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Monday, May 22, 2006, 01:00 pm PT (04:00 pm ET)

Dell to take a second stab at retail

As it struggles to maintain its lead as the number one personal computer marker, Apple Computer rival Dell Inc. plans to once again dabble in the retail business when it launches two stores at shopping centers later this year.

Though unlike Apple, which stocks products on-hand for customers to carry out after purchase, Dell will remain true to its direct model by having shoppers order products online for later delivery, according to Statesman.com.

The Round Rock, Texas-based Windows PC maker plans to open its first location at the NorthPark Center in Dallas, Texas in late summer and followup with a store at the massive Palisades Center in West Nyack, New York in the fall.

The store will reportedly span about 3,000 square feet and face-off against Apple retail stores which currently operate out of both shopping plazas.

For Dell, this won't be the first time it has dipped its toes into the retail arena. About three years ago, the company ended an experiment with small outlets at a handful of Sears department stores.

According to Statesman, the company currently operates 161 kiosks at malls across the United States, where customers can preview a selection of its products and place orders.

The two full-size stores, which Dell claims will be an extension of its kiosks model, are considered to be part of a pilot program aimed at displaying more products and systems for customers. They will reportedly feature a home theater display designed around a personal computer as well as systems designed specifically for kids.

According to Statesman, the stores will also sell Dell services, such as home network installation. However, the company is still "working out how to handle tech support questions that existing customers might bring to the store."

The success of Apple's retail strategy has largely been attributed to the customer support offered through its Genius Bars, which are installed as a centerpiece in each of the company's 147 locations world-wide. There, trained staffers answer questions, offer solutions, handle repairs and provide technical and creative support on a one-on-one basis with Mac and iPod users.

Apple's latest retail store opened this past weekend in Midtown Manhattan to a crowd of over 3000 enthused shoppers.