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Geeks everywhere have reason to rejoice


DALLAS —Best Buy pioneered the retail tech services business with Geek Squad and now mass retailers are following suit, with Wal-Mart and Target testing regional programs for TV installation and computer repair.

Wal-Mart teamed with computer partner Dell to open ‘Solution Stations’ in 15 stores in Dallas. The Geek Squad-style departments will offer TV installation, computer repairs and other tech functions. In a statement, Wal-Mart said it hopes the test with Dell will help it “understand more about what our customers need and expect in home installation and technology services.”

Target is taking a different approach, offering a next-day installation service for orders made on its Web site through a Minneapolis-based company called Zip Express. In addition to flat-panel TV and home theater installation, Zip Express is providing Target customers with computer setup and even furniture assembly. Customers can link to the Web site after making a purchase to schedule a time and date for a house call.

And Sam’s Club is teaming with a Virginia-based computer repair company called Geeks on Call America for a three-month test with 20 warehouses. Unlike Wal-Mart’s deal with Dell, the company won’t have a presence in Sam’s Clubs, but will advertise its services through a 1-800-number on stickers applied to computers and other CE products sold at stores taking part in the test.

The Sam’s Club venture is similar to one Costco launched in 2006 to stem a rash of returns on LCD and plasma TVs that customers were unable to hook up. Costco has a toll-free assistance desk for customers who want to hook up their own TVs and a home “concierge service” that includes basic TV installation for $89.

The mass retail ventures into tech services aren’t a big surprise, especially in the case of Wal-Mart, which has been talking about it for more than a year. But ramping them up from regional programs to hundreds or thousands of stores could be a tough task.

“It’s a nice addition to the business, but it’s hard to make it work,” said Andy Hargreaves, a consumer electronics retail analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. He said the biggest challenge would be maintaining quality control of the service and personnel as it grows larger. “That’s the difficult part and it doesn’t take too many customers having bad experiences to ruin your reputation,” said Hargreaves.

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