Chapter Corner

The Risks of Sourcing Electrical Products Online

Posted in: August 2017, Business Smarts

How much do you really know about the electrical products you’re buying online?
You’re in a pinch. You need a molded case circuit breaker (MCCB) for a project, but you’re running up against a deadline and you don’t think you have time to order through a distributor. So, naturally, you jump online and look for a reseller who can offer you a low-priced option with fast turnaround. You find product that looks like a good choice. Sure, it’s being sold as unused surplus product, but that doesn’t matter – it should work as well as a new one. Finally, you place your order using next-day shipping (of course) and in less than 24 hours the product shows up at your door ready to be installed. No problem, right?
Not so fast.

Online buying carries significant risks for contractors that could lead to big problems if you’re not careful,
including receiving products that are suspect, unsafely altered, or even counterfeit. In this article,
I’ll explore some of those risks, while offering tips for avoiding the potential pitfalls of online buying.
Because while buying from online sources may seem convenient, it’s critical to not put your customers
or your business at risk by taking shortcuts.
At first, buying from internet resellers can seem incredibly convenient. The competition between
online resellers has led to a crowded marketplace, with many promising prices far below those offered
through authorized channels. And the speed of two day or one-day shipping often seems like it’s too good
to be true for contractors who need product fast. 

There are a number of problems with buying from these online sources to be concerned about,
but the big one is the risk of the unknown. 
When you purchase products from a gray market source you simply don’t know what you’re getting or where the products originated. Unless the seller has a direct relationship with the original manufacturer, the products that they sell should not be considered new. Without the assurance of traceability to the manufacturer, these products create liability for the contractor who installs them. In the worst-case scenario, the product can pose
serious safety risks, including fires or other electrical hazards that can lead to liabilities for the contractor.
Fortunately, ensuring the authenticity of MCCBs you buy online can be accomplished if you follow a few simple steps.
Online buying doesn’t have to be fraught with risk. Taking the necessary precautions to ensure the authenticity of the products will go a long way toward maintaining the safety and integrity of your project.
First, it’s essential to verify that the products you are purchasing online can be traced to the original manufacturer. Check with the manufacturer in question that the reseller has been authorized to
sell the product, or take the necessary steps to find out from the reseller where they procure the products they sell. This may seem to defeat the purpose of buying online – after all, you’re looking for a fast turnaround – but doing your due diligence is the only way you’ll know you’re getting genuine product before it reaches your door.
Thankfully, the electrical industry is aware of the problems of counterfeiting and gray market resellers, and it continues to take steps to make it easier than ever to procure safe, authentic products. For example, Eaton’s Power of Authenticity program provides the resources required to source authentic products quickly 
and easily. Additionally, Eaton recently signed an agreement with Omni Cable to serve as an authorized source of genuine Eaton MCCBs, providing distributors with another authorized channel to purchase authentic product. With initiatives like these and others in the industry, contractors now have more options than ever before to purchase new, genuine products at competitive prices and lead times from authorized resellers.
Counterfeit products can be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. When placed side-by-side, even the most seasoned contractor may have trouble discerning between the real and the counterfeit. Therefore, it’s necessary to inspect each product you purchase and look for signs that there may be a problem. Do the labels look to be of high quality? Is the product missing date codes? Are there extraneous markings or labels that don’t look like they were applied by the original manufacturer? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, that’s a good indicator something may be amiss.
Thankfully, there are tools available that can help verify the authenticity of purchased products. Eaton’s Circuit Breaker Authentication (CBA) tool can scan manufacturing information on the product to help you minimize the risk of installing a counterfeit or suspect MCCB. The tool, which can be downloaded to any iOS or Android device, was recently updated to include UPC code scanning functionality, adding one more layer of protection and convenience for contractors seeking to verify authenticity.

Finally, if you do suspect that you may have purchased a counterfeit, faulty, or suspect product, contact the product manufacturer with your concerns immediately. Doing so will allow the manufacturer to authenticate the product and potentially prevent a suspect product from being resold to an unsuspecting contractor.
As online buying continues to grow as an easy, convenient, and usually cost-effective way to procure products with a quick turnaround, it’s important to be aware of the risks. Because while the chances are you’re getting a new or genuine product online, the risk of the unknown is simply too great to take that chance. Do your due diligence in confirming traceability to the original manufacturer and authenticate the products you purchase, and you can save yourself from a potential world of trouble.

Tom Grace has a BS degree from the  University of South Florida. He has a diverse background of information technology, sales, and marketing. His experience includes 16 years with Eaton where he is currently the anti-counterfeiting and brand protection manager for the Americas Electrical Sector. He is also a member of the Eaton global anti-counterfeit advisory committee. Tom is actively engaged with federal agencies and local law enforcement. He has conducted anti-counterfeit training at most of the major U.S. ports. Tom is
also engaged with industry associations such as UL, CSA, NAED, and NEMA.