If you're going to be serious about electronics retail in the U.S., it looks like you have to be serious about employing professional geeks.
Beginning Saturday, 20 Sam's Club stores in Virginia and Maryland will offer tech support from PC repair services company Geeks on Call as part of a pilot program set to last three months. Sam's Club has 394 stores in the U.S. with several similar pilots running right now, according to a company spokesperson, who declined to elaborate.
Just last week, parent company Wal-Mart announced it would offer Dell-branded PC repair kiosks in 15 Dallas-area stores, also as part of a trial run. It's similar to the Geek Squad services offered by Best Buy, and the FireDog service offered by Circuit City.
Unlike those three repair outfits, Geeks on Call won't have its own kiosk because they don't do in-store support. Instead, a sticker on every computer sold at those Sam's Club stores will direct the purchaser to call Geeks on Call, who will send a technician to the person's home or business.
Geeks on Call gives a discount to Sam's Club members; PC set-up service will run $98, instead of the normal $160, for example.
Geeks on Call CEO Richard Cole put it this way, "Today's technology causes a lot of angst. If you're going to be in the business of selling technologies...you have to have a solutions provider."
You don't have to, but it's certainly convenient. Quality of service is a different story. Last year a Canadian news outlet did an undercover investigation of PC repair services at major electronics chains and found a high incidence of incompetence, and frequent overcharging of customers.
But both customers and electronics retailers need these kinds of services. The average PC buyer doesn't have the knowledge to repair their own computer, or even set up a wireless home network, and many understandably don't want the hassle of learning. And services like repair and in-home set-up are one of the best ways to actually make money in the electronics retail business, where profit margins are notoriously thin.