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Dell simplifies online buying

The computer maker borrows from the world of VCR programming, whereby a code can be used to speed up ordering.

Dell Computer introduced a program today aimed at boosting the effectiveness of its print advertisements and at the same time making it easier for consumers to buy systems over the Internet.

With the new program, Dell is applying a concept similar to the codes printed in TV guides that are used to simplify videotaping TV programs.

The E-Value program aims to make buying a computer online an easier task like this: It lets a customer type in a number from a printed ad at the program's Web site, and then the correct system configuration and price pops up.

The system is intended to help customers cut through the morass of configuration "speeds and feeds" information that typifies most advertisements for PCs.

Instead of trying to click through several layers of a Web site to get to the right computer and configure systems themselves, small businesses and consumers will be encouraged to go right to the E-Value page, type in the system number from the ad, and Dell will whisk them to the correct information.

Dell, which now says it does more than $10 million a day in sales over the Internet, or 20 percent of total revenues, hopes the new process will help speed the company along toward its goal of selling half its PCs via the Internet by 2000.

"Basically the Internet is becoming a much bigger part of our business. This is a way to get from an ad to the Internet to get directly what you're looking for" and, consequently, boost online sales, said David Clifton, senior product marketing manager for Dell's small business group.

"It's not really a complicated idea, but its something that's difficult to execute consistently and accurately," Clifton said. Order and manufacturing systems have to be tied together on an increasingly real-time basis in order for the system to work, he noted.

Another benefit for the company--Dell should be able to track the effectiveness of its print ad campaigns more effectively. Previously, tracking was mostly accomplished by collecting information on which a toll-free number associated with a particular publication resulted in sales to customers.

Presumably, it has been harder to track which ads in a given magazine generated online sales, because customers weren't phoning in, they were logging on and rebuilding the configurations for themselves.

Dell enjoyed remarkable growth in both revenues and shipments in 1998, reaching the No. 2 in the U.S. for the fourth quarter, according to recent surveys. Part of that success has been attributed to a growing number of customers who are shopping for computers online.

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