Microsoft visited the PC Advisor offices this morning to tell us about plans to push its range of hardware peripherals into the business market.
The idea is that selected Microsoft keyboards, mice, webcams and audio headsets - some launched in the past few months, but many that have been on the consumer market for a couple of years - are being rebranded with the tag 'For Business', boxed up in plain, basic cardboard packaging and sold to business buyers at a significantly reduced cost.
Prices will vary depending on the supplier, but the Microsoft executives told us they expect prices to be 15 to 25 percent lower than under previous terms. And they stressed that the lower terms were not entirely dependent on volume buying - you can simply buy one keyboard, they said, and still see a decent saving, because of the more economical packaging. Larger volumes could be cheaper still, though.
You can get a mouse for around £6.20 inc VAT, for example (that's the Optical Mouse 200); the cheapest keyboard is the Wired Keyboard 200, which has an estimated retail price of £7.30 inc VAT. Both had ERPs of £9.99 for consumer buyers.
It seems like a canny move to me. I rate Microsoft keyboards and mice very highly, but I'd view them as very much mid to high-end products; the sort of thing used by serious PC users, and gamers, and lucky journalists who write reviews of peripherals for a national magazine. You wouldn't expect a company's IT department to buy 50 of them and kit out all staff with MS hardware.
And it's also a clever way of shifting older gear, and earning some eco brownie points by talking up the cut-price packaging (which doesn't need to be bright or shiny, since the products won't be on shop shelves) as an environmental crusade.
By initially establishing something approaching a 'boutique' perception of quality but then broadening its approach, Microsoft is having its cake and eating it; selling small volumes at relatively high prices to one segment and then trading off that high-end brand to pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap in mass corporate roll-outs. Clever stuff.