Against a backdrop of global recession the semiconductor distribution business has reached a tipping point where companies will live or die by their ability to quickly adapt to the increasingly short project timelines and greater time-to-market pressures on electronic design engineers and purchasing staff. The modern engineer now needs more than just parts; they want an end-to-end solution: a convenient, compelling and common platform to research, communicate, collaborate, transact and design. In essence their own “community”!
As early adopters of new technology, engineers gravitate to businesses that can meet their needs as they evolve. The electronics industry can no longer stick its head in the sand or pay lip service to the notion of embracing social media, the Web 2.0 revolution and the convergence of commerce and community in the digital world. It needs to recognise the huge opportunities available through platforms where engineers, suppliers and industry experts can share information, collaborate and converse about designs and projects.
element14 has proven that the concept of “community” is more than just a marketing idea, with many real examples of engineers that are blazing a trail by utilising the platform to source solutions and innovate in their design processes via peer-to-peer collaboration. When it was launched in June 2009, the element14 forum averaged around 6,000 impressions a day. Fast forward three years and it now has over 100,000 registered users representing 130 of the 196 countries in the world, a fantastic level of growth that highlights the fact that if you build something that is engaging and genuinely useful, the users will come.
Linking conversations with sales
However, whilst giving customers a platform to collaborate and share ideas is important, as a business, this has to be balanced with a commercial need to generate revenue from these conversations through the sale of products and solutions. But community and ecommerce can work in synergy. For this to succeed in today’s electronics distribution business, distributors must focus on simplifying their transactional websites and the buying process for customers. It is also key to adapt content to cater for the needs of all of their customer groups – not just electronics engineers but also purchasing professionals, students, hobbyists and adventurous types just ‘having a go’. Each customer group has its own pain points and issues that need be catered for and online is unquestionably the way this can be best achieved.
Ecommerce is now the channel of choice for the majority of customers. Online orders now account for 75% of Farnell element14’s business in Europe – a figure that will continue to grow as new web platforms evolve, improve and simplify customers’ purchasing experience. However, with most people’s expectation of online shopping being set from their experiences with the likes of eBay and other online consumer retail brands, it is inevitable that users will compare the service, functionality and ease with these sites regardless of whether they’re buying an MP3 player or a component. The online buying experience has to be as seamless as possible nowadays. Customers don’t want to spend any longer on ordering than they need to do. It’s crucial to constantly be pushing for new ways streamline the effort customers must spend searching for products and advice, to enable them to spend more time actually working on their projects.
Regular research gathered from customers and suppliers by our ecommerce team has led to the introduction of a wide range of web enhancements to Farnell element14 websites such as the i-Buy tool that give customers more control at the point of purchase and the industry leading online knowledge tool, the Knode on element14, a unique online resource for embedded and PCB design engineers who want to quickly find the best products and solutions to complete a project. With the prospect of further advancements being added to existing services, there is no telling how far we can go with this vision. The aim is to continue to keep our customers and the power of the web at the centre of all we do. Add that to the momentum of how far we have come in the last few years and it’s clear that the future is very much web and community based and this is something that will only continue to grow.
Ultimately, we believe that other companies that can adapt to this new way of doing business and engage in the right mutli-channel way by offering a centralised source of products, a fast simple buying experience, the right information, supporting content and help will attract new business. Those who don’t are likely to get left behind.
Visit Farnell element14 at stand A5.558 during electronica