Dell's Effect on Profit Margins of the Computer Industry

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How and why did the personal computer industry come to have such a low profitability? Historically the personal computer (PC) industry has sold its products at reasonably high prices yet garnered only small profit margins. One reason for this is the high competition in the PC industry which led to competitive pricing among producers. Analyzing the competitive environment of the PC industry, it is evident that there is very little barrier to entry in this market. PC's have very low physical uniqueness and are made of standard components that require very little expertise to assemble. Capital requirements to set up an assembly line to produce PC's are also relatively low, estimated at roughly a million dollars (Rivkin & Porter,1999 pg. 5) which means that virtually any firm can enter the market easily. Despite sky rocketing demands for PC's, PC producers are unable to capitalize due to increasing number of competitors. The PC industry is also affected by environmental turbulence due to price fluctuations of its components. Constant innovation in PC technology causes older components to be rendered obsolete and prices of older versions to plummet. PC producers who are stuck with inventory of obsolete products incur high costs of dumping these components. PC manufacturers who limit their inventory to reduce the impact of price fluctuations are at a cost disadvantage by failing to reduce costs through economies of scale in purchasing components. Therefore PC manufacturers face high risk when stocking components and essentially loose out on profitability due to changes in technology. The existence of many large manufacturers in addition to the continuous entry by smaller manufacturers results in limited differentiation and decreased competitive advantage among PC manufacturers. All manufacturers have access to similar suppliers and therefore have the same buying power especially for processors which are sold at the same price to all manufacturers. It is clear that the competitive advantage in the PC industry is not sustainable as easy replication by competitors promotes price wars which lower profit margins for the industry as a whole. Ultimately, high competition and price fluctuations have led the PC industry to low profitability. Why has Dell been so successful despite the low average profitability in the PC industry? Dell has been successful due to its differentiated strategy compared to its competitors.

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