen TVs; the company will start taking orders for them this week, shipping them next month.

Dell will format the new service offerings so that customers can pay a set price for a given job, and then a Dell representative will "pull up in the van and take care of your problem," said Mike George, vice president of Dell's U.S. Consumer Business, in a recent interview with CNET News.com. George did not give further details.

Feeling right at home
As Dell attempts to make a name for itself in consumer electronics, it's natural for the company to offer more in-home services--as a tool for customer retention, if nothing else. Offering product installation could help reduce returns.

"I think Dell needs to be there" with consumer services, said Steve Baker, an analyst at NPD Group. "When you sell complicated stuff (such as home networks) you need to make sure it stays sold. Providing either free installation services or low-cost installation...in the long run, is very effective against (customers) taking things back."

Dell is aiming to take a share of the market for add-on services, which retailers currently dominate, analysts said. But the company must find the right mix between a more aggressive lineup of services and how much it charges to get consumers to sign up, Baker said.

"There's still a lot of question in the marketplace about the value of installation and upgrade services...because the cost of the service is sometimes pretty high, compared to the cost of the hardware," he said. "If it costs you $79 to get someone to come in and install a home network and the hardware itself only cost $120, then people have trouble reconciling those. For those pricing levels, they think you ought to be able to do it yourself."

Even for Dell, which is famous for bringing lower prices when it enters a market, there's only so much fat to be cut from how in-home services are administered. After all, the person driving the van and setting up the products still needs to draw a paycheck, Baker said.

But Dell could borrow from its professional services group, which has been offering businesses a menu of fixed-price services, for advice on how to speed up tasks and thus lower costs.

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