Modern electronics distribution must encompass a range of channels to reach an increasingly fragmented customer base. And in this multichannel environment, providing high levels of service, a wide product choice, and rapid access to data are all key to meeting the needs of today's designers.
In recent years, the European electronics industry has evolved from one dominated by large OEMs to a much more fragmented model. Now a growing number of smaller organisations play an increasingly significant role in product design and development.
At the same time, the combined pressures of ever shorter time-to-market, limited resources, tightly controlled budgets, and increased regulatory overheads mean that designers need more external support to take their product from design, through prototype, and on into final production. And, with many component producers concentrating their efforts on the larger electronics manufacturers, most designers must get this support via the distribution channel.
SUPPORTING THE DESIGNER
The design phase of a project will typically involve low order quantities yet demand high levels of supplier support. Successfully addressing the designer's needs must acknowledge this low-volume, high-service requirement by going far beyond simple product delivery. That's not to say product choice and availability are no longer important. Indeed, with little time or resource to deal with multiple organisations, designers rely more heavily than ever before on distributors with broad linecards. As a result, they can satisfy their product requirements from a single source.
IN-STOCK AVAILABILITY AND RAPID DELIVERY
Farnell, for instance, offers next-day delivery for in-stock items ordered before 7pm—a key for time-poor designers who are under pressure to meet tight project deadlines. These days, however, the support that designers look for from a distributor can start long before the ordering and shipment of product. Today's designers, for example, expect a distributor to help them identify the optimum product in the first place, or allow them to easily compare similar products in terms of suitability for a given application.
Easy access to technical data, such as product datasheets, application notes, design guides, and manuals, can help to support this selection process. Another source of aid is information on EoL (end-of-life) or component obsolescence.
Designers also look to the distribution channel to help them understand and address the design challenges created by a growing volume of legislation, such as RoHS, WEEE, and the forthcoming EuP Directive. What's more, with many regulations differing from region to region—such as the European and Chinese approach to RoHS—designers want to work with distributors who can provide a truly global perspective and highlight issues that must be considered when designing products for worldwide consumption.
A MULTICHANNEL MODEL
The increased fragmentation of the European electronics industry means that a "one size fits all" solution simply doesn't meet the needs of today's designers. It's for this very reason that Premier Farnell created a multichannel distribution model. One key aspect of the model is that it delivers high levels of service and support to the electronic design community irrespective of where they're based or product volume requirements.
By definition, a multichannel model provides a number of different ways in which the designer can interact with the distributor to obtain the information, support, and products they need. In Farnell's case, for example, channels include an advanced online resource; technical support by phone or email; a field-based technical sales force; and a library of technical literature that ranges from supplier datasheets to detailed documents.
For the latter, Farnell's technical staff uses its expertise to provide roundups of key technologies or guidance on how to make informed product selections. There's also a comprehensive catalogue featuring over 430,000 products from more than 500 component suppliers, as well as a number of different documents (again written by inhouse experts) on legislative issues, including RoHS and the WEEE Directive.
IMPORTANCE OF THE WEB
Of course, no discussion of modern distribution would be complete without reference to the Internet. In fact, the services that a distributor offers via its Web site are now an absolutely critical element of the multichannel model.
Just how important a role the Internet plays in today's electronics industry is clearly seen in Farnell's own figures, which demonstrate e-commerce sales growing quarter on quarter throughout the last 12 months. The company's last quarterly report, for example, showed a 42% increase in European online sales, with some regions—including Spain and some of the Nordic countries— transacting as much as 50% of total sales revenue via the Web.
Having just completed an extensive reengineering of our own Web site based on feedback from extensive customer research, Farnell is better equipped to identify the online services that a distributor should offer to best support designers. Beyond access to the online catalogue and all relevant technical literature, at the top of the list is the ability to simplify and speed component identification and selection. While online "mass-market" search engines such as Google can return a wealth of data, typically they won't provide the focus needed by designers to make rapid and effective product choices.
By creating powerful, intelligent, and high-speed search engines with facilities to provide meaningful product comparisons, distributors can address this need for focus and significantly ease the product identification process. The search engine on Farnell's newly reengineered site, for example, is three times faster than the previous version, and provides advanced product comparison functions. It can also return details of alternative products and accessories based on userspecified criteria. In addition, sophisticated filtering options allow designers to select various criteria, such as RoHS compliance, ex-stock availability, recent additions to the product range, and suitability of products for new designs based on manufacturer EoL data.
Finally, it's worth noting that geographic boundaries mean very little in today's electronic industry—a product designed in Germany may well be manufactured in Eastern Europe or China. Even product design can be split across multiple locations. The ability to provide global support, therefore, increasingly moves up the agenda when it comes to choosing distributor partners. However, within a global framework, it's still important to tailor the support to match the exact needs of designers in individual regions. That's something the multichannel model is particularly well-suited to handle.