The strategy could be very important this year as PC sales declined going into the lucrative holiday selling season, according to some analysts. Gateway could convince last-minute buyers to use the direct method instead of buying through retailers , said PC Data analyst Stephen Baker.
"I think it's in reaction to some of the slowness earlier in the season," Baker said. "People are now very afraid to buy something [direct], because they think there is no way they're going to get it before Christmas. But this is one way for Gateway to alleviate that."
Direct manufacturers, such as Gateway and Dell Computer, typically sell to customers over the Web or by telephone, building each system to order. Indirect PC makers pre-build systems sold through retailers.
The offer is limited to one of Gateway's all-in-one Astro models, three from its Essential PC line and the Solo 9300 CS notebook.
"We are also working round the clock to guarantee all of our systems will have quick delivery as well, but those ones we know we can guarantee, based on where we are with materials and stuff like that," said Mike Ritter, director of Gateway consumer product marketing.
Gateway is quoting "accurate shipment times on all our products as people call in with orders," many of which will be delivered by Christmas Eve, Ritter said.
The desktop models also come with a free Hewlett-Packard printer and all are eligible for a $400 rebate with a three-year commitment to CompuServe. The Internet service provider (ISP) plans to phase out the rebate early next year.
While Gateway listed five popular configurations, it is not pre-building systems for faster shipment. Gateway will still build each system to customer order.
"If it's only on five specific models, you can make an argument it's not exactly build to order," Baker said. "By limiting it to just a couple of models, then they make sure they have all the parts available and the ability to put those together in time."
The offer does not include Blues Clues and Rugrats models, although Gateway said anyone ordering through Dec. 22 would likely receive the Nickelodeon branded PCs by Christmas.
CNET News.com readers yesterday complained Mattel and Patriot Computers could not deliver Barbie and Hot Wheels PCs in time for Christmas.
Gateway will refund shipping and handling on guaranteed models arriving after Christmas Eve.