Welcome to "Wonders of the Electrical Web." This column, the first of a series kicking off this month in EW, will review the outstanding Web sites in the electrical wholesaling industry. Sites will be chosen from electrical distributors, manufacturers and reps. If your company has a Web site that you would like EW to consider, please call Jim Lucy, the magazine's chief editor at 913-967-1743, reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The criteria for the selection of the Web sites will be as follows: overall content and usability of the information; ease of navigation; innovative concepts of any sort that separates the Web site from others in the industry; ease of communication; and overall appearance.
This month's winner of EW's "Wonders of the Electrical Web" goes to Summit Electric Supply Co., Albuquerque, N.M. for its site at www.summit.com. Summit Electric Supply incorporates one of the best mixes of useful content, appealing graphics and user interactivity. Here's how the content on www.summit.com sets itself apart from other electrical distributors' Web sites.
The most intriguing aspects of the Web site is Summit's Virtual On-Line Transaction System (VOLTS). The company is one of the only electrical distributo rs to offer customers 24-hour electronic ordering capabilities over the Web, and on-line, real-time access to key order information. VOLTS provides users with direct access to Summit's computer so they can check inventory levels; place orders; get current pricing; track job or project costs; and check order or account status.
Another interesting feature is the site's Summit Search. When customers are having a tough time locating an unusual product they need, they just have to enter the site's "Products" section and click on "Summit Search." Surfers then just spend a minute describing the product, manufacturer's name, part number, etc., in a simple form. One of the company's customer service representatives will get back to them within with two days. For emergency service, the surfer just uses an 800 number.
Other services on the Web site include an index of products stocked; manufacturers' web sites; and new products offerings. Customers can also fill out credit applications on-line; e-mail employees for answers to questions and browse at a bookstore that has recommendations for electrically oriented software, books and video.
That's not all. Users can also post e-mail messages in the site's Bulletin Board, get the schedule for Summit's seminars or dates for counter days and which manufacturers will be there. Customers can also get information on the Energy Policy Act of 1992, or link to the web site of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for information in recent changes in the National Electrical Code.
Sheila Hernandez, who manages the Web site, says the site's biggest asset is the amount of information the company can get quickly to current and potential customers.
"We have received many hits through our "Manufacturers' Literature" section, as well as our "Summit Search" section, which finds hard-to-find products for customers," she says. "We are very pleased with the results of the Web site, and plan to continue our efforts in this area. We have seen a steady increase in the number of hits since the site first went on-line in 1996. Our customers are beginning to see the Web as a viable option for services and information. In 1997, we experienced a significant increase in the number of customers interested in doing business electronically."
The company is excited about the possibilities that the Internet offers, because it's a new method of communicating with and servicing current and potential customers, says Hernandez.
"As the electrical industry begins to embrace this new technology, we will begin to see a fundamental change in how we conduct business." In the future, Summit Electric Supply plans to offer an on-line electronic catalog and on-line training.