Introduction: ...


In this regular feature, Strategy Direct + Interactive asks an interactive marketing expert to give us their candid assessment of a Web site selected by us. This month, Doug Keeley, president of Toronto-based digital communications agency ICE, tells us what he thinks of


Dell Computer Corp., a pioneer in the direct marketing and selling of home and business computer systems, first began selling personal computers over the Web in 1994, at, which now generates US$40 million a day in sales for the company. The Dell Canada Online Store, which launched in June, 1997, quickly established itself as a key component of Dell Canada’s overall business, generating $1 million in weekly sales within two months of its launch. The Online Store, which was redesigned in 1998, currently generates more than $100 million in annual sales for the computer maker, which claims to be the number one seller of PCs in Canada, ahead of IBM and Compaq. The company says that some 60% its PC sales to Canadian consumers occur online. Last month, Dell announced that it had implemented a host of navigational, security and customization enhancements to its Web-based Premier Pages service for business and institutional customers in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

Doug Keeley:

President, ICE

Is the Dell brand about cheap computers, or is it about an innovative company that revolutionized the computer buying experience over the last decade? One would think – in fact, expect – that the Web site would provide a definitive answer to that question. Somehow, though, I don’t think it does.

The homepage does segment buyers as soon as they show up for a visit, and it is certainly easy to view the full range of products Dell has to offer. And, while I didn’t actually buy anything on the site (Strategy hasn’t committed budgets for this yet), getting to the point of purchase was a pretty simple process.

But while it is easy to buy a Dell computer online, my visit to the site did nothing to stoke my desire to do so. The user experience is akin to eating tofu: You know it’s supposed to be good for you but, damn, couldn’t they put some flavour in this stuff?

If I were to offer a one-word description of the site, it would be ‘boring.’ The site looks and feels like an office supply catalogue. The product shots are relegated to tiny little photos, and the so-called sell copy is made up of nothing more than dull blocks of factoids. The site has no personality, no richness, no compelling reason to do anything except comparison shop on price and features.

In fact, looks and feels far too much like the vast majority of e-commerce sites that we’ve seen slapped together over the last little while, which seem to be devoid of any real marketing direction. Whatever happened to the idea of developing a positive buying experience?

Dell supposedly reinvented the personal computer business. And yet online, where it sells $40 million of product a day, even the streamed video clips of Michael Dell are boring.

If this is where the personal computer buying experience is going, I’m staying put.