Where to buy that new computer

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The Independent Culture
Gateway (http://www.gateway 2000.co.uk) was the first manufacturer to offer online sales of PCs on the Web, and is Dell's closest rival. Although only the US sales figures have been released ($2.2m a day), it is certainly selling at least $3m-worth a day worldwide.

Its European sites have taken credit card sales for only a short time, but Gateway says UK buyers are less likely to use this. Here, more people check out the specifications online, then buy by phone. In the States, 20 per cent of phone calls are Net related, while 200,000 people an hour use the site. As with Dell, users can track an order online, and will soon be able to access technical support and service information via the Web.

One of the most significant new Web sites is Apple's new online store (http://store.apple. com), where buyers can specify their own systems, with more than 300 configurations, and have them built to order.

The site was launched last month; it had 4.4 million hits and received more than $500,000 of orders during its first 12 hours. The Apple Store is, at present, for US orders only, but Apple's Cork facility should go online next spring, which will allow European customers to order direct.

Apple developed its site using the technology initially used by Dell, the WebObjects toolset, which Apple owns following its purchase of NeXT.

Geofox (http://www.geofox.com) is selling its new Psion 5-based handheld almost solely on the Web, and says that because sales are far better than expected, economies of scale mean that it is now able to reduce prices. Although the 171,000 hits made on its site in the first 55 days (it has just started delivery) may be insignificant compared with Dell or Apple, this has been achieved with little publicity or advertising and is a considerable achievement for a start-up online seller.

Other UK manufacturers online include Elonex (http://www. elonex.co.uk), which recently relaunched its Web site and now offers more than 8 million product combinations - which it claims is the largest number on the Net. Displayed prices are valid for 14 days, so you can shop around. It also has technical support and an extensive technical library online, and a spare parts order area.

The US is still far ahead of the UK in terms of online sales and there are now Web sites, such as Cnet's new Computers.com (http://www.computers.com), which give online access to ranges of computers from all the major manufacturers, complete with reviews and comparison charts.