Beyond E-Buying

May 1, 2002
A recent survey on industrial purchasing from Thomas Register tells why e-technology is being ignored.

E-commerce and the Internet are certainly changing material handling, in ways large and small. We’ve pointed many of these out in our e-commerce series (see the MHM February 2002 issue and this one). But one of the more compelling reasons for adopting this technology that is often ignored was revealed in a recent survey on industrial purchasing from Thomas Register.

Some of the survey findings may help you when you push for the systems you’ll need to set up the appropriate Web-site infrastructure. But one of these nuggets of information reveals an unappreciated merit of e-commerce. See if you can find it.

According to the survey:

• Most people check out your Web site for information before they call you. (While Thomas Register didn’t say how many people they’ve surveyed for this, they did say that 91 percent of those surveyed fall into this group.)

• People expect to find information on: pricing, ordering and shipping, product guarantees and product features and capabilities. Those product features include sizes, capacities and other physical specifications. Plus, prospective buyers want to look through on-line catalogs. (The survey claims 90 percent want these data.)

• Slightly less than the total number of people surveyed (80 percent) said if their preferred supplier doesn’t have such information available on its Web site, then they will go to another potential supplier.

• That’s because, as far as potential buyers (70 percent) are concerned, having an informative Web site is tantamount to “showing the customer you want their business.”

• And for the engineers who visit your Web site, 66 percent of them say they would like to see CAD information made available.

Did you find it? The neglected nugget is the desire for CAD data. Two-thirds of engineers, whether they work for your customer, for consultants or systems integrators, want to use your e-commerce site to see more than just specifications and dimensions.

What the engineers will do with these data is design and implement material handling systems faster. They can check first if the product will fit the system design. Then, they can refer to the CAD data when it comes time to integrate that product into the system. Faster implementation is something everyone wants for the obvious reasons.

A side aspect of this development involves software. Increasingly, modular pieces of program code are available from Web sites. Once downloaded into a customer’s control system, he can make minor alterations to suit his application needs, without the aid of a consultant or integrator.

Such convenience has been available to manufacturing and large companies for a while. The news is that the great equalizer, the Internet, is now making it available to mid-sized and some small companies.

It’s fairly quick and easy to make CAD data available on Web sites. But there are at least two cautions. First, companies need to ensure that the CAD data are current. Procedures need to be in place to ensure these data are updated regularly. The second caution involves security. While a lot of engineers would like access, do you give it to all who inquire?

If you do offer CAD data on your Web site, let me know what your access criteria are. If you don’t offer CAD data yet, tell me what you think about doing so. I’ll share the results of my informal survey in a future column.

Leslie Langnau, senior technical editor, [email protected]