Mitsubishi plans retail hook for micro businesses

Mitsubishi Electric's decision to exit the retail part of the consumer PC market probably won't mean that the company's name will disappear from UK stores.

Instead, the Japanese giant is planning to pursue the small business market with sales of PCs and 'Internet-in-a-box' software packages through retail outlets. In terms of systems, that will mean a stripping away of consumer-oriented features such as sophisticated 3D graphics and telephony, unique fascia and software front-end designs, and support for camcorder input or TV output.

Mitsubishi marketing director Chris Buckham said the company is currently in talks with the Dixons Stores Group (DSG) about its new approach and is optimistic that the firm will maintain a strong presence in UK retail. A decision is expected in the next month.

"The real story of what we have done is that we have ceased design and development of specifically consumer models although we can still meet the needs for the consumer market with our current products. The market for consumer PCs has slowed down and the cost of developing specific consumer models with easy-to-use front-ends for learning to use the system, telephony and other features is high. All those features need a distinct team. I think you'll see three or four PC makers forming a consumer retail PC core: Compaq, NEC-Packard Bell, Hewlett-Packard and maybe IBM."

He added that direct sellers such as Dell and Gateway 2000 will also continue to benefit from second-time and later consumer buyers.

Buckham said the new Mitsubishi focus will be on 'micro businesses' (typically with 1-10 staff) seeking to get Internet access.

"We've put a range of proposals to DSG and it's all about capturing businesses who want to get on the Net. There will be packaged Internet products that offer Internet access, Web space and e-mail. These people don't want rocket science. They mostly want e-mail and fax. It's not rocket science, these are people who've heard David Mellor on [Radio 5 Live football talk-in] Six-O-Six saying 'send me e-mail'."

To that end, Buckham said that Mitsubishi was also considering modem/software and hardware/communications bundles. All products would sell under the Infotrade name. Mitsubishi currently has around 25,000 private users and 2,000 businesses using its Infotrade ISP service.

Sources said that Dixons is also looking at bringing in Internet products from BT, possibly under its own name.