How Dell Sells on the Web

It's no secret that Dell Computer Corp. sells lots of PCs on the Web. But what's the secret of its success? How it builds relationships with its online customers.

Scott Eckert built, and now runs, one of the world's biggest Web operations - one whose annual revenues are 10 times as high as those of Yahoo! and 5 times as high as those of Amazon.com. So why isn't Eckert a Web celeb on the order of Jerry Yang or Jeff Bezos? Because his operation is part of Dell Computer Corp. Michael Dell started the company out of his college dorm room in 1983. Today it generates annual revenues of more than $12 billion and profits of nearly $1 billion. Who can compete with that kind of track record?

Actually, Scott Eckert can. Eckert, director of Dell Online, launched the current site www.dell.com in July 1996. A year later, online sales were running at $3 million per day. The site now registers an astounding $5 million in revenue per day - nearly $2 billion a year. But Eckert's team is just getting started. Its next goal: By the end of the year 2000, Dell Online should generate 50% of the company's sales, and 100% of Dell customers should be online buyers.

"We're not just building a way to sell computers over the Internet," he says. "We're trying to transform the way Dell does business. We want the Net to become a core part of your experience with Dell."

Eckert recently sat down with Fast Company to discuss his rules for Web-based interaction and customer satisfaction.

Help Customers Help Themselves

"Customers value quick and easy access to products. They enjoy shopping at their leisure. And they want information - lots of information. The Web gives them all of that. In a survey of our online customers, 40% said that they chose Dell because of its Internet offerings. And 80% of them are new to the company. The Web's real power is that it helps customers help themselves.

"You help customers help themselves by making them feel at home. We create clear entry points for people from different sectors: business, home office, education. We have nearly 40 country-specific versions of the sites, and each one uses the appropriate language and currency. We've also adjusted the site to distinguish between first-time visitors and experienced users - customers who want to go straight to our 'online configurator' to build a system.

"What's good for customers is good for us. A year ago, we received 1 Web visit for every phone call. Today we're getting more than 3.5 visits for every phone call. Even when Web customers call to close a sale, they're a lot closer to a purchase decision by the time they get to the phone. That's the Holy Grail of this business."

They Better Shop Around

"Telephone customers usually call 4 to 5 times before they buy. Web customers visit the site 4, 5, even 10 times before they click the 'Place Order' button. Sometimes they read the first page of product information, bounce over to a competitor to do the same thing, and then come back several more times to go deeper into the site.

"That's fine. Our job is to put people in charge of the buying process. We let customers configure a system and then save that information on our site for up to two weeks. This way they can shop around - and feel better when they come back to Dell.

"Again, what's good for customers is good for us. When we considered the idea of selling online, we were concerned that without guidance from sales reps, customers would buy less-expensive systems. In fact, customers buy systems at higher price points on the Web than they do over the phone. Customers talk themselves into buying more-powerful systems!"

The Little Things Make the Biggest Difference

"Translating Dell's direct-sales model to the Web entails three adjustments: making it easier to do business with us, reducing the cost of doing business for Dell and for our customers, and enhancing our relationship with customers. The ultimate goal is to create a 'frictionless' environment.

"In building a Web site, the simple things make a huge difference. One of the most important developments on our site is also one of the simplest: 'Order Status.' It's one of our most frequently visited pages. People want to know, 'Where's my system?' Having a human being provide that information over the phone is not a very high- value-added transaction. So we've simply made the same information available on the Web. Customers check the status of their orders three, four, even five times - just because it's so easy to do. That's frictionless."

For more information on Dell, visit the Web www.dell.com or email Scott Eckert scott_eckert@dell.com

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