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ATPM 8.12
December 2002





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The Candy Apple

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

Finding the Bright Spots in a Murky Day

Today I took a trip. I thought it would not be at all fun, but it turned out to be a great day.

I’d heard a radio ad a few days back about a Dell Direct store opening here in town. The ad described the displays and the helpful salespeople. I thought it would be interesting to see how closely it resembles the Apple retail stores. Perhaps this would be a sign that Apple is doing something right, and that’s why Dell was copying it. Turns out Dell is not really copying Apple, but it’s in the same ballpark.

I headed to the Dell Web page to find out where the store was, and it turns out it’s not really a store but a kiosk in a mall. Several had opened recently in my state, including two at malls here in town. I chose the newer mall. It’s a little farther away from me, but I hadn’t been there since it opened a few years ago, and I wanted to see what all the buzz was about.

On the way, I thought about the idea of a kiosk instead of a full-sized store. Since customers normally want new machines shipped directly from the factory, rather than floor models, it makes sense not to pay for gobs of floor space to display half a dozen basic machines. It gets the display out into traffic, so passersby might be more inclined to slow down to look at the products. I guess if I already knew what I wanted, and just wanted to place the order, and maybe ask a few questions of a live person, this might provide a really good purchasing experience.

During the drive, I noticed the overcast skies and delays at traffic lights. I realized I’d timed this thing really badly, and would be coming home in the thick of the afternoon traffic. Then I remembered that I don’t go to malls much, because all those people make me crazy. So many of them are impatient or rude that I get depressed about the downside of human nature. I was driving 15 miles on a rainy afternoon to look at something I wasn’t even going to buy. Ick.

An hour later, everything was different.

I arrived at the mall and looked for the Dell Direct kiosk on the map at the entrance. No luck. But near the entrance was a Customer Service desk; they told me where to find the kiosk. Most of the islands in the walkway were those cart things that roll out, but the Dell kiosk is more stationary and solid-looking. There were four customers, one on each side. The salesperson was explaining something to one of them, and a passerby stopped to listen to her. We were free to handle the products on display, so I picked up a couple of laptops just to see what they felt like. Heavy, heavy, heavy.

To be fair, the only laptop I’ve handled very much was an early-generation iBook, but it came in at around 7 lbs., I think. These had to be half again that much, if not more. The wireless mice were cool, but big and unwieldy. There were several different-sized screens available, including a monster big screen that would be great for classroom or office work. I didn’t want to interfere with her making a real sale to someone else, so I didn’t get a chance to ask the saleswoman why I should consider her product over Apple. But it was a good shopping experience anyway. This kiosk model might be worth considering, especially for places that are already hotbeds of Mac buyers.

As I left the kiosk I saw another one selling sunglasses, and remembered I needed to replace the pair I’d lost hiking a month before. I found a shop selling real sunglasses instead of knockoffs, and quickly found what I wanted, and 10 bucks cheaper than the first pair I’d bought! On the way out, I stopped in the coffee shop for something they call a gingerbread latte. It was the perfect combination of coffee and pumpkin pie flavors.

On the drive home, I was able to take the freeway instead of the in-town route. Two miles before my exit, I saw the traffic pileup ahead, in time to make an exit before getting stuck behind the jackknifed tractor trailer. The CD player held a jewel I hadn’t listened to in a long time: Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge—great driving music. Perfect kitsch. The sun popped out for a few minutes on the way home. So a trip that started out potentially icky ended up being just great.

Why did it turn out so well? Here’s all I can figure out: we see what we want to see. A few weeks ago I met someone for coffee that I hadn’t seen in a few months. She asked how I was doing, and I said, “Great!” She asked if there was anything going on in my life that made it so, and I said, “No, I pretty much just always choose to be content.” I don’t know that that’s possible for everyone, but after making that choice several times a day for a while, the habit kicks in. Makes it hard to stay negative, when you spend lots of energy seeking out positive stuff.

Looks like a good place to say…Onward.

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