E-commerce for the Life Sciences?

Joan Evans j.evans at scienceboard.net
Wed Mar 17 10:42:57 EST 1999

There's an interesting debate occurring on The Science Advisory Board's
(http://www.scienceboard.net) discussion board regarding the impact
electronic commerce will have on how you obtain products and supplies
needed for life science research.  This debate was sparked by our
current study which seeks to explore the degree to which researchers are
already using the Web to identify and obtain items, and your opinions on
what Web site features must be included to better meet the needs of life

Life scientists were among the first to use the World Wide Web to search
for the products and supplies they need to support their research.  Now,
many life science suppliers enable you to actually purchase products and
services directly from their Web sites.  Electronic Commerce (also known
as "e-commerce") offers many potential advantages over existing
purchasing procedures.  There are, however, significant differences
between products for biological research and the consumer products
increasingly being purchased over the Web!  Our members are coming out
on both sides of the issue, and we invite your participation!

Some of the observations made to date include:

"The mechanisms for purchasing lab supplies is very often centralized
through the departmental ordering person.  I think that even if we
wanted to order stuff directly from the web, it would be difficult for
the purchasing staff to record, track, and credit these "independent"
purchases.  If there was some way that - from my lab- I could go online,
order my product, have it automatically debited from my budget AND have
our purchasing people know about it instantaneously and have a record of
it - then this might fly.  Also, for large ticket items there is a lot
of red tape to ensure that the lowest prices are obtained. E-commerce
needs to develop a mechanism that addresses competitive bids for large

"Buying over the Web would be great, but let's face it - most academic
institutions are such that all purchase requests have to go through
Purchasing (which I suppose protects against fraud and better
accountability to the various granting agencies). So ordering products
directly through the Web requires a total reorganization at most
institutions that very likely will not happen for a very long time."

"Probably the main concern of buying products via e-commerce is that the
products you buy do not have a high enough quality. At least when using
different enzymes in biotech, one tend to stick with the vendor that has
been successful in your experiments earlier, and it is a tough job
trying to convince a scientist to change vendor just based on price of
product.  Most scientists has experienced that a product that is bought
cheap, could be of sub-quality and give days/weeks of extra job - and
therefore in fact being more expensive than buying a "expensive"
high-quality product in the first place. So there has to be good
documentation on the products sold."

The Science Advisory Board is an online panel of 4,100 biomedical
scientists, physicians and other medical professionals from 64
countries.  If you would like to voice your opinions in this, or future
studies, please complete the Research Panel registration form which can
be found at http://www.scienceboard.net and you be notified of your
eligibility.  Your identity and individual responses are always held in
strict confidence, and participants are compensated for their time.

Joan Evans
Membership Secretary
The Science Advisory Board

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