Electronic commerce may finally be set to merge into the mainstream. It has seemed like a Walter Mitty fantasy for most distributors over the past few years-"I wish I had the kind of deep pockets that (insert name of scary local competitor with headquarters out of state here) has. Then I would show them electronic commerce..."

Electrical Wholesaling has been telling you about the wonders of EDI, VMI and the rest of it for years, but it's really no surprise that these technologies haven't been widely adopted up to this point. After all, how many distributors have the time and money to set up separate, proprietary computer connections with each of their manufacturers, work out all the bugs, train everybody in how to use it and keep it updated forever? How many have the kind of clout it takes to tweak their vendors' noses and demand that they devote scarce money and personnel resources to setting up a special service just for one distributorship? Few.

Take heart, though, friends, that's all about to change. Thanks to the growth of the Internet, the dropping cost of computing power, cumulative advances in electronic commerce systems development and the untiring work of this industry's dedicated techno-rabble-rousers with visions of universal standards, the pieces seem to be in place to make true electronic commerce available to all electrical distributors, including those that are not likely ever to be on our annual "250 Biggest" list.

On the following pages we've assembled a package of articles that look at electronic commerce today from a variety of perspectives. We hope this will bring you up to date on the issue as it stands today and that it will give you some ideas about how your company might fit into the emerging picture of the industry's future.