Paper catalogues vs websites

Recent news from RS Components is the most telling of all accounts of the changes the web has made to the old-established industrial catalogue-based distribution companies, with the names we might have recognized many years ago, like Radiospares and Flowbits. Over 50% of the RS Components sales revenue in June originated from their website, a milestone achieved 9 months ahead of their predictions, ie twice as fast as the forecasts made last October (Link). Once again the growth of the use of the web in business has been faster than even the people on the front line expected. But I wonder what proportion of the engineers ordering from RS over the web, still use a paper catalogue to establish what style of product they want, and what the catalogue calls it, before searching for current product info and options available on the web? Possibly the paper catalogues will evolve into the presentation of general data and keywords, leaving detailed spec sheets and product options for website publication only. Or maybe I am wrong, have the engineers thrown away all paper catalogues?

The most interesting aspect about the growth of the on-line sales of the major distribution companies is that this web growth is achieved despite the obvious business challenge – that the product offered by the distributor is also available direct from the website of the manufacturer, or main importer, and probably is presented there at a significantly lower price, and also ex-stock. It is only because of lack of time, or laziness, that the purchasing engineer does not seek out the same product on other websites, to find lower prices and further options. The specialized suppliers and distributors, with their own niche catalogues, have also developed their own websites, and will be quickly moving into web ordering with ex-stock delivery: for example Testo has on-line webshops in 9 separate countries for their air flow and humidity instrumentation (Link). PVL, in the UK, have developed their ‘Big Kat’ catalogue, concentrating on pressure, vacuum and level switches, as a paper copy, but have a parallel website presentation for the same products. Their business is based on the free offer of knowledgeable product advice and support at the end of a phone, which is often needed when dealing with the different fluids and corrosion potential in level and pressure applications, and can take the order at the same time (Link). Nevertheless they offer on-line industrial shopping at an associated company, Plan-B Marketing, which provides more general use instrumentation kits, and compressed air devices: like the ‘Ecliptical’ valve, which is a delightful word for a device that allows occasional insertion of their ClimaAir thermal meter into a compressed air line to monitor flowrates (Link).

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