The Internet superstore launched Amazon.com/homeimprovement Nov. 9.
Contractors and homeowners will be able to purchase plumbing equipment such as faucets, fixtures, hardware, plumbing parts and miscellaneous items such as pipe insulation, hoses, strainers, cements, fittings, valves, heat tape and washers through the Internet giant at its plumbing section.
Home-improvement products also will be on sale in seven other categories that include hardware, housewares, outdoor living, painting supplies, tools, electrical and lighting, and lawn and garden.
"The target market for our home-improvement division is the professional contractor," said Joe Galli, president and coo of Amazon.com in an interview with CONTRACTOR. "We offer a full, exhaustive line of equipment they use every day. We had tremendous requests from people who make a living with tools that we move into the home-improvement market. We’ve already sold thousands of industry-related books to professional contractors and this was just the next step."
Any product purchased from the home-improvement section of the Web site will be shipped anywhere in the country, regardless of weight, for a flat fee of $4.95. Customers requesting overnight delivery will pay extra.
"The No. 1 advantage we have is our selection," Galli continued. "We have upwards of 400 brand-name products available that professionals have come to respect and trust. We’re selling toilet seats, faucets, installation equipment, parts and accessories for plumbing products. We don’t offer porcelain products yet but we’re constantly working to expand our offerings. Contractors have told us that they don’t always want to go to their distributors to buy equipment. That does not mean that every contractor will buy his tools and equipment online, but some of them will."
But again, some of them won’t.
"I don’t do any purchasing over the Internet yet," said Patrick Wallner, president of Wallner Plumbing in Redding, Calif. "I use the Internet for research only. I’ll always go to my wholesaler over anyone else, even if it means not saving a buck. The years I’ve put into the relationship with my wholesaler are not worth saving a few bucks. Plus, if I ever need to return something there’s never a problem.
"I would buy products on the Internet if my wholesaler started doing e-commerce. But now I use the Internet mostly to find phone numbers and names and maybe obscure products if I can’t find it at my wholesaler first."
Online purchasing may take awhile to catch on with contractors, said Jack Gatewood, vice president of A.J. Danboise, a contractor in Farmington Hills, Mich. It better not take forever, however.
"If contractors don’t get online with the Internet they’ll be left behind," Gatewood said. "You can’t go more than five minutes listening to the radio before you hear a commercial for ‘this dot com’ or ‘that dot com.’ Buying products online is definitely doable in this industry, especially for those guys who stock their trucks more than their warehouses. That’s a convenient way to keep products available.
"I have not purchased products off the Internet yet but do feel that contractors need to get our industry more involved with it. Our company does not have e-commerce abilities on our site where customers can solicit business or interact with the company at this point, but we’ll probably change that down the road."
Amazon.com purchased Tool Crib of the North, a tool-and-equipment catalog company to help support its home-improvement division. Tool Crib of the North already had an online business and catalog business with a shipping program in place that Amazon.com adopted. While Tool Crib of the North likely will benefit from its new partnership with the Internet store, the effect on other wholesalers will remain uncertain for some time. That is not a concern of Amazon.com, however.
"We look at our customers and not our competitors," Galli said. "At the same time we believe that we will enlarge the overall market for these types of products. We believe we will stimulate the wholesale market. No one has to lose for us to win.
"Amazon.com is a great customer for its manufacturers. The professionals like that we carry everything, and there are few returns, even though we have a great return policy available, because people are making informed purchases because of all the information available at our site."
The Internet behemoth has hired editors from the industry to write about home-improvement products. Manufacturer-supplied product information also is available to customers.
"Perhaps most interestingly, we allow our customers to rate the products we sell by letting them review each product," Galli said. "Customers can rate products on a five-star scale and add their own comments if they wish. The reviews give contractors the benefit of other people’s experiences with the products, which is something they typically wouldn’t have."
Power tools also will be on sale through the retailer. Those products include bench-top tools, building and jobsite tools, cordless drills, generators, hand tools, masonry tools, pneumatics, lasers, routers and bits, sanding saws and blades, stationary tools and tools for drywalling, dust collection, flooring, framing, lawn and garden work, metalworking, woodworking and measuring.
The Home Depot also plans on selling products on its Web site in spring 2000. Customers will be able to check store inventory online, have products delivered and return online purchases at a store.