1 March 2002
'Power buyers' demand e-tools
By Jim Strothman
After study, Invensys's e-store boosts documentation, configuration features.
Two distinct types of customers—"casual" buyers and "power" buyers—purchase industrial plant floor automation equipment via the Internet, and each group needs different Web-based purchasing tools, a recent survey commissioned by Invensys's online store found.
Invensys's study also showed why its e-commerce iastore.com site attracts frequent visitors who don't buy anything: They typically specify equipment but aren't authorized to buy it.
"Casual buyers use only basic features," such as searching and price checking, for example, said Karen Turner, Invensys Process Systems director of e-commerce operations. Power buyers, on the other hand, use and need other e-features to configure complex systems online, check order status and lead time, and compare products via detailed spec sheets and other documentation, the customer survey showed.
Altogether iastore.com sells more than 300,000 different automation parts, claims more than 110,000 visitor sessions per month, has more than 5,500 registered users and processes 1,000-plus orders per month, Turner said. The average order totals about $1,800, the e-commerce director said. About 75% of buyers use purchase orders, and 25% use credit cards.
"I see a $20,000 order practically every day," she said. The all-time record for iastore's single online order is $640,000.
Seeking to make its Web store more user friendly by learning what functions customers used or want—and to better understand why iastore gets frequent visitors who buy nothing—Invensys commissioned research firm Management Insight Technologies to survey users. The company conducted 21 interviews with buyers who had not purchased in 120 days, including 12 customers and nine distributors/reps. In addition, it held 16 interviews with nonbuyers who visit iastore frequently.
Interviews with nonbuying visitors showed they use the site for specifying and configuring. However, they typically have no purchasing responsibility, or company policies prohibit them from purchasing online.
Other barriers to buying via the Internet include would-be buyers being unable to access a company's prearranged preferred pricing or waiting for purchasing cards. Invensys also found that its own sales force, perhaps fearing lost commissions, wasn't encouraging customers to shop online.
The study showed casual buyers tend to make infrequent, small purchases of mostly supplies, consumables, and spare parts. They also express little interest in training—a tutorial is all they need.
Not so with power users-mostly distributors, reps, and purchasing agents. They aim to maximize throughput and productivity and say they want training.
Primarily for power users, Turner's group developed something called Exclusive TeamBuy, an Internet-based purchasing process that Invensys plans to patent. It creates an online group procurement process customized to a specific organization's buying practices.
It begins, for example, with configuration and other tools plant or engineering personnel can use to specify what they need. Next, it takes the specified product or system through the user company's management approval cycle, then on to the actual buyers, which may be the purchasing department. TeamBuy also includes "expedite" and "receive" functions.
Driven in part by its survey results, Turner's e-team enhanced online documentation by providing links to detailed product specification and price sheets, added training modules, streamlined purchasing and order status functions, and eased configuring complex systems with two online configurators.
One configurator works with Foxboro distributed control systems. The other, called a real-time model code configurator, works with all iastore.com products that require configuring, including Foxboro instruments, valves, and automation systems. IC
About the Author
Jim Strothman is Associate Editor for InTech.
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