The dot-com boom and bust of 2000 has left many electrical professionals wary of the Internet and skeptical of the possibilities of e-commerce.

A flood of Internet startups pulled in lucrative investments and went public without having a solid vision, business plan or product. Those companies withered away as quickly as they started.

A handful of sites, however, have survived the slowing economy and prospered in the Internet marketplace. Two of the grandfathers of the Internet, Amazon.com and eBay.com, are still alive, kicking and catering to all types of trade professionals, including electrical contractors.

Even if you have never bought a single thing on the Web, these user-friendly sites can help you make your first Internet purchase in a matter of minutes. All it takes is a credit card and a connection to the Internet.

While Amazon.com is known for its selection of books, music and movies, it now has a tool and hardware store featuring electrical products from well-known manufacturers. To make it easier for companies to buy products, Amazon.com recently introduced its corporate accounts program. The program allows companies to apply for a credit line, pay by online purchase order, authorize additional purchasers for an account and track their Amazon.com purchase history across their organization. Corporate account holders will have one consolidated, line-item bill for all account activity and the option to receive an e-mail notification every time a purchase is made.

eBay, on the other hand, is well known for its antiques and collectibles. Individuals can find anything and everything from around the world without waiting in long lines at the shopping mall or searching endlessly on the Internet. The auction site, which was founded in 1995, has everything from Civil War coins to valuable baseball memorabilia. It also lists several hundred new and used electrical products for sale.

While you may not be in the market for used electrical equipment, you can buy some electrical antiques, such as an electrical pocket-sized dictionary from 1902, a 1939 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pin or a vintage voltmeter. You can also find many brand-new electrical products, including a 2002 NE Code book, a 1,000V insulated tool kit and five rolls of electrical tape. Whether you're looking for a pair of photovoltaic panels or a conduit bender, you can find it on eBay.

Our 2002 ElectroForecast found that the majority of electrical contractors preferred working one-on-one with a traditional distributor rather than buying supplies online. While you may not do all of your purchasing via the Internet, sites like eBay offer some unusual electrical products that you can't find anywhere else, like a pewter electrician belt buckle or a metal sign that reads, “Electrician Parking Only. All Others Will Be Grounded.”

How to bid on eBay

eBay was founded in 1995 as the “world's largest online marketplace.” In 2000, the eBay community transacted more than $5 billion in annualized gross merchandise sales. To bid on eBay, follow the directions below.


  1. Visit www.ebay.com

  2. Click on “register now” and type in your personal information to become a registered user.

  3. Accept the eBay user agreement. You will then get an e-mail with your new user name and password, which will allow you to both buy and sell electrical products.

  4. To view the electrical products that are for sale, type in “electrical” in the box titled, “What are you looking for?” at the top of the eBay home page. You can also retrieve the list of electrical products by searching through different categories. First select the “Home and Garden” category, which is listed in the left-hand column of the home page, then the “Home Improvement” category and finally the “Electrical” subcategory.

  5. Scroll through the list of electrical items for sale. When you click on the name of an item, a page will pop up with photos, descriptions and the current price. It will also tell you the start and end date of the auction, the number of bids, the location of the seller and the time remaining in the auction. It also lists the seller's e-mail address. E-mail the seller if you have any questions about the product. If it doesn't say “new” next to the item, assume that the product has been used. If it is used, the seller will usually tell you the condition of the product. If not, be sure to e-mail the seller about the product before you place a bid.

  6. Be sure to read through the payment and shipping terms closely. If you bid on an item from a seller overseas, you will often have to send an international money order or wait weeks to receive the item.

  7. If you are serious about bidding for the item after you have read through the seller's description of the product, type in your maximum bid. Bids are typically in 50-cent increments. Rather than just bidding 50 cents more than the current price, however, make your maximum bid what you are willing to pay for the item. eBay will then bid incrementally on your behalf until it reaches your maximum bid, which is kept secret from other eBay bidders.

  8. After you bid for an item, eBay will send you an e-mail with detailed information about the auction that you have bid on. If someone else outbids you, you will get an e-mail notifying you to place a higher bid if you want to still stay in the auction.

  9. If you win an auction, you will be required to get in touch with the seller via e-mail within 10 days. eBay allows its users to pay through a service called PayPal, in which you can pay a seller through funds from a credit card or checking account. You can also often pay a seller through a personal check or money order, although the seller usually takes longer to ship an item through this payment method.

  10. Rather than waiting hours or days to find out whether or not you won an auction, you can use eBay's “Buy It Now” feature. The seller lists a price that he or she would be willing to sell the item for, and you can purchase it directly without waiting for an auction to end.