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HolidayBuyer's Guide
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Dell site hit by outage

A slowdown prevented some visitors from reaching Dell Computer's Web site Wednesday, potentially costing the PC maker sales during the holiday shopping season.

A slowdown prevented some visitors from reaching Dell Computer's Web site Wednesday, potentially costing the PC maker sales during the holiday shopping season.

The outage, during which some customers could not access the site and others experienced slow download times, lasted several hours. Dell spokesman Bob Kaufman confirmed that there had been a problem, but he said access had been restored to the site as of Wednesday afternoon.

Dell, the No. 1 PC manufacturer, is still working to determine the cause of the glitch, Kaufman said. It was most likely related to heavy traffic on the site, he said.

"We obviously regret any inconvenience we caused to customers," he said. "We want to provide the best (customer service) experience we can for them."

Dell's Web site, with its sales, support and information pages, has become an essential tool for the company in promoting its PCs and other products as well as in interacting with its customers.

The outage may have caused the company some financial damage, but determining how much could be tricky.

"It could be tough for Dell management to gauge how much business they lost. There is always the potential that customer will be willing to come back later or tomorrow," said Brooks Gray, an analyst at Technology Business Research.

Gray estimates that Dell makes upward of $80 million per day in sales via its Web site, particularly during the holiday season. Given that, "it's safe to say it will be losing at least a few million in potential business," he said.

But Kaufman said that even while Dell's home page, Dell.com, and some other parts of the site were hard to access, its Premier Pages--individual customer pages that allow companies to order PCs and other products--were not affected drastically by the glitch.

As a result, Dell doesn't anticipate missing many sales. "We expect little meaningful impact on the company's business" from the outage, Kaufman said. The PC maker believes most shoppers will go back to shopping on the site now that it has been fully restored.

The Texas-based PC manufacturer generally doesn't disclose detailed sales or traffic numbers for its Web site. But at a conference in 2000, CEO Michael Dell told customers that the company made about $50 million in sales from the site each day and got about 50 million hits.

Since then, Dell has expanded the site's features, adding a number of special online-only rebates and promotions and making it a central part of its new retail kiosk program. The program lets customers view, touch and feel Dell products at a retail outlet, then make orders via the site or by telephone.

In a recent statement, the PC company said more than half of those who purchased consumer systems from Dell over the recent Thanksgiving weekend did so online.

Dell has suffered outages in the past. Two years ago, the company's DellHost site, which hosts Web sites for customers, was unavailable for a few hours. So far, it has not been affected by Wednesday's outage.