Are you ready for the self-service society?

Are you ready for the self-service society?

The IDEA Standards Committee has been addressing a quiet evolution in our industry and unless you are actively involved, their work may have gone unnoticed.

Seems we are quickly moving from a full service, to self-service society.  The technology and options to conduct business online have grown exponentially since the early 1990’s.  Whether managing your money at a bank, online shopping for the holidays, paying your utility bills or any other service that you used to stand “inline” for, but now do “online”… no question the way we conduct business has changed and will continue to move in this direction.  Although our industry relies heavily on experts (in both sales and installation), the evolving self-service model provides robust information for consumers to evaluate, compare, select and purchase products with little or no help from the experts.

In a recent report from Reuters, the forecast for online shopping this season is expected to rise 8 percent while overall holiday shopping is predicted to drop 1 percent this year.  And although we still stand inline for most of our shopping, the US consumer conducted online retail sales totaling $441.97 billion (with a B) last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

“So what the heck does all that have to do with IDEA Standards”?

The IDEA Standards Committee recently announced an industry-owned Product Attribute Schema which lays the foundation for manufacturers to provide robust information about their products.  How?  The new standard is based on a global, non-proprietary UNSPSC code set and incorporates over 1,500 product categories just for the electrical industry. IDEA took that base and extended each category to include up to 27 “attributes” or product descriptors to enable users to search and select products based on their specific needs, preferences or application.  Product attributes are nothing more than “information about the information”.  In its simplest form, here is an example of possible attributes you would use to select and purchase a shirt:

– Attribute 1 – “Style”  /  Attribute Values = “dress”, “casual”, “sport”

– Attribute 2 – “Type of Material”  /  Attribute Values = “cotton”, “blend”, “silk”

– Attribute 3 – “Type of Sleeve”  /  Attribute Values = “long”, “short”, “sleeveless”

– Attribute 4 – “Size”  /  Attribute Values = “S”, “M”, “L”, “XL”, “XXL”

… and so on. 

These attributes follow the same line of questioning that a haberdasher (clothing expert) would have asked customers in the full service model of the past, and now enable the “self-service” society to make purchasing decisions online.  Without such standard framework (attribute schema) and product information (values), the industry will be hard-pressed to build a viable self-service option.  Manufacturers that do not provide attributed data for their products or services will not easily be found by the self-service, online society.  As many know, online users rarely dig below Top 10 search results and manufacturers that cannot be found through search tools, will miss sales opportunities. Therefore, it’s essential that manufacturers provide robust and consistent product information to distributors so they are fully-equipped to serve the self-service society we live in today.

So what do you think will build the foundation for future online commerce in our industry?  Should we push manufacturers to provide this data, or are their distributors responsible?  Can we defer to internet savvy companies to do this without involvement of either manufacturer or distributor?

We welcome your feedback and participation as we continue to build upon the schema.

Phil Barrios, Sr. Director, Corporate Marketing & E-Business, Hubbell Inc. and IDEA Standards Committee Chair

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