About a year ago, executives at personal computer manufacturer Dell Inc. decided it was time to begin accepting the virtual currency Bitcoin as a payment option on its U.S. e-commerce site. Fourteen days later, it was so. Then earlier this year Dell wanted to add the capability to its localized sites in Canada and the United Kingdom. Four days later, it was so.
The speed with which a retailer the size of Dell can adapt to the changing needs of the online shopper and turn on such functionality is made possible by a new global e-commerce platform the merchant has rolled out in phases over the last 18 months, chief information officer Paul Walsh says.
Dell, which sells to businesses and consumers online in 170 countries and 34 languages, is running all e-commerce properties on the same custom-built platform. That means large site upgrades, small tweaks or new functionality can be turned on and off much more quickly, more cheaply and in ways that don’t harm the shopping experience.
“Our previous platform was built in-house; it was more of a regional platform,” Walsh says. “We had one for North America, another stack for LATAM, and each region was on its own. The cost of managing that and rolling out new capabilities was too much to keep up with, and it was not giving customers satisfaction.”
Dell does not break out its online sales by country or by business segment, but Walsh says it’s a $15 billion global online retailer and growing. Internet Retailer estimates Dell sold $3.65 billion online to consumers in 2014, down from a peak of $4.83 billion in 2008. The remainder is revenue from web sales to businesses and other organizations.
Dell became a private company in September 2013 amid declining sales. In its last annual report as a public company, Dell reported total revenue of $56.94 billion for the period ended Feb. 1, 2013. That was down 8.3% from $62.07 billion in the prior year. In December, as part of the new platform rollout, Dell replaced its mobile-optimized site with one that’s responsive, meaning the site automatically adapts to consumers’ devices so it displays on smartphones, tablets and desktops. This move drove a 50% increase in conversion rate from mobile devices, and a 70% increase in customer satisfaction, Walsh says. In the United States, 30% of Dell traffic comes from mobile devices. In Japan, mobile is about 40%, and in places like South Korea it’s much higher.
In addition to keeping on top of the latest technology on its own e-commerce properties, Dell is placing a large emphasis on the services side of its business. This involves consulting other companies, including online retailers, on their technology capabilities.
For example, Dell is helping office supplies giant Staples Inc. get a better handle on its social media strategy. Dell is using what it calls its social media listening command center to monitor social networks for mentions of Staples, and it consults the retailer on how best to respond to consumers quickly. “They get about 150,000 social hits a month, and we actually run through that and understand what they need to do next to talk to their customers,” Walsh says.
Dell is ranked No. 12 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide. Staples is No. 4.