Why electronic component distributors need to think about the BOM

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ecommerceI’ve been wondering lately if electronic distributors’ investments in ecommerce are paying off.

I’m just speculating here (I can’t say with 100% authority that distributors are not seeing a return on the investment) but there are definitely clues that the market at large is not adopting ecommerce for electronic part shopping.

Take the case of one of the leaders in component distribution. This company has clearly invested a lot in ecommerce, and has one of the best ecommerce sites in the industry. But when you visit the About Page for this particular distributor, you see that while it processes 3.4 million orders a year, it also logs 2 million calls and receives 320,000 faxes. So despite a significant investment in ecommerce and a great website, I feel it’s safe to assume that the majority of business is still done the old fashioned way.

And I’m not surprised. The idea of ecommerce is to simplify shopping, and let buyers buy on their own time table. But with multiple competing distributors in the space, and no way to mass purchase for a BOM across distributors, manufacturers still have to buy their bill of materials (BOM) part by part. At that point, ecommerce isn’t even worth it—might as well send over your standard order via email or call it in.

For consumers, purchasing components for a BOM online is still a pain

Just one 100 “board in a box” PCBA can have 200 different parts—imagine if you had to shop for several of these boards to complete your product. The process would go something like this.

Run a search for a dual voltage regulator such as LM125, find your regulator, click into the details page, add part quantity, add to cart.

Search for resistors, find your resistor, view the details page, add quantity, add to cart.

(Repeat process 198 more times on a variety of distributors’ websites.)

And the problem gets worse if you are trying to optimize for cost and/or deliver the parts into a specific production/prototype window.

All that work, and at the end of the process, someone would still have to go back into the BOM and update the documentation manually.

There’s got to be a better way . . .  and please don’t say EDI.

Until there is a way around this fragmented approach to part shopping, using ecommerce methods just doesn’t seem practical. If you need to quickly buy 10 parts, ecommerce is a nice time saver (and you don’t have to talk to a person—which is sometimes appreciated when you’re in “design mode.”) But doing any more than that is a pain, and so the more archaic methods—email, fax and phone—make a lot more sense.

How do we connect the BOM to electronic component shopping?

At the end of the day, parts roll up into BOMs. So when electronic distributor sites can’t talk to your BOM, or allow you to build, buy and manage a BOM in the same place, ecommerce is a poor solution for buyers.

There is enormous complexity in the purchasing process because it’s not just about cost—availability, pricing deals, company policies about who to buy parts from, etc. all play a role. When all this information is fragmented and separate from the BOM, it becomes really difficult to manage. The day a buyer can go online and see the order status of their entire BOM in one place . . . now that would be a huge win.

Data lives in so many locations during the purchasing process—does anyone else feel this is a problem? And do you think it’s possible to solve?

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About the Author

Alex Gammelgard
Alex managed social media marketing and communications at Arena from 2011 to 2012. Although coming in fresh to the manufacturing industry, Alex is married to an engineer and is well ... Read More 

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