The gloom just keeps on coming.
Apple (constantly) has problems; Commodore has problems; Computerland lays off 10 percent of its work force and IBM -- yes, IBM -- is mired in the muck of failed expectations.
Yes, there's no question that a dark cloud of financial despair has settled over personal computerdom.
But, remember, every cloud has a silver lining.
Admittedly, the silver is more cynical than sterling, but isn't it better to look at the glass as one-quarter full rather than three-quarters empty?
Mixed metaphors aside, one of the wonderful things about the PC slump is the delightfully chastening effect it has had on computer stores. You remember computer stores, don't you? They're the places that charged you an arm and a leg for your hardware, another limb for your software and then had the gall to call you a cripple because you couldn't get the system up and running without a bit of help.
The salesman at the store often knew less than you did, and the service department seemed so much more interested in holding your wallet than in holding your hand. Computer stores were too busy riding the PC explosion into profits to care about taking care of customers.
Obviously, all computer stores weren't that bad, but a surprisingly large minority were. Well, free market forces (don't you love them?) finally have intervened.
A lot of the snottier stores simply have gone out of business, victims of their own greed and inability to cultivate a loyal customer base. The survivors are painfully aware that they live in an ultracompetitive world now. They have cut their prices -- and their margins -- to boost their flagging sales.
Most importantly, a lot of computer store people finally understand they're in the business to satisfy customers, not just to sell computers. The "take it or leave it" attitude so pervasive in the PC boom days has given way to a genuine concern to create a customer. Salesmen in the stores I've visited are a lot more helpful. They're looking to answer customer questions, not to tell the customer what he or she has to buy.
This 180-degree switch in attitude makes shopping for a PC or a systems upgrade a most pleasant task. Obviously, the stores aren't too crowded, and the deals are there to be had. Computer store people are now in a far better position to take the time and care to assure a customer gets the right system. Oftentimes, it takes a painful industry shakeout to turn a seller's market into a buyer's market -- but that's assuredly what now exists.
Who knows how long it will last? Maybe there will be a huge runup in sales by year's end that will restore the old order of arrogant store owners who would rather sell to companies than to people. I doubt it. I think we're going to see stores that really know how to deliver the goods and the service to support them. Not because they're great guys, but because it will be the best way to survive in an uncertain market.
Free idea: In fits and starts, software publishers from Software Publishing Corp. to American Express are exploring direct-mail campaigns and catalogues to push sales. It makes sense in the cruddy software market to take the targeted approach direct mail offers.
What I can't understand is, why not go the extra step? Instead of mailing out slick brochures, why not mail out sample floppy discs for trial? Of course, the discs would be copylocked and unable to print out or record on the individual's PC. But that's beside the point. What works for Procter & Gamble and Lever Bros. should work for software. Send an IBM (or Apple) PC owner a six-pack of trial discs with an order form. Sure, it costs a buck to duplicate the disc -- but if the promotion works, the cost will be more than adequately compensated. Besides, at this point, software publishers had better figure out a way to distinguish themselves from the pack.