NEW ORLEANS — Resin distributor GE Polymerland rolled out an upgraded version of its e-commerce Web site late last month, offering customers greater speed, more detailed real-time data and improved navigation. The redesign is the second for the Polymerland site — which offers resins from 30 plastics makers — since it was unveiled at NPE in June 1997.
"When we launched the site, it was more of a novelty or curiosity, since only 30 percent of our customers had Internet access," Polymerland e-commerce transactions leader Hank Harrell said at Plastics News' E-Business Strategies & Opportunities, held Feb. 22-23 in New Orleans. "But now we've learned that you either have to drive the [e-commerce] process or it drives you right into the ground."
The new site has streamlined the number of order-entry screens a customer sees to place an order and has added more help and feedback buttons to make the site more interactive.
"Customers wanted to be able to do the same business they could do over the phone," Harrell said.
The revamped site also allows for customer-specific end-use pricing — meaning, if an injection molder goes to the site to find material to do a job for Sony, for example, the molder will be asked if the job is for Sony, which has pre-approved materials with Polymerland. The molder will then be offered the material at a price that has been worked out beforehand by Polymerland and Sony.
After bringing in less than $1 million in sales in 1998, the Polymerland site hit the $100 million mark in 1999, almost all of which was generated in the second half of the year. This growth has continued into 2000, as the site brought in $9 million in the week of Feb. 14 alone.
Harrell declined to identify how much of the site's revenue is new business for Huntersville, N.C.-based Polymerland, as opposed to existing business converting to Web-based purchasing. He also admitted the site hasn't earned back the money GE has spent on it yet.
"Building a Web site is an expensive undertaking: We're talking tens of millions of dollars," he said. "If we were using traditional [return on investment] methods, we'd never have started it, but it's our ticket to staying in the game."
The growth of the Polymerland site hasn't led the unit to reduce its sales force. The firm's inventory levels also are down somewhat since the site has gained traffic, but Harrell said he's not sure if those two facts are connected.
Other distributors are scrambling to keep up with Polymerland's Web efforts. General Polymers of Dublin, Ohio, and Performance Polymers of Leominster, Mass., already offer Web-based buying. GP material is available through its own Web site as well as from the PlasticsNet.Com site operated by Commerx Inc.
Channel Polymers, a division of Muehlstein Inc. of Norwalk, Conn., also distributes resin through PlasticsNet.Com.
Smaller competitors, such as engineering resins distributors Prime Alliance Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa, and Albis Corp. of Rosenberg, Texas, also are getting into the act.
Albis will launch online ordering in early April, offering engineering resins from six suppliers as well as the firm's own proprietary compounds, product manager Hans Brindley said.
"We want to get the initial product out there, and then update it as we need to," Brindley said. "We think it will let us do more prospecting for new customers, which will then allow us to follow up and build relationships."
Prime Alliance is taking the opposite approach, fine-tuning its site in preparation for an early-summer launch that would include material from 10 resin makers.
"With Polymerland having such a head start, your first stab better be a good one," said Tom Irvine, Prime Alliance's president and chief executive officer. "We want to have the whole thing ready. You don't want to put something out there and then evaluate your existing data system and software and have to start over from scratch."