PC Makers Push DM for Holiday Sales

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After a mediocre year of PC sales, leading computer manufacturers IBM, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard have rolled out integrated direct marketing efforts to help them finish the year on a high note.


IBM, which now sells exclusively through direct channels to consumers, has increased its use of e-mail and special offers.


"Last year we introduced the Buy Today, Ship Today feature, and it proved very successful," said Tom Dekle, director of marketing merchandising for IBM PCD Direct. "This year we are increasing the number of products people can purchase through this program. Free shipping is an offer that always works well because it's easy to communicate the value of that."


IBM is sending catalogs and direct mail to current customers and prospects and using e-mails to target prospects.


"In terms of volume we do more catalogs than anything," he said. "We can get more out of them because they have a longer shelf life and will be passed around quite a bit. But the most efficient means of marketing is the electronic mailings."


Dekle said he would not want to predict how sales would wind up this year compared with last year but that so far it is "looking like a good year that will meet or beat our original expectations."


Among the lines being pushed for the holidays are IBM's ThinkPads, notebook accessories and the handheld Micro Portable Projector.


Dekle said online purchases have increased as consumers grow more comfortable with buying at the Web site and the number of homes with Internet connections rises.


"The amount of second and third buys is increasing," he said. "There has been a natural maturing among consumers with regards to buying online."


Gateway marketing director Tom Hume said the company is distributing 22 million freestanding inserts in newspapers nationwide each Sunday from early November through Christmas.


Its holiday catalog had a first drop in early November with another this month. E-mails were timed to closely follow the catalog drops.


Hume would not say how many catalogs were mailed or the split between customers and prospects, but he said more emphasis is placed on its inhouse database during the holidays.


"If we do prospecting it's going to be a proven list that has worked for us in the past," he said. "We rely on our freestanding inserts to handle the prospecting."


Hume said Web purchases are rising.


"At the start of November we saw Web traffic go way up," he said. "The freestanding inserts drive retail activity, but we do see Web activity for the highlighted items in all the mediums we use."


Based on results for November, Hume said he was optimistic about holiday sales and that the "overall industry funk" would subside.


For HP, this is the first holiday season since it acquired Compaq. All holiday ads contain a direct and retail call to action and list the four retail partners carrying the products: Circuit City, Best Buy, CompUSA and Future Shop.


HP's Personal Systems Group began TV and print ads in late November for the Compaq Presario and the new HP Media Center PC. Thirty-second spots are airing on BET, ESPN News, Lifetime, MTV, Discovery Kids, WGN, TNN, CNN, CNBC and National Geographic. Print ads are running in major PC publications including PC Magazine, PC World, Laptop Buyer's Guide and Computer Shopper.


Last week the company began running ads in Parade and USA Weekend promoting Compaq Presario Notebooks offering a $100 mail-in rebate.


An HP spokesman said four 60-second spots also were created. The first began airing in late November, with the second debuting last week. These spots, like the 30-second commercials, ask consumers to "call, click or visit their local retailer" as a call to action. These longer spots will appear on Fox and CBS NFL games, The Learning Channel, VH1, CNN, CNN Headline News, WB Network and other cable networks.


The print effort runs through January and includes inserts that began appearing in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, People, Time and Newsweek in the first week of December.


Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said Dell would use direct mail, catalog, print, radio and TV. The company also began a quick-ship configuration program that lets consumers configure a PC and have it shipped to them within 48 hours.


Last year Dell tested kiosks in malls. Based on positive results, Jones said, it opened 71 new kiosks in 19 markets this holiday season.


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