Dell started selling online in 1996. The Netscape browser — the first web browser that made using the web really easy — was released in October 94. www.dell.com launched in July 1996.
Dell tried indirect sales in 1990 – Sam’s, Price Club, Comp USA – but pulled out in 94 despite rapid growth. Dell saw the net as a natural extension of the direct model. Initially online sales resulted in an email – data was re-entered. Later, the web was fully integrated into the ordering process.
Dell makes PCs to order and sells direct to customers. It uses materials "Just in Time", which gives it an advantage as the price of PC parts can fall rapidly. Dell estimated that this creates a 6% profit advantage. Competitor machines can sit on the shelf for two months.
Dell typically takes 36 hours from order receipt to product shipping. Its order-to-cash cycle less than 24 hours. At the time, Compaq took 35 days (sales through dealers). Dell also saved 10 to 15% distributor margin. It also benefited from lower risk, as manufacturers often guaranteed dealer networks against price changes by reimbursing them for price reductions or buying back unsold inventory.