New web site offers computer discounts

Kane Loukas

If the University was a public company traded on the NASDAQ stock market, it would be soaring right now.
By the end of the month, University Academic and Distributed Computing Services will introduce an e-commerce site called Techmart where University students, staff and faculty will be able to purchase all their computer equipment at a discount of up to 20 percent.
Director of ADCS and the spearhead for the Techmart project, Shih-Pau Yen, expects the magic marketing combination of convenience and low prices that work so well for Wall Street sweethearts and other Internet retailers will do the same for his Internet creation.
But, unlike its profit minded e-commerce counterparts, the primary tenet of Techmart is to save people money. There’s a lot to be saved, too, since the University and its students spend an estimated $35 million per year on computers and computer related products.
Yen employs a number of strategies to dig up these deals. He puts the squeeze on computer suppliers, the middlemen responsible for a large part of a computer’s markup, to get lower prices.
His more traditional money saving devices take advantage of high-volume discounts from manufacturers and the low-operating costs needed to start and operate the site.
Techmart will sell only IBM computers when it goes online this month, though Yen and his staff are negotiating with Gateway, as well as other manufacturers interested in the site.
The site will also enable the University to create a tracking system enabling the technical support staff to know what type of computer each customer purchased and its options.
This, Yen said, will make it easier to support the computers and safeguard ADCS against people unrelated to the University calling in and getting free technical support — a problem the department is struggling with.
As rosy as it all sounds, the site won’t be for everybody, Yen admits. Some people will not be comfortable spending upwards of a thousand dollars online despite a host of user friendly options on the site. For example, Techmart includes product suggestions correlated to students’ areas of study; i.e. if you study electrical engineering, buy the IBM Z500.
Robert Crabb, director of University Bookstores, is among those counting on the fact that people will still desire the traditional computer shopping experience in a real, brick and mortar facility instead of the antiseptic Internet experience.
Crabb also oversees the University computer stores, which sold $12 million worth of computers and software in 1998.
Crabb said he believes “Techmart will be a system for departmental purchasing.” It isn’t going to make the University computer stores obsolete, just as Internet book sellers haven’t shut down the campus bookstores, he explained. Even with record Internet book sales in fall 1998, campus bookstores were busier than usual, Crabb said.
Threatened or not, Crabb plans to take the bookstores and the computer stores online this summer.
The shift from standing in line to buy books and computers to buying online is a change Steve Mihm said is becoming inevitable.
Mihm is vice president of marketing at Virtual Technology Corp., the company handling the e-commerce site for the University and a number of other organizations and companies. “The bookstores and the traditional resellers of the world are really in need for an overhaul. The model is changing,” he said.