A former Dell kiosk manager writes us to share helpful tips about doing business with Dell. He has no particular problems with Dell, he just wanted to share some helpful tips for consumers looking to get the best deal. He includes info on getting the best deal from the website, different kinds of promotions the Dell offers, insider details on how the kiosk sales reps are compensated, what coupons and deals they have to offer you to close the deal, the email format for Dell in case you’re thinking of launching an EECB, where to take your Dell credit card complaints, which extended warranties to avoid, how to get a domestic tech support rep… and more. It’s very comprehensive. Enjoy!
I am a former Spherion rep that later became a Dell Branded Rep (manager) of a Dell kiosk in the Philadelphia, PA region. To work at one is to work at all, and I worked at four different kiosks in the region. I worked from July 2005 until October 2006, but keep regular contact with some of the guys I trained and brought up. Other than the usual complaints, I have no problem with the company.
Things most people know already:
1. Small business is better than home and home office – Small business typically runs a few dollars more than the home office, but you stand a better chance of getting domestic tech support rather than non-native English speakers. As an added perk, small business promotions are occasionally better than home.
2. Play with the web site - There are many different pricing packages for the same product throughout the various sections, typically three or more per segment. If you’re buying a Dell soon, configure a unit from a link off the main page, from the product listing on the drop down and from the “As Advertised-Newspaper” drop down. Configure the same system each way at the home, small business and the Direct (kiosk) site (http://www.dell.com/directstore). It is very likely you will end up with nine different prices.
3. Extended warranty for laptops – Do it for as long as you feasibly see using your laptop, and include accidental. Two years is typically the lifecycle from “new product” to “no longer produced/no more refurbs” though YMMV. Once your model is off the refurb site, drop it. Voila! New laptop. The standard warranty will not cover any screen defects.
UPDATE: Current Dell rep says: If a system is no longer shipping a used/refurbished is always sent, though the refurb should be equal or better as far as hardware is concerned. As of this writing if a system is exchanged, via either Complete Care warranty or concession, and the system is still a currently shipping model a new system is to be sent.
4. Extended warranty for desktops – There is nothing in a low end desktop (non XPS) that is worth the price of the warranty should you have to replace it. Only pick it up if you have absolutely no clue what you’re doing once the case is open.
5. Tech support phone - If you do go with the home/home office/direct route, tech support is outsourced (duh!). The tech support instant messenger typically provides a calmer, more understandable conversation due to the fact that accents are taken out of the equation. Think back to high school Spanish. It was always easier to translate the foreign language you were reading than if you heard it. Same concept applies here.
6. Tech support web site – If you’re having a common problem, hit the product forums (however crippled they may be now). It is very likely your question/problem has been resolved before, and usually a domestic tech rep posted a solution there.
7. Warranty Repairs – On all but the two lowest warranties (90 day and 1 year limited), warranty repairs will be done in the home. The repair techs are only required to replace the broken part. They are not required to do anything else. If they replace your hard drive, they are not required to reinstall your OS or drivers. Most will do it if you’re nice, but don’t expect it. If you’re clueless, there are tutorials all over http://support.dell.com that tell you how to do it yourself.
UPDATE: Current Dell rep says: Also with desktop machines at home service is the only option. Notebooks on the other hand may have a return to depot or an at home service contract.
8. OS Backup Disk – For over a year now, Dell has required you to purchase your Backup/Reinstall Disk. Order this with your machine. Once your Dell is delivered, it is a pain to get the disk at all, much less at a sensible price. If you do not have this disk and your hard drive dies, at home warranty repair will not be able to get your PC running once the drive is swapped without selling you a new copy of your OS.
UPDATE: Current Dell rep says: Dell no longer requires the purchase of the backup disk. They are included with every computer that ships with a Windows OS. On the subject of hard drives, if your drive fails within the first year of purchase you should be sent an imaged drive that will contain everything except for your royalty applications (Office etc). If for some reason you lose the media, you can request the OS, Resource/Drivers disk, and the applications disk at no cost to you. (Even if you are no longer under warranty Dell will send you an OS disk) Note that the Resource/Drivers and Applications disk is only available for currently shipping systems. Should you need to reinstall you’ll need to download the drivers from support.dell.com from another computer and copy them over. Last, within the first year of purchase, if you need to reinstall the OS and you can’t access the recovery image, or if it was deleted for some reason, you can request an System Recovery CD that does pretty much the same thing. (Not available on notebooks due to the Media Direct partition.)
9. DPA/Dell Preferred – This is the Dell credit card, like a Sears, Macy’s or Radio Shack credit card. Typically a high rate, low limit card. The lowest APR is still around 18-20%, and that comes with a $5,000 limit. The $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 limits have rates in the mid to high 20s. The lowest limt, $1,500, has an APR of 29.99%. NEVER USE THIS UNLESS THERE IS A KILLER NO INTEREST PROMOTION.
- a. Interesting Note: In the Back-To-School season of 2005, DFS (Dell Financial Service) was issuing cards to 18 year olds with a $7,000 limit and a 29.99% interest rate.
Stuff you may not know:
1. Promotion cycle dates – Thursday is the first day of new promotions. If you go to the web site at 11:45 p.m. on Wednesday night and again on 1 a.m. on Thursday morning, the promotions are different. The catalog promotions run from the start of the month to the end. Additionally, on holiday weekends (Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc.) there may be special sales/coupons for the three-day weekend.
