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What Does the Next Generation of Contractors Really Think About E-Commerce?

What Does the Next Generation of Contractors Really Think About E-Commerce?

By Bridget McCrea

Most of the time, electrical contracting firm K2 Electric, Inc., in Phoenix buys its electrical components, equipment, and supplies from area distributors. Using a combination of email and phone calls, the company reaches out to those suppliers on a regular basis, knowing that this traditional procurement method will result in the goods being delivered accurately and on time.

In some cases, the Internet yields better results. “When we run into oddball parts or components, we’ll go to Amazon,” says Jared Kredit, executive vice president, “especially when distributors are saying, ‘Hey, this order is going to take two weeks.'” Forced to find alternate suppliers, Kredit says a quick search on Amazon is generally his “best bet” for locating harder-to-find items that his distributors don’t stock.

But what if those same electrical distributors had an e-commerce site where contractors could go to source, search, price, and procure products? Kredit says he’d definitely use that type of online portal, though he says none of his local distributors have such capabilities. While most distributors do have websites where contractors like K2 can go to place orders and check on them, any real shopping or estimating still requires one-on-one contact with an inside salesperson.

“We’re still using a lot of phone and email to go back and forth with our distributors when placing orders,” says Kredit, who would also like to see electrical distributors do a better job of posting product information, specifications, and pricing online. “In most cases, I just use Google to do my research,” he explains. “Other than Platt Electric Supply – which isn’t in our area – no one else has an online marketplace where you can see product availability and pricing.”

Pricing Issues Abound
Knowing that creating an Amazon-esque online marketplace complete with research, pricing, and ordering capabilities would be challenging for the typical industrial distributor, Kredit suggests a scaled-down version focused on customers’ “A-type” items. “For those items that we buy for every project, and where we don’t require any expertise or support,” Kredit explains, “it would be great to get to a point where we could go online and punch in a product code and get our pricing, availability, and delivery without having to make a phone call or send out an email.”

But even that scaled-down e-commerce setup could present challenges for both the distributor and the contractor. “Structuring the pricing would be difficult,” Kredit acknowledges, “since we regularly negotiate better pricing on commodity-type products. This could be hard to orchestrate using an online marketplace setup.”

The “Wired” Generation
Kredit isn’t the only electrical contractor that would like to see more electrical distributors adopting e-commerce and related online capabilities that would help him work smarter, better, and faster. Younger contractors, in particular, are already used to using their mobile phones and iPads to transact business without having to pick up a telephone or visit a physical retail location. This “wired” generation also expects to be able to shop in a 24/7/365 environment, where human intervention only comes into play when a problem comes up or when more information or support is needed.

At King’s Electric Service in Lebanon, Oh., Matt Hittinger, project manager, says none of his electrical distributors have e-commerce capabilities at this point. Like Kredit, he sees the dynamic pricing environment as one of the major stumbling blocks to buying electrical components and supplies online. “The products may be online, but not at our prices,” says Hittinger, who would use an online ordering platform if it became available. “It would be great to get a quick price and place an order instead of having to reach out to a vendor and wait to receive a quote back.”

To conduct research about products, Hittinger uses Google. The search engine usually turns up the product information and specifications that he’s looking for – along with a few potential suppliers – and “general pricing” that he can use when completing his own bids and quotes. “We’re not necessarily going to buy at that rate,” says Hittinger, “but it does give us a range to work with.”

Ultimately, Hittinger would like to see King’s Electric Service’s electrical distributors find a way to incorporate pricing and availability into their online portals. “We’re always on our computers here, so being able to get that information without having to talk to an actual person would be very beneficial,” says Hittinger. “It would be that much easier and faster for us, and it would really speed up some of our everyday tasks.”

Jumping on the Bandwagon
As we move into 2016, Hittinger is hopeful about his e-commerce “wish list” and says he’s starting to see more distributors taking an interest in transacting online. And while he knows it will be a while before his area electrical distributors build and administer Amazon-like presences online, he’s glad that more companies are beginning to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon.

Pointing to the Graybar mobile app (i.e., an on-the-go solution for placing, tracking and managing product orders) as an example, Hittinger says his firm’s field service technicians are already using the application to place direct orders with the distributor. “We downloaded the app and are using it to interact with Graybar remotely – without having to make a phone call or send an email,” says Hittinger. “This is one step in the right direction when it comes to streamlining the ordering process.”

Hittinger hopes that those “steps” continue in 2016, particularly because he’s not interesting in “being married to a single distributor.” Ideally, he’d like to be able to shop around at multiple sources (on price, availability, delivery times, etc.) online before making his final purchasing decision. “Maybe this is something that a third party could provide, I don’t know,” Hittinger says. “For now, I guess we’ll stick to doing Google searches for parts and then just use the traditional way of getting final pricing and availability on products.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.


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