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Scientists Experimenting with Online Shopping

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2000
Gaynell Terrell

Life scientists accustomed to buying books and booking airline flights online would welcome the opportunity to shop electronically for research supplies, a recent poll indicated.

In fact, 38 percent of respondents to an online survey on e-commerce have already purchased some form of life science product over the World Wide Web, reported BioInformatics Inc. A total of 680 members of the group's 4700-member online science advisory board responded to the survey.

Scientists' purchasing expectations are being shaped by the high-quality service of electronic bookseller outlets such as and by the package delivery and tracking of Federal Express, said Bill Kelly, president of BioInformatics. He said life scientists have been using the Web far longer than the general public -- longer even than other scientists and engineers -- and are more likely to embrace a Web-based purchasing option.

Kelly said suppliers in all technologies, including photonics, should note the scientists' willingness to make purchases online and develop their Web sites accordingly. Because of scientists' personal experiences with shopping and entertainment, "manufacturers need to be aware that their Web sites are going to be judged by higher standards than one might expect," he said.

Overall sales of scientific supplies are roughly $10 billion a year and growing, a separate report by investment analyst PaineWebber Inc. noted. Growth in sales of biotech instruments is fueled by such factors as demand by an aging population for new therapies, demand for health care in developing countries and human genome research, reported Theta Reports, publisher of health care market news.

Member comments pulled from the BioInformatics survey indicated that researchers want ease of ordering, cost comparisons, volume discounting and a quick turnaround in receiving their goods.

The largest obstacles to buying supplies online were the members' own central purchasing departments, survey participants said. About 60 percent said it is very unlikely that their organization will issue a credit or procurement card for online purchases in the next two years.

A recent survey conducted by Analytical Instrument Industry Report noted that suppliers believe they can cut the cost of the average $500 supply order by $100 by selling direct and reducing order-processing costs. But spokesman Gordon Welkins said only about one-third of suppliers now offer their products online. Among those are a handful of companies that deal in very expensive or complex instruments, and these are not likely to make online sales.

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