Against all odds, I was actually watching a commercial on television and I heard about Circuit City’s College Computer Guide. In concept, this is a pretty good idea– for a vendor to have technical recommendations readily available for your college. Incoming students and their parents can go to the brick and mortar store or order online and they don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what their school requires or recommends.
Unfortunately, Circuit City didn’t really consult anybody about this so-called guide.
Since my department is primarily responsible for putting together recommended configurations (we don’t have a computer purchase requirement or minimum requirements for computers), I was interested to see what Circuit City had listed for Stanford. See, we’ve never been contacted about what they should include in their guide, so I was interested to see if they had somehow talked to someone else at the University and put together a listing. Needless to say, the listing was both confusing and completely wrong– they recommended Windows 95/98/ME as an operating system, simply “32” for memory and just “1” as a hard drive. I guess that means that they recommend you have a hard drive.
So, I politely contacted customer care with the following email:
Hi, I work at Stanford University supporting student computing.
I noticed that you have added your College Guide for computers and that
there is a technical recommendation for Stanford. Where did you get
this information and/or who was your contact at the University for this
In less than 24 hours, I received the following message:
Thank you for writing to Circuit City.
I understand that you wish to know where and how did we get this
information about the technical recommendation for Stanford.
I would like to address this query, but I would recommend you to go to
the local Circuitcity store and seek information regarding it.
Right. If that’s not a canned answer, I don’t know what is.
Thanks to the RIAA and the MPAA, our department has a new found closeness with the University’s legal and business affairs offices, so suffice it to say, they’re contacting Circuit City to clear up the matter.
And what matter is that? Not just that they have wrong information, but that Circuit City foolishly thought that they could pass themselves as affiliated with or a representative of Stanford or any of the other 800+ colleges and universities listed in their guide. The sad thing is that we, along with other universities, would have probably been glad to work with Circuit City and many other vendors to provide accurate and up-to-date information on technical recommendations. But of course, no, that would have taken real effort to reach out to schools and develop actual relationships. Stanford has been working closely with Apple, Dell, and the Stanford Bookstore to offer this exact type of deal– putting together specific bundles with special pricing for our students and making them readily available through online and brick-and-mortar vendors. Students can find packages that fit their specific needs, but will meet the minimum requirements for use on our network and will most likely last them for the majority if not all of their time at Stanford. You’d probably be surprised how much staff time goes into coming up with these recommendations every year, especially this year as we try to come up with more helpful recommendations. And yet, with one stupid move, Circuit City cancels out this hard work. I can only imagine how much trouble this is going to cause for schools with mandatory purchase requirements.
Well, hopefully, I’ve started enough of a ruckus around this to take this stupid college guide down– I’ve already passed on the news to colleagues around the country and many are taking action right away. Had these universities been approached beforehand, the guide could have been a useful marketing tool, but instead, many have said they are asking Circuit City to remove their listings altogether. Aside from the general principle of refusing to work with them after this stupid stunt, Circuit City would most likely not be able to offer an accurate picture of technical recommendations (e.g., they would not include information on Macs, giving the impression that these campuses were Windows-only). My next step is to swing by a store and see if they’ll try to sell this thing to me as an “official recommendation.” (Hopefully, I can still pass for an incoming freshman.)
So, if you’re about to start college this fall and you’re looking for computer purchase recommendations, don’t trust Circuit City– if you’re coming to Stanford, check out the letter we sent to you in your “Approaching Stanford” packet or view it here online. If you’re going to any other school, check directly with your school– they’re definitely a better source than Circuit City. (And they probably won’t send telemarketers to extend your product warranties like Circuit City does too.)