PCs hot item in German supermarkets

Bargain hunters in German supermarkets are adding a new item to their shopping list: cheap PCs. A country with some of the most competitive food prices and highest quality standards in Europe is now seeing the same development spread to non-food areas, like personal computing.

Earlier this week two of Germany’s largest food discount chains, Marktkauf Handelsgesellschaft mbH & Co. OHG (Marktkauf) and Plus Warenhandelsgesellschaft mbH (Plus), launched attractively-priced, high-performance PCs, following a trend set by one of the country’s leading discounters, Aldi Einkauf GmbH & Co. OHG (Aldi).

Plus sold about 100,000 PCs within hours through its nationwide network of 2,700 supermarkets, according to Eberhard Kaiser, a spokesman for 4 MBO International Electronic AG, which supplied Plus with PCs. “Of that number, several thousand were reserved for online sales,” he said “Online customers, who could order in advance, reached their quota within three days. The online channel is becoming increasingly popular, especially among those who don’t want to stand in shopping lines.”

To promote the PC special offer, Plus collaborated with the information and service portal Bild.de – T-Online, a joint venture between the German newspaper Bild and the ISP (Internet service provider) T-Online AG. The Web site distributed information about the sales offer, referring to it as the “Volks-PC” or PC of the masses, and provided a link to www.plus.de.

Marktkauf, which declined to provide sales figures, likewise sold all its computers within hours, according to spokeswoman Andrea Ebert. The discount supermarket chain operates 25 stores.

Weeks earlier another leading supermarket chain, Lidl Dienstleistung GmbH + Co. KG (Lidl), had a similar sale on PCs, which also sold out within hours.

As German supermarkets move to dominate the market for low-cost PCs, computer retailers are under growing pressure to offer similar discounts to stay afloat.

On Friday, Vobis Microcomputer AG, which manufactures and sells PCs, unveiled a special offer, bundling a PC with a printer and monitor for 999 euros (CDN$1556) — the price Marktkauf and Plus charged for a PC alone, albeit with higher performance features.

The move by Vobis to counter the supermarkets may be too late, however.

“The supermarket chain has become the leading channel for low-cost, high-performance computers in Germany,” Kaiser said. “The prices are low because of the fierce competition among the supermarket chains and the performance is good because none of these retailers want to see their margins eaten up later by services fees for fixing machines that don’t work properly.”

Most of the supermarkets offer a 24-month guarantee, technical support and a hot-line service.

Because of the huge demand, Plus is planning another PC sale in December, according to Kaiser. “We know now that we could have sold more PCs but Plus was concerned about ordering too many machines because of the economic situation,” he said.

A Plus spokesman woman said “demand was better than expected,” and for this reason, the company would be running a similar offer in two months.

As competition in the sector intensifies, the supermarket chains will seek to offer PCs with additional features, such as WLAN (wireless LAN) cards, Kaiser said. A WLAN card was included in the latest offers from both Marktkauf and Plus