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Summer 2011
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E-commerce is Not an Option…It’s a Necessity

Business customers are bringing consumer attitudes to industrial purchasing.

It’s just past 11 p.m. The dinner dishes have been put away and the kids tucked into bed, and you are just settling down to catch the evening news when your mind begins to wander. That big project is looming at the office. You begin to make mental checklists of the tasks that will need your attention in the morning.

But then, why wait? Why spend a sleepless night? Today’s Internet technology allows many workers to do their jobs from almost anywhere, anytime.

According to Internet Retailer, a web portal that provides business intelligence for the e-commerce marketplace, 87 percent of all consumers in the United States shopped or researched merchandise online in 2010. This figure is projected to increase to over 200 million Internet users or 90 percent by 2015. (See www.internetretailer.com/trends/consumers).

What does this mean to the metals industry? It means that businesspeople will be bringing their consumer attitudes and buying habits to the industrial marketplace. It means that, if you don’t have it already, you need: 1) a presence on the Internet in the form of a website, 2) an option on your website for visitors to request additional information, and 3) better yet, a section on your site that gives users the option to view inventory, place requests for quotes, check order status, make payments online and more. There is little limit to what can be done on a website to enhance both the marketing of your products and the marketing of your company, with the right software and technical support.

In addition to the many benefits an e-commerce site provides to customers, there are a number of indirect benefits it provides to your company. For example, customer service personnel won’t have to spend as much time on the phone updating customers on their order status if they can just go online and check it themselves. Instead, customer reps can spend more time in a marketing role, promoting products or following up on quotes.

Making pricing available online and accepting orders electronically can only increase business. Allowing customers to pay open invoices online can save time in the accounting department. For invoices that tend to be higher in dollar value, it may make more sense to allow the customer to have access to their open balances and print their own statement to be mailed along with a check. Online payment processing is one of the few features that will most likely require a third-party to integrate with your website, but be wary of the fees associated with either the online service or the credit card company.

A website or e-commerce page doesn’t need to be complicated. Any size company can and should invest in a web presence. The data presented to your e-commerce site should be pulled from your in-house ERP software system. Your data can be shared across different platforms or different applications, so accessing your core data should not present a problem. Contact your software vendor for more information.

It is now just past 11:30. The news has ended and the mental checklist that you started to make is now updated to your electronic calendar. While you have your laptop running, you decide to log onto your vendor’s website and check the status of material you have ordered. Seeing that the order appears to be on schedule, you can mark one of your to-do items as complete. You perform a final check on the kids before retiring for the night. Sleep comes easily and your vendor doesn’t even realize that he has contributed to your peaceful slumber.

Editor’s note: This article was contributed by the experts at Paragon Consulting Services Inc.

Paragon Consulting Services Inc., Baltimore, Md., offers the Metalware, Metalware Express and MetalNet software solutions for the metal industry. For more information, visit www.paragon-csi.com.

  
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