Bumlickycrawlie PC mag fawns over PC World

The buck is mightier than the pen

Some funny behaviour has been going on at PC Format. Its December issue had a one-page feature entitled "PCF investigates PC World", where it claimed the monster computer store was ripping off customers, getting inexperienced salesman to push overpriced RAM and charging up to 33 per cent more for other goods like CD writers and hard discs.

But then its January issue has a one-page feature entitled "PCF re-investigates PC World". This time round, PC World comes out as a consumer hero, offering innovative and useful services and well-priced IT goods.

The store goes from being a "retailing goliath" which has "a lucrative opportunity to sell overpriced products to the PC illiterate" to one that "offers a number of other services that we failed to point out in our original article". One of these "unique" services is PC Healthcheck.

So unique it is that most of the article is dedicated to the "MOT for your PC" (customer response has been fantastic). To us, this looks like the epitome of an overpriced product to the PC illiterate, but then PC Format knew all about them last month, so it must be right.

Doormat

So why the change of heart? Because PC Doormat received "so many letters and emails" that it thought "it only right to run a follow-up piece re-investigating the UK biggest PC store". It seems readers couldn't see what the fuss was about. Who cares about overcharging when there are such unique services as PC Healthcheck? Oh, and there was the small matter of PC World calling up the mag's publisher.

PC Format is owned by Future Publishing.

It seems that when the mag's reporter went to the Bath store "most of the list prices were lower than we reported".

Future does all the contract publishing for PC World.

Adding up

So when PC Format said PC World charged £259.99 for an Onstream Echo 30GB hard drive whereas Dabs.com charges just £199.75, it really meant that PC World charged £219. When it said a Psion 5mx would cost you £399 at PC World and £360 at Dabs.com, it obviously misread the label - it really cost just £369 (well, sixes do look like nines). Bizarrely, it managed to get the price of every item featured wrong, mistaking sevens for fours and fours for threes. Incredible.

PC World stores carry magazines only from Future Publishing.

PC Doormat must have been crazy to think PC World overcharged. Why, unless the store was terrific value, would its parent company Dixons have spent millions on TV ads promoting PC World as "stamping down on prices"? Just doesn't make sense.

We asked the mag's editor how the reporter - Ian Harris - could have walked around the store and written down the wrong prices every time. Editor Dan Hutchison explained that the story was right but there were "some inaccuracies that we tried to rectify".

These inaccuracies obviously included the prices of goods in the store. Funny that he would believe PC World over his own reporter, though. But then PC World does produce a national database of prices, so Mr Harris must have been mistaken.

Apples and Oranges

But hang on, there's more. "Plus, some of the goods weren't like for like." Really? "Yes, the hard drive was of a different model [the Maxtor DiamondMax 60GB IDE as opposed to the Maxtor DiamondMax 60GB IDE] and ran at a different speed, and the Sony CD-writer came with a CD-bundled package at PC World that you didn't get at Dabs." There you go then. It's a good job PC World called up to sort things out.

Ironically, though, another one of Dixons other computer stores, Currys, has just been fined for just the sort of behaviour that PC Format wrongly alleged in its original article. The stores had misled buyers into believing that there were reductions on various items but they had in fact never been more expensive than their current price. Funny that... ®

Sponsored: 10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity