Mike Buffham, Director of Supplier and Product Management at Premier Farnell explores the importance of the Internet and its vast business potential

The distribution business is changing and we’re reaching a tipping point where companies need to adapt and do it quickly. Project timelines are shorter and there are greater time-to-market pressures on engineers and purchasing staff. As a result they need products, information, supporting content and help all in one convenient place.

Last year Premier Farnell  commissioned an independent study to determine critical ‘pain points’ for global electronics engineers during the four stages of design – concept, design, prototyping, and pre-production. It revealed several design challenges, including increasing time pressures, incomplete or inaccurate information from relevant sources, and difficulty comparing options and alternatives.

Many respondents cited a lack of consolidated online tools and databases that hinder their ability to make accurate comparisons.

Design engineers are early adopters of new technology and they seek to do business with companies that can meet their needs as they evolve.

Accordingly, the distributor is now embracing social media, such as the Web 2.0 revolution and the convergence of commerce and community in the digital world, primarily through the creation of its element14 Community. By doing this they have created a platform where their customers, suppliers and industry experts can share information, collaborate and converse about designs and projects.

We’re operating in a highly competitive market so need to make sure the whole online experience is as seamless as possible, whether community or commerce.

People don’t want to spend any longer ordering than they need to so it is important to continually evaluate your whole service to make sure you stay competitive.

The distributor recently announced that its online orders now account for over 56 percent of its business across the globe, and over 75 percent in Europe. This is a figure that will grow. As is the case in many businesses the web is more and more becoming the channel of choice for customers.

The company are now organised as a web business with a fusion of commerce and community through its element14 community and regional transactional websites, while offering customers a multi-channel experience. For instance, this year Farnell element14 in Europe have further announced a rollout of key online search improvements, as part of a major initiative to provide engineering and procurement professionals with an online experience.

Some of the highlights of the website upgrade include significant performance upgrades to the search engine and launch of eProcurement options including Punch Out/Round Trip Catalogue, and tools such as i-Buy that give customers control of purchase.

These web enhancements were an outcome of the regular research performed by the company’s ecommerce team in Europe gathering inputs from  its customers and suppliers with the ultimate aim of simplifying their online experience with simple browsing.

This will be the most critical factor in how businesses survive in the future, more likely to invest in the infrastructure and ways to give their customers what they need.

Electronic design engineers, want an end-to-end solution: A convenient, compelling and common platform to research, communicate, collaborate, transact and design. They want simplicity and to have confidence in a supply chain, assurance that the product is genuine and delivered quickly.

As a result, companies must continually invest in the latest eProcurement solutions and web advancements to ensure they continue to advance.

For the distribution industry the web is about more than just an online catalogue or ordering via a mobile device. Market pressures mean that customers need more than just parts, they want access to added information, supporting guides, forums and tips, and they need it all in an easy to access place. Companies that can offer all of this in the right way will attract new business. Those who don’t could get left behind.