End Users Demand Online Purchasing

Jan. 13, 2011
Electrical Wholesaling’s recent survey of EC&M readers uncovered a river of discontent on the subject of online purchasing

Electrical Wholesaling’s recent survey of EC&M readers uncovered a river of discontent on the subject of online purchasing. Amongst the more than 400 respondents were many electrical contractors and other end users who would love to be able to shop for and purchase products online from their local distributors, but can’t do it because so few distributors offer it.

The many requests in the survey for online purchasing were interesting because it reflects a market conundrum. The majority of respondents said they purchased less than 10 percent of all products online, but one has to wonder if that relatively low percentage is more of a reflection of the fact that so few electrical distributors offer online purchasing than it is a lack of demand from end users for online purchasing. Judging from these survey results, end users want online purchasing and they are already doing it with the competitors of full-line distributors such as Home Depot, Grainger and Lowe’s. Respondents said they are also making online purchases from www.e-conolight.com, Ruud Lighting, Newark Electronics, www.1000bulbs.com, Amazon and eBay.

One Colorado Springs, Colo., electrical contractor who requested anonymity said he purchased 11 percent to 25 percent of all of the products he needs from online suppliers such as www.smarthouse.com, www.onlineelectricsupply.com and several different online sources for lighting products. His reasoning was pretty simple: “I can purchase what I want, and the people I talk to know the product. Sometimes the price is better. It is delivered where I want it. I don’t have to wait in line at the parts house while the counter staff talks about everything but getting the contractors in and out.”

Added another contractor who requested anonymity about his purchasing habits, “Put catalogs and pricing info on the web. I would love to check availability or part information via a smartphone before having someone drive to the distributor, only to find it out of stock or special order.”

Martin Hutchinson, Ramco Electrical Co., Los Angeles, Calif., had a different technological concern. He wants distributors to use modern warehouse technology to cut down on wait time at the counter. “When I get to the wholesale house, I’m generally short on time and waiting for service or waiting for them to tally up the cost of the order takes too long,” he said. “Why can’t the UPC system be used so when they pull the stock, they use a portable scanner, scan the bar code that has been placed on the bin, add the quantity and download it to the register. I verify, pay or sign and I’m on to my next job. What seems to be lost at most wholesale houses is the fact that I’m losing money waiting there.”

Tiffan Jones, Lynn’s Electric & Solar, Inc., Valrico, Fla., had a similar suggestion. “Make it easy to just click a page and find the information on an item and if it’s in stock,” he said. “Grainger is making good progress with this concept.”

Some contractors still appreciate the human touch when buying products. Peter Bowers, Satellite Electric Co., Inc., Beltsville, Md., said he doesn’t buy many electrical supplies online but that he does use the Web as a research tool to get information on products before buying what he needs at a local distributor. He prefers the human interaction that distributors offer. “You ever tried to get a human being to handle a problem on the net? Wait days for an answer? You get the idea. Nice place to visit but I’m not going to stay any longer than necessary. Eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose is my preferred basis of doing business. My clients deserve the very best for the money committed to services from my company.”