You may recall a few months back when I related a personal experience with e-commerce in this space and asked for your thoughts on how it might work in the metalworking community. Thanks very much to all who replied. Your comments revealed a remarkably deep insight into the buying and selling of metalworking technology, both electronic and otherwise.
For those who didn’t, you can view a roundup of most of the commentary on MMS Online. Just go to the online version of this column at www.mmsonline.com/columns/0400fp.html and hit the “Learn More” button. For now, here are a few important points that emerged from the exchange.
In general, the level of acceptance of e-commerce within our field was surprisingly high, at least higher than I would have guessed. Maybe the method of reply—e-mail only—skewed the response a little that way, but it was not just web enthusiasts who spoke out. Most could see the potential benefits of e-commerce, particularly to buy expendable items. As one manufacturer put it, “I think that ‘e-com’ is the way of the future. It can cut up to $50 per order out of the cost picture and also obtain the same product at a lower rate. It will allow me to find and compare products easier.”
But many suggested that much more work needs to be done on the fulfillment side of e-commerce to meet their standards. As one skeptic said, “All the electronic wizardry in the world won’t make up for people who lack the resolve to provide good service.” Also, some buyers feel an obligation to support local suppliers, particularly when those vendors add value to their products: “I will tend to support the local guy who will provide same-day service with some technical support for five to ten percent more,” said one respondent.
Another manager, however, attached value to the efficiency of buying online. He said, “Assuming quality and delivery are equal, I am willing to pay a few percent more for products that I can purchase online and thus save the time and hassle of running all over town to chase the best deal.”
Perhaps the definitive comment came from a shop owner who sees online commerce sites eventually providing a wealth of useful information and vendors solving the fulfillment problem. He said, “There is a long way to go before manufacturers are able to support this level of service. When I can, I will certainly buy online.”