--Mark A. DeSorbo
So what if the closest shopping mall or plaza is a few, 50, or 100 miles away. Why bother jumping in the car only to battle zillions of other motorists who could be heading to the same place?
All you need to do is type "www. (fill in this space).com" and you`re just a few clicks and drags of the mouse away from getting what you want, be it books, compact discs, groceries, and even cars.
Moreover, if it`s cable, connectors, tools, or a few more rack-mount enclosures, installers can order what they need over the Internet to get the job done. Slowly but surely, more manufacturers of these products are jumping on the "e-commerce" bandwagon.
"This is going to be happening more and more because it saves time, and it only makes sense," says Richard E. Dunfee, bicsi`s installation program manager. "Before you go out on a job, you can check your order online just to make sure you`re not going to be short on supplies. Then, you`re not waiting for a salesman, which very often you have to do, if you`re on the site and you find out you are short on supplies."
Making it easy for the designer or installer is just what Telect Inc. had in mind when it launched its site, www.fiberlan.com, last September. The Liberty Lake, WA-based manufacturer of telecommunications and fiber-optic connectivity reports that customers can shop online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The site features a variety of Telect rack- and wall-mount fiber enclosures and splice trays, plus accessory items such as patch cords, pigtails, and adapter plates.
Ken Morgan, virtual media manager for Telect, says fiberlan will have new products added to the inventory regularly. "The goal is to become a one-stop shopping place. This is another channel for installers to buy products," he says.
Installers, he says, can order a product at 2 PM and have it in their hands the next morning. Orders for more than $500 are shipped free, while site visitors can take a chance at winning a monthly $500 shopping spree. The site also has an enclosure configurator, which helps customers determine what and how many parts are needed to load an enclosure.
"The enclosure configurator gives our customers an honest comparison of the products," Morgan adds. At the time of this report, orders could only be made with a credit card, but payment through purchase orders were expected to be incorporated into the Web site. For credit card purchases, the site uses Secure Socket Layer, an encryption code that ensures safe online purchases.
Optical Cable Corp. (Roanoke, VA) is also gearing up to offer one-stop shopping to global purchasers. The company is working with ibm`s e-commerce division in designing the site, which is slated for launch this spring. The e-commerce site will be part of Optical Cable`s existing Web site, www.occfiber.com. "We will initially offer online ordering of the entire range of Optical Cable products," says Robert Kopstein, president and chief executive. "But we intend to build an Internet destination that could be a source for a full range of communications products from a number of suppliers."
The ease of ordering over the Internet, however, is not an immediate concern to some distributors, such as Graybar Electric Co. (St. Louis, MO). In fact, Graybar`s site, www.graybar. com, allows customers to order products over the Internet. David Saylor, supervisor of customer service for Graybar`s Tampa, FL, location, says most customers would rather deal with sales representatives. "A lot of our customers do not order products over our Web site. The people we deal with like to talk to a human being and get the reassurance that their order is going to get done," he adds.
Some manufacturers, Saylor says, have agreements with distributors, stipulating that they cannot sell directly to the end-user. "As far as manufacturer Web sites go, I don`t see them hurting us right now. In the long run, it could affect us if the manufacturers we distribute for decide to go that route," he adds.
Like Telect, many other product manufacturers give their customers the convenience of placing orders via the Internet. Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ) has an interactive Internet product catalog for its systimax Structured Connectivity Solutions (scs) premises- cabling system.
The company says its online catalog, www.lucent.com/netsys/systimax, enables a customer to fill a virtual shopping cart. At the end of each session, the customer can either request more information on selected items or save the session for later review.
Last year, amp Inc. (Harrisburg, PA), along with saqqara Systems Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA), was recognized for "Best Implementation of a Particular Technology" at CommerceNet`s Very Innovative Practice (vip) competition. Launched in January 1996, amp connect, located at connect.amp.com, provides an Internet product catalog featuring product descriptions, 3D models, and comparative charts with a listing of more than 80,000 components. The catalog is available in eight languages, including Spanish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and English. According to amp, two-thirds of the catalog`s 38,000 registered users are engineers in industries such as computer peripherals, electronic/electrical equipment, and aerospace systems and communications equipment. More than 114 countries are represented in the user group.