TTI Inc. is about to enter the brave new world of electronic commerce with an online catalog business aimed at the engineering community and developing OEMs.
Known as TTI Plus, the new catalog sales division of the $430 million distributor of passives and interconnect products is focused on delivering prototype to production quantities of TTI's most prestigious lines to the thousands of customers that don't have heavy value-added requirements.
"We're combining customer service with technology to allow us to handle 45% of TTI's customer base," said Vince Manfredini, vice president of TTI Plus. "We're using this as a service to let customers know what [products] we've got. And when the components become a major buy, we can take it to another level within the company."
Fort Worth, Texas-based TTI formally launched its TTI Plus online catalog a month ago, featuring 21 of the company's major product lines. TTI plans to add e-commerce capability by the beginning of 1999. At the TTI Plus site, customers will be able to search TTI's Passives and Connectors Product Guide by vendor, specification, or part number, and purchase parts in any volume, according to Manfredini.
Leveraging TTI's broad inventory, TTI Plus expects to eclipse the business of some of its competitors in the catalog arena. Ultimately, the division plans to expand its catalog offering outside of the TTI line card.
Distributors are finding the Internet to be an inexpensive way to reach a wide array of customers with lower-volume needs. Traditional catalog houses, such as Avnet's Allied Electronics, Digi-Key, Mouser Electronics, and Newark Electronics, have augmented their paper catalogs with robust online offerings. Top-tier franchised distributors have also been online trailblazers-notably Arrow Electronics, Avnet, and Marshall Industries.
While catalogs have been a way for some distributors to offset price competition and razor-thin profit margins, some purchasers are still reluctant to buy parts on the Internet, said Robin Gray, executive vice president of the National Electronic Distributors Association, Atlanta.
A recent NEDA study showed that in 1997, less than 1% of total sales volume was attributable to e-commerce, Gray said.
Currently, the TTI Plus sales process is initiated through an interactive "auto-attendant," accessed through a "Call Me Now!" link, which alerts a customer-service agent to call the user. Alternatively, customers can fill out an order template online to request a callback by a TTI Plus representative.