Connector Industry E-Commerce Evolves
Consumers expect instant gratification from the shopping experience. Engineers shopping for electronic components expect the same level of service, pushing connector companies and distributors to step up their game. Improved connector industry e-commerce options are one solution for more satisfied customers.
Amazon has proven beyond a doubt that convenience and speedy delivery have become major factors in a consumer’s decision about where to place an order. Prior to the internet, people spent time and money searching brick-and-mortar stores for the right item at the best price. Today, automated search engines find the best internet site with the most inventory and attractive terms. The result has been a major disruption of the retail marketplace. In order to survive, traditional stores have either adapted to the new environment or suffered. Sears has become the poster child for companies that failed to quickly adapt to this new reality. This transformation has extended beyond retail to include manufacturers of commercial and industrial products. In response, connector industry e-commerce has evolved.
Large and small connector manufacturers have long utilized a network of authorized distributors to support high-mix/low-volume customer requirements typical of startups, small companies, prototype builds, and contract manufacturers. Distributors can offer more local support, as well as additional services such as engineering, standards verification, custom inventory, and logistics, including just-in-time delivery. Large authorized distributors like Digi-Key Electronics, Mouser, and Newark fulfill sample requests for many organizations, including TE Connectivity. Rapid access to samples is a key priority of new product development engineers.
From the connector manufacturer’s perspective, distributors are better positioned to support tier 2 and 3 customers, while allowing their direct or manufacturer representatives to concentrate on large OEM customers. Authorized distributors can also reduce the problem of counterfeit parts entering the supply chain. The objective is to provide multiple supply options to streamline the process of design-in and procurement and improve the overall customer experience.
TE Connectivity, the world’s largest connector manufacturer, recently launched its online TE Store. A connector industry e-commerce channel where engineers and system designers can quickly search and purchase TE products, the TE Store offers products from a variety of categories, including connectors, antennas, passive components, wire and cable, relays, switches, terminals, and splices, fiber optics, and wire harnesses. Included in their connector category are audio/video and RF connectors, automotive connectors, circular and D-shaped connectors, lighting connectors, modular jacks and plugs, and PCB connectors, just to name a few.
It’s all about simplicity and convenience. Grocery and department stores often include an in-store bank or health clinic to provide customers with the convenience of one-stop shopping. New product engineers typically begin prototype component searches on the web. The TE Store is positioned to allow designers to identify needed interfaces, gather key mechanical and electrical data, and order connectors without leaving the TE website. Customers gain quick access to needed connectors at market prices, and TE gets early visibility into new design-in opportunities. Components selected for a prototype often end up on the production bill of materials.
Although thousands of part numbers are available through this new channel, these featured categories represent only a small percent of the entire TE product line. These commodity products are in high demand and utilized in a wide variety of applications. Looking much like a consumer product website, the TE Store is open 24/7 and accepts credit cards, which are charged when the order is shipped. There are no minimum order requirements. Same-day shipping is offered. When an on-line part number is added to the shopping list, the customer is given a series of immediate support tools, including information on mating or compatible parts, application tooling, live-chat, or direct calling options for detailed information. Product drawings and specifications can also be accessed. The TE Store is currently set up to service North American customers but will likely expand to international locations.
A quick check of competing connector manufacturers revealed a number of different approaches. Molex hosts a dedicated VIP portal where customers can place orders, request pricing, and access additional resources with a single registration. The many product groups of Amphenol offer no online purchase option but concentrate on supporting their network of authorized distributors. The one exception is the Amphenol Cables on Demand group, which manufactures quick-turn cable assemblies sold directly on their website.
Immediate access to the world of goods via the internet has forever altered consumer expectations by enabling instant gratification. Suppliers that manufacture products that range from soap to high-speed backplane connectors have recognized this new challenge and opportunity and are responding with e-commerce sites that add convenience and speed to the design and procurement process.
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