2. Promotion styles - Typically, one week will be cash off while the next will be percentage off. If you liked cash off but the current promotion is percentage off, check the “As Advertised-Newspaper” section. These typically have a remnant of the prior week’s promotion as well as better versions of the current week’s promotions. Cash off helps for cheap systems, percentage off helps with high-end.
3. Dell Customer Care can price match within 24 hours from the time of order. Combining #1 and #2 from this section, if you are unsure of the value of the week’s promotion but need to order something, order it Wednesday night. Check the promotions for the new week on Thursday. If its better, call and price match. If its not, sit back and feel smug for no reason
4. Dell corporate email - As of December 2006, everybody (save Michael Dell) working for Dell U.S. has the same form of email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Dell’s does not follow this pattern and is changed immediately whenever the current one is discovered by lower-level employees or the public.
5. Dell’s internal fiscal calendar is different from other corporations. As their fiscal year ends in January or February (I honestly don’t remember), the best deals will typically be found in late January and all of February. Also, buying during the last week of any quarter typically means free or deeply-discounted 2nd day or overnight shipping, and the quickest order turnaround. There are no steep discounts for the holidays, though they will run a few weeks of consecutive percentage off promotions during the back to school season in August.
6. The DFS servers are notoriously flimsy. If you apply for DPA (why would you?) and it is unable to complete, it means the server is overloaded but your credit rating has already been pinged. Reapplying will not fix the issue but it will repeatedly ping your credit. The system is unable to verify cell phone numbers and will automatically reject based on the use of one.
Fun facts about the Kiosks:
1. Why should I shop at a kiosk? I can order from home. – A very valid point, but the majority of kiosk customers are morons who think computers are magic boxes that let you see pictures of cats in funny poses while someone steals your AOL password. There’s a few reasons why an educated person aka Consumerist reader should hit the kiosk up:
- a. Discounts – There are several ways the Dell Direct kiosks can attempt to match or beat an online deal.
- i. Closing tools – Dollar off coupons that depend on how much you spend. Spend $600=$25 off; $1200=$50 off; $1,600=$75 off; $2,000=$100 off.
ii. Refuse to Lose - 10% coupons meant to allow a sales rep to seal a large deal. These can only be used when the computer price alone is $1,600 or more. It can not be used on accessories, TVs or multiple computers whose aggregate value is above $1,600. This must be requested from the Manager on Duty (MOD) through an email request, and will generally be credited before the computer is shipped.
iii. DPA coupon – Dell will already give you 2% off your order if, at the payment screen you click the link that offers 2% off when you pay with DPA. The kiosks have a 3% DPA closing tool that can be used also, giving a discount of slightly over 5%. This works for all DPA purchases including TV’s, monitors and cameras.
iv. The closing tools are nothing but individual-use coupons entered at the shopping cart. They are invalid on the home and small business site. Reps are supposed to use them as a last-ditch effort, but as long as you’re not buying a sub-$600 system, they should offer them without your having to ask.
b. Printer cartridges – No you can’t buy them there…officially. They are non-inventoried items that many kiosks have a heady supply of due to inexplicably random deliveries from corporate. If you’re in a pinch and need one that day, go (don’t call), get a feel for the employees, and if you think they’re cool with it, offer cash.
2. There are two levels of kiosk employees. There are those hired by Spherion, creatively known as “Spherion reps,” and then there are Dell Branded Reps, or DBRs. DBRs are effectively the management of the individual kiosk, and are the only ones able to work uncompensated overtime. Deal with them if possible, because they are very likely to be there the next time if you have a question. They’ve also been there much longer than any other kiosk staff, so they likely have a much better skill set for finding bargains.
3. If you have a problem with DPA, the kiosk has a specific email contact for Dell Financial. Problems can be resolved much much faster.
4. The Dell Direct kiosk website is configured differently than the others. There are “bundles” (linked from the main page under the “start shopping” graphics) and there are “non-bundles”. Bundles, so called because…you guessed it…accessories and service are already bundled in, have a higher profit margin. They are also the most customizable system on the website. Non-bundles carry lower profit margins but may be limited. The salesman will always start from a bundle. Let them finish, then make them search the non-bundles for an equal system with a better price.
5. Kiosk reps are judged on the following:
- a. Unit price: The average sale price of each reps transactions. $1,200 was the goal as of March, 2007 but $1,600 was preferred.
b. Bundle percentage: Dell varies on what percentage of all sales it wants to be from the “bundle” page depending on the month and who you’re talking to. It is typically between 40% and 60%.
c. Service: Each PC/Notebook sale is expected to have a 3 year warranty attached. Typically, the number is between $160 and $200.
d. E&A: This is the percentage of the sale that was spent on accessories. Each transaction should have between 5% and 10%, or one printer and cable per PC or one bag, lock and travel mouse per Notebook.
e. DPA: Dell Preferred Account purchases. The expected percentage of DPA sales has climbed in the past years. It currently hovers between 40% and 60%, and they want a 1 to 1 customer to submitted application ratio.
6. Secret shoppers – The kiosks are secret shopped constantly, and they’re playing of a 20-question scorecard. Don’t be surprised if the salesman asks really base/borderline-insulting questions if you act interested. They think you’re a secret shopper.
7. Communication – Complaints made about Dell to the kiosk reps go unheard. There is no place for the rep to turn around and report the complaint to. Communication between reps and even district management is limited, and reps are discouraged from calling the regional management. Store, district and regional management are all run from email and cell phones. It is not uncommon for the kiosks to receive three answers from three departments, with the end result being all three statements retracted without a solution in place.
(Photo: Josh Swannack)