Understanding e-commerce

July 1, 2005
E-commerce is already permeating many facets of our lives. How many people bank on-line? Well, I don't, but the practice is increasingly popular. Do you

E-commerce is already permeating many facets of our lives. How many people bank on-line? Well, I don't, but the practice is increasingly popular.

Do you remember the first time you purchased a ticketless airline reservation? I do, and I recall being nervous on the way to the airport, wondering if they were really going to have my name and if I was going to get on the plane. Now ticketless is the norm and when I last traveled internationally, it felt awkward having to safeguard that ticket all through my travels.

That's just one small example of e-commerce in action. This past holiday shopping season the news was full of stories about the growing percentage of people shopping online and not having to face the huge crowds at the shopping malls, which — because of the Internet — weren't so huge anymore. Studies showed that women shop online more than men and, of course, younger generations are far more comfortable with the Internet than older ones, reflecting a dramatic change in the way business is likely to be conducted in the future.

Manufacturers of construction equipment are involved in e-commerce developments — many more than are mentioned in this month's cover story. Content management, parts ordering, data interchange, equipment registration, the availability of parts and inventory information available in up-to-the-minute “real time,” equipment configuration, order and shipment tracking, the filing of warranty claims, and so many more areas. The field is dynamic and developing and is extending into diagnostics, training and much more. It's quicker and more efficient for manufacturers to do business electronically and many offer discounts to rental companies for ordering equipment online, just as airline companies offer incentives to travelers to utilize their Web sites for ticket purchasing, checking flights, redeeming miles and more. Electronic tools also facilitate international business when customers may be working while the manufacturers' office is closed and vice versa.

Rental companies are continuing to jump on board in a variety of ways. Just as we are going to press with this issue, for example, Toronto-based Stephenson's Rental Services announced that it has improved on-time equipment deliveries by 15 percent and decreased the outsourcing of deliveries by 20 percent since adopting a new Internet-based dispatching system. The system centrally organizes deliveries by taking into account the time it will take to get from one point to another. Rental companies are experimenting with online rental reservation systems and finding considerable success, especially with homeowners who may lack the relationships with rental company personnel that contractors do, while larger rental companies are finding that some large contractor customers like being able to put together equipment packages online.

Calling equipment off-rent electronically offers customers a documented trail proving that they called the equipment off-rent on Thursday at 7 p.m., even though the rental company didn't pick it up until the following Monday.

There are a wide variety of reports that rental companies offer their customers, many of which can be run with popular off-the-shelf computer software systems. They can be run in a variety of formats and presented in the manner the customer wants. If a contractor's equipment purchasing manager wants an e-mail sent to his boss in a PDF format every Tuesday morning, it can be arranged.

Those of you who are well-versed in this area know that I'm just scratching the surface here and we scratch it a bit more in this issue.

Believe me, I'm not advocating technology for its own sake. I'm far from being a techno-geek and I cringe every time my company's software providers come up with a new development that's supposed to make my work easier, because, truth be known, I'm a slow adapter who would just as soon stick with the old ways that I already know. To rental companies that are quite happy with their systems and don't feel the need to develop further in the electronic area, I'm the last one to tell them that they have to change. As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That said, a book came out about a decade ago called, “If It Ain't Broke, Break It,” the premise being that a smart company also has to look ahead and be prepared for the next trends on the horizon. That's all I suggest. Educate yourself, know what's out there and try to anticipate what might make it easier for your customer to do business with you and what might make it easier for you do to business with your suppliers.