HP to offer direct sales over Web

Hewlett-Packard plans to sell products directly to some of its enterprise-level customers through personalised Web sites where buyers can configure, order and track the delivery of products.

Known as HP Enterprise Web Page, the initiative was developed in response to customers who asked for more direct contact with HP in preference to buying products through reseller channels, said Larry Sennett, manager of HP's personal systems group.

Enterprise Web Page will provide customers with fast product delivery and "the intimacy of a personal Web page," while at the same time helping HP to attract more orders, Sennett said. A screen shot of one such Web site showed the customer company's name across the top of the screen and a variety of links providing information about HP products and services.

The service is now being pilot tested by some of HP's Unix customers and is due to be fully introduced early in the fourth quarter of this year. "This will be offered to the majority of our enterprise customers," Sennett said. The project is a "global initiative" and will also be offered to customers outside the US, he added.

Despite the push to direct sales, HP is by no means giving up its traditional reseller channels and will pursue a hybrid approach "rather than the direct-specific model a la Dell," Sennett said.

Enterprise Web Page is part of a broader initiative dubbed Vendor Express, which will be announced in the fall and is aimed at large customers who want to deal directly with HP. Commercial customers are becoming increasingly price sensitive, Sennett said, and are demanding a wider variety of ways to receive HP's products and services.

Vendor Express will likely undergo a name change before the initiative is announced because HP was unable to trademark that name, Sennett said.

The impetus for Vendor Express came from a business relationship HP forged with Unisys earlier in this year. Under the terms of the agreement, HP agreed to supply desktop and low-end servers for Unisys to resell as it scaled back its own manufacturing operations.

HP will manufacture systems for Unisys on a build-to-order basis and ship them directly to Unisys' customers. The first systems will be delivered by October of this year, and will be either co-branded or carry HP's brand name, Sennett said.

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