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How Distributors Use Today's Web
Engineers can quickly search and filter through thousands of resistors on the Allied web site.
By Rob Birse, VP Marketing, Allied Electronics, Fort Worth, TX
Electronic component distributors have taken notice of engineers' changing preference of obtaining information on the Internet and have done a considerable amount to beef up their web sites in recent years. However, distributors must do even more to keep engineers engaged and returning to their web sites.
Engineers today turn to the web for everything from product data sheets and environmental compliance information to product training and design tips. They expect a distributor web site to be a one-stop shop that will meet all their product and design needs. They are also demanding much more control over their online experiences. This changing dynamic has led electronic component distributors to embrace the evolving web and utilize their web sites to improve their interaction with customers.
Distributors know that engineers and other customers ultimately want a large number of products available in stock and easy to find online. With the increasing use of the web to search for products, distributors have focused much of their efforts on optimizing the search engines on their web sites to offer better search functionality.
Many distributors, such as Allied Electronics, have enhanced their web sites by incorporating tools such as spelling correction and a thesaurus into their search engines. The spelling correction feature helps ensure that even if an engineer enters a misspelled word into a search, a closely matched product will still turn up in search results. A thesaurus built into the search engine helps generate results for items that may be commonly referenced by more than one name. These tools make it even easier for engineers to find and purchase parts online.
Distributors have also incorporated other navigation tools that provide engineers with multiple ways of sorting and viewing products. When searching for a product, engineers may want to search for entire ranges of attributes. Therefore, many distributors now offer advanced search functions and parametric filters that allow customers to search for products based on manufacturer, category or technical specifications.
For example, customers visiting the Allied web site can search for products by manufacturer, RoHS-compliance and price. In addition, they can quickly narrow a search for resistors by resistance, power rating, tolerance and voltage using a parametric filter feature. Allied's online customers can also search and filter through thousands of capacitors by capacitance, tolerance, voltage and ESR.
Enhanced Product Information
Not only do engineers need to find products quickly, but they also expect instant access to a wealth of product information online. Over the past few years, engineers have come to expect detailed product descriptions, specifications and photographs from distributor web sites. Some studies show that engineers turn to distributor web sites more frequently than manufacturer web sites for product information. That's one reason that distributors like Allied now feature thousands of downloadable product datasheets on their web sites.
Distributors have also integrated recent e-commerce trends into their web sites. Engineers can now commonly find links to online product training and webinars on distributor web sites. Some distributors have even taken a note from e-commerce giants like Amazon.com and eBay when it comes to interactive customer feedback. Allied became the first distributor in the industry to introduce online customer product reviews this year. This interactive feature, intended to help engineers find a product to best fit their needs, allows engineers to view how others rated a particular product and learn specific pros and cons of the product from someone who has used the product.
In addition, Allied and other distributors have begun to utilize mini-sites within their web sites to educate engineers and customers on products and industry issues. For example, Allied launched a RoHS Knowledge Center mini-site last year to address questions and educate customers about the new environmental regulations. While distributors may differ on the overall goal of their web sites, most would agree that a distributor web site should ultimately provide customers with all the information they need to make their purchasing decisions. After all, research has shown distributors that a large percentage of their customers visit their web site prior to placing an order.
Easier Purchasing Management
With the evolving web comes changing customer expectations. Customers are increasingly demanding more control over their online purchasing experience and expect to do much more than just place an order on a distributor web site. For distributors, this means they must constantly improve their e-commerce strategies to give customers what they desire.
Many distributors offer a variety of self-service options online, including the ability to check stock availability, order status and order history. Some distributors also give customers the option to apply their own part numbers to an online order and upload a bill of materials. In addition, some distributors have implemented punch out systems that work with a customer's ERP system and allow them to place orders directly from their company's system.
Sourcing electronic components is easier than ever using the enhanced search engine on the website.
Online purchasing management has also evolved thanks to technology and use of the web. For example, Allied's web site offers a purchasing management process that allows multiple customers to add products to a shopping cart and then submit them to a purchasing manager who approves and submits the order. This tool has proven helpful for larger firms that manage purchasing through a single purchasing manager.
New Customer Acquisition
While enhancements to distributor web sites benefit customers in many ways, distributors also have much to gain from optimizing their sites. With so many engineers turning to the web today, distributors have the opportunity to capture new business and reach new customers online.
For Allied, the web has proven to be an effective channel for new customer acquisition. While the majority of visitors to the Allied web site are existing customers, a quarter of online sales revenue comes from new customers. No doubt one of the key drivers to a distributor web site is Google. Research shows that Google is by far the most-used search engine among engineers. Distributors are aware of this fact and have taken advantage of search optimization tools to better position them on the search engine.
Once customers find their way to a distributor web site, it is up to the distributor to keep them engaged. One way for distributors to capitalize on new online visitors is to ensure that their web sites and online purchasing systems are integrated with their other sales channels. For example, when a new customer logs onto Alliedelec.com, it's easy to find the local account manager's contact information. In turn, account managers receive an electronic confirmation when the customer places an order or requests a quote online. Distributors who have integrated their web sites with their various other sales channels will help facilitate a smooth online experience for the customer.
The web is changing how customers in all industries obtain information and purchase products. The electronic component distribution industry is certainly not exempt from these trends. As engineers and other customers increase their reliance on the web for product searches and purchasing, electronic component distributors will continue to be faced with a greater demand for interactive content and enhanced web site functions. However, distributors also have much to gain from embracing the evolving web. The distributors that stay on the cutting edge of e-commerce trends and continuously develop new ways to interact with customers online will be the ones that remain competitive in the marketplace.
For more information, contact: Allied Electronics, 7410 Pebble Dr., Fort Worth, TX 76118
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