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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Buyers Cling to Fixed Ideas

Though the proportion of the population that uses a computer in Russia is a fraction of what it is in the United States or Western Europe, the average Russian buyer is more technically literate.

Though this can make it easier for computer hardware companies, in the long term it is likely to prove a curse to the development of the computer market as a whole.

In the United Kingdom, the average first-time buyer of a home computer might sheepishly ask for "something good for writing letters on." In Moscow a buyer is far more likely to ask for "a 386 running at 25 megahertz with 4 megabytes of RAM, 120 megabytes of main memory and an SVGA monitor."

Though both buyers may in fact end up with the same computer, the cumulative result is very different. In the West the buyer helps create a market of competing computer systems that all help him write good letters.

In Russia all the suppliers simply try to sell the cheapest 386 running at 25 megahertz with 4 megabytes of RAM, 120 megabytes of main memory and an SVGA monitor.

This is not the way small purchasers behave: it is a phenomena applying to government departments, banks, and even factories. They have a fixed sum of money, they visit several computer hardware companies that give them different prices on similar products and they choose the best price.

Their mission is rarely to solve a particular business or administrative problem. More often it is to wring discounts or special deals using their shopping list as a starting point. Last year, the Russian Ministry of Social Welfare issued a computer tender. It was using funds from the World Bank allocated to bolster the country's social welfare benefits system.

The tender document, faxed to hardware suppliers in Moscow, was about five lines long. It asked for prices for 400 computers -- all of identical specifications, very similar to those mentioned above.

One problem is that many buyers are still not really aware of what their choices are. Their definition of a computer system tends to be very inflexible, and consists of an IBM-compatible PC with a particular set of technical parameters.

This is so deeply rooted that in Russia certain configurations of PC and certain types of printer became virtual standards.

The reasons why customers prefer particular basic configurations seem to have been lost in history. An example is the Russian attachment to the Epson FX 1000 wide carriage dot matrix printer.

There was once a sound reason why it was important to have a dot matrix printer able to print landscape or onto extra wide paper, but today few people remember exactly what it was.

Yet even now there is still a demand for these wide body printers, despite the fact that it is possible to buy units offering far greater print quality for less money. Epson cannot explain it -- though all the same it keeps manufacturing the FX 1000 in Japan for the only country in the world which still wants to buy it.

Usually computers are needed for specific applications -- desktop publishing, video graphics, accounting, data communications etc. The best advice to customers should come from computer dealers that specialize in one or more of these areas and sell a range of solutions from different suppliers.

If they making their living knowing about video graphics then they should be the best people to choose the right selection of hardware and software to do the job.

In this case customers are less likely to spend large amounts of money on equipment that may never be used properly. Unfortunately, while the market continues to have a fixation with technical specifications, it is not profitable for many companies to specialize in this way. After all if customers are so easily pleased why sell to only a few of them?

Robert Farish is the editor of Computer Business Russia.