Future Shop brings configure-to-order to retail

Future Shop Ltd. has taken a page out of Burger King’s book, only without the french fries.

Canada’s largest consumer electronics retailer launched the Cicero Computer Creation Stations across its 95 stores on Wednesday. The Internet-enabled kiosks allow customers to build customized Cicero PCs.

According to Future Shop spokesperson Lori DeCou, the Richmond, B.C.-based company is targeting computer-savvy users and small businesses with specific needs. The systems will be built in Richmond and delivered by Loomis Courier. She says the custom boxes are expected to be delivered within seven to 14 days.

From the kiosk, customers access a Web site and choose from a variety of configurations. They begin with basic profiles like home user, small, office and power user, then customize the hardware, software and peripherals. They also have the option of having a salesperson help them through the process.

DeCou wouldn’t say if the company has any revenue targets for the service, but did say the time is right, citing the success of companies like Dell Computer Corp. as evidence.

“The other thing that we do know is that we have customers on an ongoing basis come in to our stores looking at the variety of packaged computer systems that we have and are continuously saying, ‘I like this from this one, and I’d like to have this from this one,’ ” she says. “Often they buy something that meets part of their needs and then their buying some other peripheral or software that we are then adding on for them.”

Brian Monette, director of consumer communications for Toronto-based dell Canada, says “it’s probably a step in the right direction for them,” and Future Shop is copying a strategy it has been using for 15 years. However copying is one thing, he warns; executing is another.

“There’s a tremendous amount involved with developing a system that allows you to configure a PC and also be able to sell peripherals, software, service and support, etc,” Monette says. “It’s a pretty daunting task.”

Monette didn’t express any concern over losing customers to Future Shop. While Future Shop customers can have a someone in person to guide them, he says there are a number of options for Dell customers to get help. He says every Web page at the online store has a phone number for a sales rep and there is also online help available.

DeCou says Future Shop has no intention of expanding its ordering system beyond store walls and into Dell territory for the time being.

“There’s a number of reasons why we would like to keep it in-store initially. First of all it’s a little bit more of a controlled environment for us to monitor and assess how our customers are adapting to it. It also allows our in-store associates to be able to interact with the customer who isn’t as kiosk-savvy or who isn’t as familiar (with computers),” DeCou says.

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