SAN FRANCISCO -- The comeback story at Dell ( DELL) has a way of frustrating even as it inspires. The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker served up a prime example Thursday when it announced that it will sell notebook and desktop computers at Best Buy ( BBY), the No.1 electronics retailer in the U.S., a nice coup for Dell as it revamps its sales strategy. Unfortunately, Dell's timing is baffling, as its products will hit store shelves after Santa has left town. Dell said it will offer a variety of PCs at 900 Best Buy stores "in the next few weeks." But spokesperson Bob Kaufman acknowledged that the products will not be available at Best Buy until after Christmas. That's no trivial issue, as it means Dell will miss the holiday shopping frenzy in Best Buy stores. Last year, holiday sales accounted for 19.6% of all U.S. retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation. At Best Buy, U.S. sales in December accounted for 15.6% of the company's total revenue last year. Dell, which until recently sold exclusively through direct phone and Internet orders, has been actively increasing its retail exposure,
striking a string of deals with stores around the globe in recent months. So Dell is better positioned than it ever was to rake in holiday shopping dollars this season.
"We've heard our customers loud and clear," says Kaufman. "They want to look and feel some of these notebooks before they buy them." And Dell is ramping up the marketing machine: the company has signed up celebrities including ultimate brawler Chuck Liddell, rapper Ice-T and actor Burt Reynolds for a recently launched promotional campaign. But given that a partnership with Best Buy was in the works, it seems odd that Dell couldn't get the deal done in time for the holidays -- surely, they have calendars in Texas. Dell's Kaufman says the Best Buy agreement actually came together earlier than the company had planned. He suggests that Dell will be able to cater to disappointed gift recipients who visit Best Buy stores after the holidays in search of the laptop they never received. Despite the curious timing, the Best Buy deal underscores Dell's push to redouble its consumer efforts by reaching out to various types of buyers. The products sold at Best Buy will include the company's high-end XPS line of PCs as well as its Inspiron notebooks, which should carry some decent average selling prices. That will complement the more affordably priced selection at Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Dell's sales to small business and home office users through Staples ( SPLS). Shares of Dell were up 1.3%, or 33 cents, at $24.64 in recent trading Thursday.