One reason the Dell Pocket DJ Ditty Mp3 player failed: terrible packaging

I just bought a Dell Pocket DJ Mp3 Player off eBay and the package arrived in the mail today with all the original materials. Around $50 for a 5GB player, it’s a good deal, at least for testing purposes (so, yes, expect some helpful Dell DJ tutorials at my Ask Dave Taylor Tech Support site soon).
It was only a few weeks ago that Dell announced that it was leaving the Mp3 player market after being disappointed at how poorly the DJ sold in the market. Touted as yet another iPod killer, in fact its sales were quite poor (Dell basically says “It sold. That’s all we’re going to say about that.”) and it’s no wonder Dell tossed it overboard.
Having just unveiled my own Dell Pocket DJ, it’s clear to me that one of the reasons Dell failed yet again in this market segment is that they just don’t get the world of consumer electronics. It’s not a world of utilitarian brown cardboard packaging, yet here’s the box that the Dell DJ arrived in:

Dell Pocket DJ Packaging

Does that jump out and make you delighted with your smart purchase decision, eager to tear it open and show your friends this cool new technogadget?


By comparison, there’s no company that better understands packaging than Apple Computer. From their innovative “briefcase” packaging for PowerBooks (yes, I remember. How many computer packages do you remember ten years later?) to the just amazing little cube that contains a Mac Mini, just about everything I have ever purchased from Apple has been a pleasure to view, a delight to open and really prepped me for an enjoyable ownership experience.
In the fanboy world, this is what people refer to as the “out of box experience”, and some companies just do it splendidly.
Is it important that the out of box experience be good with a piece of consumer electronics?
Yes, I believe it’s pretty darn important actually, because in a world of commodity products where there are dozens of choices for any given item, it’s imperative that the company continually reinforce and remind the buyer just how smart they were with their purchase, how sexy and cool the product is and, by extension, just how cool they are for having the savvy to buy it in the first place.
Commoditization, as Linda Sanford and I write about in our book Let Go To Grow: Escaping the Commodity Trap, can only be overcome by breaking out of the cheaper, cheaper, cheaper trap. DIfferentiate, or die.
For comparison sake, check out the packaging of the Apple iPod:

Apple iPod Packaging

You see one of these on a shelf at a store and you’re going to think “oh, I want it!!” Also, you can’t see it with my photos, but the Dell box is at least four times the size of the slim iPod box. Apple seems to be the only company in the industry trying to minimize package size, actually.
Now, to be fair, Dell doesn’t (yet) have a retail store and haven’t figured out how to distribute their products through major consumer electronics outlets, but can you imagine the buyer from somewhere like Best Buy looking at the Dell Pocket DJ packaging, possibly placing it next to the iPod box, and then being motivated to stock it and sell it for Dell? I sure can’t.
It’s very informative to walk through the electronics section of Walmart or Best Buy with this sort of question in mind too: how many of those packages really sell the product inside? Heck, go to a supermarket and you’ll see that there are thousands of packages from companies that are complete masters of making you want what’s inside the box.
So what happened with Dell and its failed Mp3 player efforts? Is boring packaging an inevitable result of a highly commoditized market, or did the Texas company just plain get this one wrong?

4 comments on “One reason the Dell Pocket DJ Ditty Mp3 player failed: terrible packaging

  1. It just goes to show that even a big company like Dell can get it wrong. I’ve always thought of Dell computers as sturdy, dependable and boring, but those are not traits I would be looking for in an MP3 player. Looks like you got a great bargain though.

  2. Some nice insights there Dave, i agree with you that packaging can be just as, if not more important than the object inside.. after all if i bought something (expensive) i’d like to wonder if i should throw the box away. With dell theres no doubt but apple on the other hand…

  3. I purchased this dj about two years ago. Only used the most eight timesand recently tried to put a web cast on it and it would not turn on. Spoke to dell rep in India and he tell me that dell no longer supports this product. I feel that if dell was the company it is suppose to be. They would stand behind there product. And they did not. Next time I will buy I Ipod.

  4. A friend of mine just got this Dell Pocket DJ for Father’s day. Software installed great and device and associated folders recognized by Windows XP. When .mp3 files are dragged into the Music Library folder on PC – all is fine. But – cannot get those files onto the device. Device keeps saying “add files from library” …. Do you know to transfer .mp3 from PC to device ? Please help. Thank You

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