Dell to Sell in Wal-Mart - Future Profit Hell?
I think it's also the beginning of the end for the theory that Dell can do no wrong. The PC business has extremely tight margins. Dell has been able to keep it's profits about three times that of its competitors. According to electronics market analysts I've spoken with, it has done so by beating up on its suppliers. From what I've heard - and I've tried talking to Dell about this in the past, but they wanted no part of the story I was writing at the time - the company pushes prices down so far that the vendors essentially have no profit, and then says that the manufacturing volume will give the vendors the economies of scale to make bigger profits from their other customers. In other words, the manufacturers are supposed to have other customers essentially subsidize Dell's business.
Some have pushed back. When Dell was coming out with its first PDA, for example, there were three firms bidding. Then Dell said what it wanted to pay and allegedly two of the Asian manufacturers walked away from the business because it didn't make any sense to take it. In an industry used to margins of just a few percent, that would have had to be a low number, indeed. Also, some of Dell's suppliers have been hearing from their other clients who have said, "Don't expect us to fund your work with Dell."
There is probably little to no room to move on the price of components. So, from where is the margin for Wal-Mart going to come? It will have to be Dell's margins. Now consider the volume of business the retailer does. This is going to change the overall margin that Dell sees, and that's even before the additional sales support demands that will drive Dell's already over-burdened and under-performing technical support function to needing life support itself.
Eventually companies come across the realization that growth isn't infinite and that high industry margins may not be sustainable. Hopefully for Dell its investors will be understanding, but that's even less likely.