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To Web or Not to Web?

By Ron Bishop | November 03, 2013

Website Value in the Connector Industry – To Web or Not to Web?

Not very long ago, there were no websites. The first website appeared on August 6, 1991, and was developed by the World Wide Web’s creator, Tim Berners-Lee, who was working for CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). It consisted of one page that explained the World Wide Web project and provided information on how users could set up a web server, create their own website and web pages, and search the web for information.

The URL for this first website was https://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. The first web browser was also created by Tim Berners-Lee and it ran on NeXT Step’s OS. Most people didn’t have the system because of the high cost (naturally, it was owned by Steve Jobs). The first web server, another Berners-Lee creation, utilized CERN HTTP Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

The first non-British website followed in December 1991. By November 1992, there were 26 web servers, and just one year later, there were 200 active servers. Today there are millions of servers, and an estimated 110 million websites and one trillion URLs.

Development was slow until the introduction of Mosaic in 1993. This was a graphical browser developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. It was easy to use, install, and operate. It also offered a 24-hour support center. It was not as advanced as other browsers already available, but its ease of use for non-techies helped spur an explosion in the use of the web and development of websites.

At first, only large, well-funded corporations and universities developed websites. Eventually, more and more websites went live. In the late 1990s, website development was still mostly the domain of companies with the funds to hire expensive website designers. Today, even my neighbor kid, Tommy, has a website. You, too, probably know someone who has developed a website for no reason other than the joy of having an online presence.

To me, what is so uniquely profound about a website is that Tommy’s storefront is as big as General Motors’ storefront. There is a world of difference in the content behind the storefront, but both are undeniably the same size on the front end. It is the storefront that provides an opportunity to the lowliest of websites to have a presence and potentially have access to, and influence, in some manner, the millions of users on the Internet.

Based on the large sums invested in developing, redesigning, and maintaining websites, we can reasonably surmise that commercial enterprises believe they are very important. But why?

“About Us,” job openings, news releases, investor updates, and new product introductions are common to most commercial enterprises’ sites and are clearly beneficial to the overall operation of a company. However, in our mind, these website features are peripheral and pale in importance to the real purpose of a website.

In a business-to-consumer (BtoC) environment, the real purpose of a website is the company’s online store. This is where a company can fully describe its products and services and provide an easy and quick method for purchase. A well-designed online store is easy to navigate, and makes finding the desired product and executing the purchase intuitive. It is the online store that motivates commercial enterprises to make significant investments in website design. The online store is the star. “About Us,” news releases, and other tabs are beneficial, but they are mostly content fillers — a supporting cast.

All connector companies have websites. These fall under the business-to-business (B2B) moniker. For B2B, how important is it to have the ability to place an order via the online store? How important is it to easily find the connector product you need? How important is it to view technical documentation online?

We posed these questions to European customers that purchase and use connectors in their systems.

We asked: How important is it to have the ability to place orders via the website? Customers had four choices: 4 = Extremely Important; 3 = Very Important; 2 = Important; 1 = Unimportant.

Approximately 400 connector users answered this question and the average score of all participants was a mere 1.555.

Importance of Online Ordering

The ability to order connectors through the online store didn’t even rank as “important.” Don’t be shocked. In B2B commerce, just a small portion of sales is made through online stores. The reason to spend millions on a website is not the store, but to display the company’s product catalogue and make it possible to find the product needed, along with its technical specifications, in a few clicks. Customers then place the order via phone or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). We estimate that 80% of orders are transmitted electronically through EDI.

Next, we asked: How important is it to easily find the connector products you need?

Importance of Finding Connectors Online

Customers rank this capability between “very important” and “extremely important.”

Then, we asked: How important is it to be able to view technical documentation on the website?

Importance of Viewing Technical Documentation Online

Customers rank this “very high,” halfway between “very important” and extremely important.”

So, it’s not the online store on which millions are spent that matters; instead, it is the ability to display thousands of part numbers and provide a relatively easy way for customers to find the right connector and that connector’s technical parameters.

If you would like to read more about the development of the World Wide Web and websites, click here.

No part of this article may be used without the permission of Bishop & Associates Inc.

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Ron Bishop
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