January 22, 2007 3:27 PM PST

Retailers aim to get Vista boost

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Meanwhile, consumer support--both installing the operating system and upgrading machines to be more Vista-capable--represents a big opportunity for the major computer retailers. Best Buy, Circuit City and CompUSA are all promoting services in which they will put Vista onto existing PCs, as well as help get new Vista machines up and running.

"This is really something I think the retailers are banking on," said NPD analyst Chris Swenson. Best Buy's Geek Squad--comprised of technicians who do either in-store or in-home installations--may have an edge because of its well-known brand, Swenson said. "I think people are probably less familiar with the CompUSA and Firedog services."

Circuit City plans to discount its standard operating system installation service, though the company didn't release specific details. CompUSA, meanwhile, is offering a deal this week in which customers can drop off their PCs and pick them up next week with Vista installed, with only a $20 charge on top of the operating system purchase. It will charge $50 once Vista launches on January 30.

CompUSA is offering other Vista services, including a paid telephone service that lets customers buy 30 days of unlimited, 24/7 support for both Office and Vista for $29.95 and a PC trade-in program for those whose laptops can't easily be upgraded to Vista. Those who bring in a laptop that doesn't have the needed horsepower can get a store credit, typically from $150 to $500, toward a Vista-equipped PC or anything else.

The store is also offering a "Windows Vista Experience Guarantee" for consumers who buy the operating system and have it installed by CompUSA's technicians. If people are unhappy with Office or Vista, they can get their money back and have their old software re-installed free.

While Vista offers many opportunities for add-on services, Swenson said stores need to be careful how they price their Vista-related packages.

"If you charge too much for installation services, customers just go the hardware route," he said.

Another opportunity being eyed by stores and component makers is the ability to sell things like memory and faster graphics cards that can make a PC better able to run Vista.

"There's a lot of companies that are hoping to cash in on the more stringent technical requirements," Swenson said. But those hefty needs may also push people toward getting a new PC.

"I think a lot of people are going to go get a new machine if they want Vista," Swenson said. "But that's a big expense. For certain customers it will make sense to upgrade, especially if (they) have a new machine."

Microsoft has offered a software tool that enables customers to see just how much Vista their PC is capable of handling.

While many may find their old PC is not quite up to the task, analysts aren't seeing Vista dramatically alter computer sales patterns. "To say that every consumer is going to rush out and buy a new PC, I don't think that rings true," Swenson said.

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