Virtual Communities goes public with packaged PCs

Melbourne-headquartered PC marketer Virtual Communities is extending its offer of discounted PC packages to the general public.

Set up in November last year, the company initially offered discounted PC packages to members of the ACTU and the Catholic Church, and has recently extended the offer to the public and other affinity groups such as sporting organisations and employers.

The package currently includes an IBM Aptiva PC, Microsoft and Lotus SmartSuite software, and internet access provided by Primus Telecommunications. It will expand the range of hardware and software to be offered in the future.

Members of affinity groups currently pay a discounted rate starting for union members at $9.99 per week for three-and-a-half years for a PC package, or $1863 (with an application fee) in total. This figure goes down to $1629 if they pay up-front, according to Ed Smith, Virtual Communities' director of operations.

In comparison, prices for the public start at $11.95 per week. The price difference for affinity members and the public is due to the fact that the company has to advertise to the public, while affinity groups market the packages to their own members.

Smith estimates that if members buy from retailers, they would typically pay 50 per cent more. To date, the company has sold $30,000 worth of PC packages to union members.

The goal of the company's program, says Smith, is to bring the education and cost savings opportunities available through the internet to all Australians.

"Our founders' vision is to reduce the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor. Statistics have found that only 25 per cent of Australians have access to the internet in their homes; what about the other 75 per cent?

"For small businesses too, they become more efficient and cut costs when they communicate or operate via the internet."

The company is backed by funds from founder Chris Clarke, internet service provider Primus, AXA and various industry superannuation funds.

Despite the substantial discounts offered to customers, the company is not running at a loss as it sells its packages at cost price or wholesale price, Smith said.

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Angelina Forsyth

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