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Compaq sets rules for online PC sellers

The computer maker formally launches a program for online resellers to ensure that sales of its consumer line of PCs go smoothly.

Compaq Computer has formally started a new program for computer resellers on the Web to ensure that sales of its consumer line of PCs go smoothly and to iron out differences between traditional retailers and new Web-only resellers.

As reported earlier, Compaq has launched a program for resellers who want to sell its Presario consumer computers on the Web. To date, Presarios have been sold mostly at ?brick-and-mortar? stores such as CompUSA and Circuit City or directly from Compaq?s Web site, though some online resellers have also gotten into the game.

Compaq's new program essentially retracts a ban on Web-based Presario sales, but imposes advertising and customer support obligations on Internet sellers, according to Leslie Adams, director of marketing for consumer PCs in North America.

Similar programs will likely follow for selling Deskpro business computers, sources said.

In February, Compaq stirred up controversy when it suspended agreements with as many as 10 companies that sell its Presario systems over the Internet, amid complaints from traditional retailers that these new dealers were undercutting them in price. Consumers also lodged complaints with Compaq about the service provided by some of these online sellers.

The first companies to be authorized are Cyberian Outpost and Value America, Compaq said. Both of these sites have already begun selling Presario Internet PCs on their Web sites.

The program outlines guidelines for Internet-only retailers and also for dealers that have both traditional retail operations and Web sites, including the level of service and support that is required, the company said. Restrictions also exist regarding overseas sales, sources said. Resellers must also support the product via the Web and telephone and maintain customer support lines.

"With Compaq's guidelines to follow...Cyberian Outpost understands what customers expect when buying over the Internet," said Darrell Peck, chief executive of Cyberian Outpost, in a statement.