mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

eCommerce is everywhere...

Pulaski Highway through Baltimore County sometimes seems like it's hardly been touched by time. It's and old truck route, and most of the businesses have that white trash/ truck driver kind of vibe - junkyards, used pipe dealers, motels that lazy novelists would describe as sleazy, truck dealers.

Skippy's Truck Caps fits in - a collection of small sheds, racks made of 2x4's used to hold truck caps, and a mobile home used as an office. It doesn't look like the poster child for how the internet has changed commerce - it's pretty hard to mail a truck cap.

But Skippy's is where I got the hard tonneau cover for my Ranger installed today, and I was surprised how automated the ordering process is. I first found out about them when, just after buying the truck, I filled out an info form on ARE's website and got an email back from them outlining options and pricing. I wasn't ready to buy then - a little short on funds, plus not sure if I wanted a tonneau or a full cap.

I decided to go with the tonneau, and went to order two weeks ago. While I was there, the owner checked pricing on ARE's dealer intranet, and placed the order for my cap.

See, truck caps are a great example of "mass customization" that futurists like to talk about. It's kind of like Build-A-Bear (an example that Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds uses in his book Army of Davids to show how personalization has become popular) only for trucks. Caps and covers need to be sized not only for a specific year and make and model of truck, but are also matched to bed size, styled to match certain option packages, and painted to match the OEM color of the truck. They are custom made to order. It's a huge industry (next time you are driving, look at every pickup truck you see - chances are many of them will have a cap or cover), but not one that gets much press (probably because few business journalists drive pickups).

Truck cap dealers don't seem like they would be a very plugged in operation. But from what I saw when I researched, ordered, and recived my cover, their suppliers have created a pretty robust b2b system, using the web for marketing as well as for ordering.

I don't know what the truck cap process was like 10 or 15 years ago, before the internet. I'm guessing that it probably involved a lot of paper and faxing. It also might have something to do with why when you see old truck caps, they were usually white instead of body colored.

People still sometimes like to talk about how the dot-com bubble exploded, how it was all hype, how stupid it was to think we would all buy pet food and ice cream online. But eCommerce has affected lots of industries where it isn't really apparent, and totally changed the way that they operate.

(BTW, I'll try to post pics of the cap tomorrow)


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