As is the case with commercial shoppers, government buyers can also benefit in a number of ways from shopping online.
1. Convenience and time saving
- From the Contracting Officer’s perspective – writing a general purpose contract one time and letting buyers make purchase orders against that contract saves a lot of time. A number of federal agencies have used this strategy to save both time and contracting dollars.
- From the Buyers perspective – A buyer does not have to travel to a store site or adjust his schedule around the store’s hours. No longer does the buyer have to wait on hold for a customer service representative to answer the phone. Without leaving the office, government buyers can access thousands of websites, or their own agency specific website, to research products, and purchase items which have been approved and made available through agency wide contracts.
2. Broader selection – By writing broad based contracts for vendor catalogs, the contracting officer can make more items available to the buyers without knowing the exact requirements. This prevents the contracting officer from having to go back and amend contracts. This policy is especially good for consumable products like office supplies and building supplies where the requirements vary greatly from day to day.
3. Global choice – While the federal government is restricted to multiple procurement regulations, online shopping can make Buy American Act products more easily available overseas. It can also give government personnel access to locally approved vendors worldwide.
4. Better information – Access to a fuller range of information about product availability, descriptions, reviews and pricing.
5. Lower prices – By writing multiple broad based contracts, the government can take advantage of their buying power and negotiate better prices from vendors. Aggregating items from multiple vendors in a single view also helps the buyer compare items and make best value purchasing decisions.
6. Rapid response time to needs – eCommerce allows traditional supply chains to be shortened (direct shipping from the manufacturers) or even completely eradicated (digital goods such as software). This allows customers to purchase products in much less time. This is true for both commercial and government buyers
7. Quality of service – eCommerce has created a global market with all suppliers competing for business. It brings suppliers closer to the customer. The customer benefits to the extent that the quality of the service offered is improved. Customer rating services also increase this as it is easy for customers to rate both products and customer service of individual suppliers.
8. Approval Workflow eliminates “maverick buys” – By establishing a workflow between the buyer and a contracting officer, higher cost buys can be approved and “maverick buys” can be eliminated.
9. Business Intelligence enables strategic sourcing – Agency sponsored eCommerce sites allow for easy collection of level 3 procurement data. You know exactly who is buying what and for how much. This business intelligence can help narrow the vendor list and lead to strategic sourcing of products at the best possible prices.
With the current emphasis on saving money, a hiring freeze and the a recommendation to only replace two out of three vacancies, the federal government acquisition community should take a hard look at the benefits of using more eCommerce for government procurement.