Buying IT over the Web is convenient, feds say

Buying IT over the Web is convenient, feds say

GSA Advantage is the most popular federal site, but its search engine needs improvement, users say

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff

Just sit down at your PC, log on and shop. It's easy and convenient.

The GCN Reader Survey is intended to provide data on computer and communications trends, technologies and product preferences. This survey on procurement trends is based on a telephone survey of 100 federal readers of GCN who on their subscription application forms identified themselves as procurement managers or agents.

That's what feds like most about buying computer products on the Web, a GCN telephone survey of procurement managers found.

'It's quick and immediate,' an Agriculture Department technical information officer said.

'It's fast and convenient,' said Edward Brown, a Geological Survey geophysicist in Vancouver, Wash. 'And it's also easy to track purchases.'

Brown and his colleagues estimated they make 65 percent to 70 percent of their PC, peripheral and software purchases online. They buy mostly from vendor sites such as those hosted by Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho.

Time factor

What about the General Services Administration's GSA Advantage and other federal sites?

'We usually use the vendor sites,' Brown said. 'With the other ones, it takes too much time to get what you need.'

The GCN survey discovered that federal managers tend to cruise several sites when shopping for computer products on the Web. was the single most visited site; 28 percent of buyers reported using it. attracted 11 percent of federal purchasers we talked with, and garnered 9 percent.

Smaller numbers of buyers used the Defense Logistics Agency's E-mall at (4 percent) and (4 percent).

A sizeable 81 percent of procurement managers GCN surveyed shopped on many vendor and commercial sites.

John Martin, branch chief at GSA's Federal Supply Service in Chicago, said he buys from because his organization has standardized on Dell equipment. But Martin also buys from GSA Advantage.

'I've been using GSA Advantage since it came out,' he said. 'It's getting better and easier to use and navigate.'

But there is room for improvement in GSA Advantage's search engine, he said.

'When I shop for desktop laser printers for less than $1,000, I ought to be able to look at them without seeing [more expensive] network printers also included,' he said.

Martin said he spends about $10,000 to $15,000 on online purchases a year, primarily on peripherals such as printers and scanners.

Some feds'13 percent of those surveyed'expressed unrestrained enthusiasm for online purchasing.

Others were ambivalent, citing as a big plus the convenience and ease of cybershopping but voicing reservations about other aspects.

Security headed their list of concerns.

'I'm still a little leery about giving out a credit card number,' an Army purchaser in Virginia said. 'I'm concerned about the security of that information.'

A Health and Human Services Department buyer in Maryland said, 'Buying online is convenient, but I have concerns about making credit card purchases.'

Other feds said they were frustrated by sites that are poorly designed or difficult to navigate; they can't find the products they need.

'On some of the screen layouts, it's hard to figure out what's going on,' the Geological Survey's Brown said. 'Sometimes it's hard to find what you're looking for. Some [screens] load exceptionally slowly, and I've got very good access speed here. I tend not to go back to those sites.'

Other feds complained of not finding enough product data on commerce sites.

'I'm sometimes unable to get detailed information,' one buyer said.

'I like the ease of purchasing online, but not all the data is always available, so I usually have to call the vendor,' a Navy fleet maintenance manager said.

Product in person

'It's quick and easy,' a Defense Department buyer said. 'But there's some guesswork. We don't know the stock and quality of what we're purchasing online.'

'We like the convenience and having the chance to identify different alternatives,' another buyer said, 'but we don't like not being able to touch and feel the products.'

At a Federal Aviation Administration facility in Reno, Nev., support specialist Randy Wilson said he likes to comparison-shop online but wishes he could get a little sales help.

'If we know specifically what we want to buy and the best price is online, then we'll order it,' he said. 'But if we're not sure what product would best fill the bill, it's nicer to deal with a salesperson.'

On the other hand, some feds appreciated the fact that they could avoid sales representatives by shopping online.

'I like that you don't have to speak to sales reps or get catalogs,' an office administrator in Minnesota said.

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