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Dell's site gets a makeover

The redesigned Web site is meant to offer a cleaner, more streamlined view of products such as PCs and servers and easier access to services such as tech support.

Dell hopes to get to the point more quickly with a new version of its Web site, set to be unveiled over the weekend.

The new Dell Web site is designed to offer a cleaner, more streamlined view of products such as PCs and servers and easier access to services such as tech support.

The site retains its basic layout, which is separated into categories such as home and home office and small business. But it aims to feature Dell's newest, non-PC product lines more prominently.

The Round Rock, Texas-based company has expanded into a number of new arenas, most recently consumer electronics, as part of an effort to boost its revenue to the $60 billion mark over the next few years.

The redesign--its single largest overhaul since Dell's site launched in 1995--reflects the number of new products the company has added since its last redesign, in 1999, said Tom West, director of small and midsize business for Dell's e-business division.

Dell has introduced products that range from network switches to printers to handhelds. It now also sells a wide range of third-party products such as digital cameras. The new site aims to make them all more accessible by serving up more inclusive Web pages.

New icons and drop-down menus have also been added that are designed to let customers get to product information in fewer clicks.>

The site will also feature a comparison shopping engine that's designed to let a person see all the special offers available in a given category, such as "small business." Other additions include graphics that present 360-degree views of Dell products and better search capabilities, West said.

"We wanted to make it easier for our customers to do business with us," he said.

Dell is also adding features specifically aimed at small businesses.

The company's site receives about nine million page views per day and conducts about 400,000 transactions per month, Dell has said. An increasing number of those visitors are small-business owners. Traffic on the part of Dell's site specifically for small businesses has risen 300 percent, West said. He added that unit sales to small businesses have grown 305 percent and revenue has jumped by 270 percent between calendar years 2000 and 2003.

With more small businesses coming to Dell's site, the company has looked for ways to improve their visiting experience. Customers will now be able to shop using an online version of Dell's small-business catalog, which the company normally mails to customers, according to Dell. Offers presented in the hard copy of the catalog can be viewed and purchased online on the new site for the first time, without customers having to type in long, alphanumeric product codes. Some customers had trouble using the codes, West said.

At times, those codes have created other problems for the company. An incorrect price that was attached to a product code allowed customers to order Dimension 4600 desktops for $139 Thursday. Dell caught the error, but not before some customers' orders had been accepted.

Dell reserves the right not to honor incorrect pricing or typographical errors on its site, but it often still honors orders accepted before it catches an error. Dell canceled orders placed after this error was discovered, company spokesman Lionel Menchaca said, and will contact those customers whose orders were canceled to explain why. The machine should have listed for $899.

"We'll do whatever we can to keep customers coming back," Menchaca said of customers whose orders Dell canceled. "If some people get upset about it, there's not a whole lot we can do. We have to be realistic about the situation."

West said some features designed to display products more clearly on the new site can also help prevent those kinds of errors from happening in the future.

"A lot of that has to do with the controls in the system," West said. "Given the amount of complexity we have today, the easier we can make the merchandising (of products), the better the controls will be. That is a frustration on our side, and we're working to eliminate those issues."