The dot-coms still standing look a little different than many of the companies that stood on their tiptoes vying for market attention last year.

We have all come to expect changes in the Internet era to come fast and furious. But even the most ardent Web supporters will have to admit that the last few months have been one hairy ride. The swarm of dot-coms that flew into the electrical industry over the past two years have been thinned out by a lack of user interest, ludicrous cash-burn rates, the difficulty in teaching computer systems to speak the same language, wiggy data transmission standards and an ignorance of what makes the electrical market tick. Heck, even dot-com companies with big-league financing and an all-star management team that had a ton of experience in the electrical market have had trouble. For instance, at press-time SourceAlliance.com, which had majority backing from Rockwell Automation and additional first-round financing from 10 other electrical manufacturers, was reportedly ready to pull the plug on its digital marketplace for the industrial MRO market. Another smaller player that had experienced electrical folks at helm, www.electriciansweb.com, went dark earlier this year.

Even W.W. Grainger, Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., which has taken in millions over each of the past two years in online sales, keeps tinkering with its Web strategies. As you will learn later in this article, the company recently combined several of its online portals after operating and marketing them independently.

Intent on reinventing how electrical contractors and other end users order products, all too often many dot-coms have failed to ask contractors how they want to use the Web, and instead tried to force-feed them their own strange brew of a glitchy ordering process and undependable fulfillment procedures.

At this stage of the dot-com game, it's apparent that while online ordering will someday be a dependable option that many companies will choose to offer their customers, it's still not a must-have feature for most Web portals. Indeed, many electrical contractors are much more interested in just getting dependable product information and technical data 24/7, and have no immediate interest in ordering products online. Right now it seems that the online portals still standing are focused on one of three areas, although some overlap into the others:

  • Project collaboration and job management
  • Purchasing of products (either full-line or surplus) through a digital marketplace
  • Search-based sites

Project collaboration and job management. These Web sites, such as Citadon (the newly merged entity that combines Cephren and Bidcom), SupplyWave/Go Controls and SmartElectrical offer users the ability to track quotes, deliveries and the progress of projects through the ordering process.

Procurement through digital marketplaces. These companies offer end users the ability to buy products over the Web. No two sites handle online sales in exactly the same way. At the ripe old age of five, Grainger.com is the granddaddy of all the procurement sites. Another procurement-based dot-com that offers users a totally unique blend of business systems capability is TradePower. The TradePower digital marketplace offers contractors using the Estimation software package and distributors using Trade Service Systems business software the ability to buy and sell over the Web using product information populated by Trade Service's ec-Content product database.

Search-based sites. These sites, such as electric-find.com and electricsmarts.com have a relatively simple mission compared to other Web sites: Help users find the information that they need on the electrical construction market.

Following is an update of the largest online Web portals now in operation in this market. CEE News' editors have done their best to profile the sites that we felt would be of interest to our readers. As you become aware of new portals that target electrical contractors, please contact amy_fischbach@intertec.com .