EMachines Tries Call Center to Spur Net Sales

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Low-cost PC maker eMachines yesterday began a new direct-sales program with the opening of an inbound call center and shopping Web site.


The call center lets eMachines conduct telephone sales from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST. The telephone sales are being launched along with the company's new order-online Web site, store.emachines.com.


EMachines' Web site offers four personal computer systems priced at $399 to $799, with rebates as well as extended warranties and peripherals, via direct sales. The site advertises a toll-free hotline customers can call to order products if they are worried about sending their credit-card numbers over the Internet.


The direct sales program adds a new dimension to eMachines' marketing mix, which previously relied solely on retail stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City and Fry's. But eMachines doesn't intend to undercut its retail partners, so call center agents will help consumers do comparison shopping by finding retail locations near them that carry eMachines products.


"They might find an added printer, memory or monitor bundled with the PC that might be more advantageous to them," said Murray Bognovitz, vice president of Internet experience at eMachines.


The call center, with about two dozen agents, is at the company headquarters in Irvine, CA. EMachines has another customer service call center in Utah.


EMachines, which until now has focused its marketing on the retail sector, has experimented with direct marketing in the past. In May, it ran a one-week test of a long-form infomercial on national cable stations.


The infomercial featured three of the company's computer models, and, like those offered online and through the call center, the selections were priced at $399 to $799. However, the infomercial project was later shelved, Bognovitz said.


In October, eMachines tested some of its products on home shopping network QVC. The company is considering further experiments in the direct response market but has no further plans for the quarter, Bognovitz said.


Currently, the eMachines Web site is the only place the call center hotline is advertised. The company is working on a deal to advertise the hotline on banner ads at America Online partner Web sites in the near future, Bognovitz said.


Further details were not disclosed.


Just before Thanksgiving, eMachines agreed to a buyout by EM Holdings, which is wholly owned by eMachines board of directors member Lap Shun "John" Hui, in a deal valued at $161 million. Executives at eMachines recently informed financial analysts that the company expects to break even or post a small profit for the quarter ending Dec. 31.


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