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Blog: Smartphones, Tablets, and the future

By Jack Keough

The number of people who own Smartphones and tablet computers is staggering and already is having an impact on the way electrical distributors’ customers search for and order new products.

Take a look at these numbers. According to the International Telecommunication Union, the number of mobile phones worldwide is expected to exceed the world’s population in a year.

A Forrester Research survey found that respondents use a Smartphone at least once a week for work and 21 percent said they use a tablet for work at least weekly.

And electrical distributors and manufacturers have taken notice.

Just about nine months ago, Grainger, the giant MRO/electrical distributor introduced a mobile application for its customers. The results have been exceptional as mobile growth has sharply quarter over quarter.

The app provides instant access to Grainger’s 900,000 products making it even easier for maintenance, repair and operations professionals to search for products, see account pricing, check product availability and quickly order products anywhere.

“We find that many people work away from their desks. By allowing these customers access to Grainger’s products anytime and anywhere, Grainger’s mobile technology helps them work more efficiently,” said Geoffrey Robertson, Grainger Vice President of eCommerce Strategy and Planning. “We are moving beyond the standard trend of using mobile for information-gathering and leveraging it to help companies manage their workflow.”

Grainger launched a mobile site in 2011, followed shortly thereafter by Mobile apps in 2012 (iOS and Android smartphones).

“We have seen phenomenal growth since the launch with more than 10% of our traffic coming from mobile. Our total mobile traffic has increased 2 times year-over-year and App downloads increased 17% in Q1 ’13 over Q4 ’12,” Robertson said.

“As our customers become more comfortable with mobile, we are seeing them migrate from the mobile web site to one of our mobile apps. This is happening most quickly with contractor and property management customers given the nature of their work.”

Electrical manufacturer Thomas & Betts recently launched a new iPad application, T&B Mobile, to provide full access to the company’s products, application and industry information and insight, as well as distributor services, multimedia presentations and electrical industry news and information.

“The T&B Mobile application puts a wealth of valuable T&B information at your fingertips, “said Chris Castleberry, vice president of marketing at Thomas & Betts.

Once the application is downloaded, information such as brochures, presentation materials and videos, is organized by markets, solutions and products, and accessible via simple touch and swipe navigation. Information about the Thomas& Betts Signature Service program for distributors is also available through the “Channels” button.

In January, T&B introduced  T&B Access®, a web portal on www.tnbaccess.tnb.com for Thomas & Betts’ distributors, to be  is accessible with a Smartphone application through the entry page.

“We conducted a survey of our distributors in December 2011,” said Castleberry in a press release,  “and more than 400 respondents requested a Smart phone version of T&B Access, so this application was developed to serve our distribution partners. We believe that this is the first smart phone application of its kind in the industry. In addition to the application, we developed an online tutorial to instruct users about the various features.”

Summit Electric Supply has launched a new mobile application that quickly determines the allowable fill rates for conduit or tubing.

Conduit Fill Tracker is a conduit fill calculator for electricians that keeps track of any combination of conductors as they are added to various conduit types and sizes. The application displays the current and remaining fill percentages in an easy-to-read graph that updates in real-time as the user makes selections.

Electrical distributors and manufacturers have come to the realization that the market is changing rapidly and so are the people who are entering it.

Some of these distributors are building their own apps. As we previously reported, those companies include Elliott Electric Supply that  developed a mobile-app in house in order to meet the needs of its increasingly mobile users.

That mobile growth is driven by the use of tablet computers. Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 22%, now own a tablet device-double the number from a year earlier.

Forbes magazine recently reported that personal mobile devices that connect to corporate networks are extensive and growing. It pointed out that:

  • 65% of companies allow personal devices to connect to corporate networks
  • 78% say there are more than twice as many personal devices connecting to corporate networks now than compared to two years ago
Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at john.keough@comcast.net
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