eCommerce … What is it for Distributors

Last week John shared insights regarding Watsco’s digital journey and how the company is accelerating account penetration, and hence sales, via its eCommerce initiatives. Unfortunately not everyone has the resources that Watsco has.

Now, we know many are saying “digital isn’t for my customers” or “we have a site but we’re not getting the same traction as Watsco” or perhaps they read our article for ElectricalTrends that compared investing into eCommerce to buying a boat (“Electrical Distributors’ Digital Transformation Journey”) and some may have read our article on the “6 Reasons Distributors Should Not Invest in a Product / Commerce-enabled Website.

Digital can be hard, and it can be expensive.

It’s hard because of:

  • Getting the right product content
  • Selecting an eCommerce platform
  • Integrating the site with your ERP system (otherwise, how do you get customers “their” pricing and show them accurate inventory.
  • You need to keep content on the site fresh to attract visitors (so, this is a marketing initiative) and there is some SEO work to localize your site
  • And those pesky people called salespeople … yes, you need to educate them that this isn’t about removing them from the sales equation and
  • The people you’re doing this for, the customers? Need to market to them to get them to visit the site and then use it regularly. (Yes, this takes works!)

At the same time, eCommerce is more than a commerce-enabled website.

Recently we conducted a survey, for a manufacturer, in the electrical distribution industry, where we asked distributors:

  1. What is your definition of eCommerce? They responded:

Distributor Definition of eCommerce

  1. We asked what they felt the top 3 customer benefits of a site should be ?

Top 3 Customer Benefits of eCommerce According to Distributors

And we asked them a number of questions regarding eCommerce data (which, if you are interested, reach out to me and I can share some information).

We’d also like to gain your insights. If you are a distributor and can share a few minutes, we’ll share industry insights with you – take our eCommerce / eCommerce content survey by clicking here.

A couple of points:

eCommerce is more than a website. In fact, one survey summed it up as “eCommerce is … “Self Service options for customers to manage their orders and their accounts.”

Looking for some resources?

  • For eCommerce content, two providers that have HVAC/R content are Distributor Data Solutions and Trimble.
  • There are lots of options regarding eCommerce platforms. I’m not a techie so can’t vouch for one vs another other than the feedback I hear from distributors. On the survey we asked distributors about the platforms that they are using and received input from over 50 companies. If you want some names, let me know (but I’m going to ask about your company size and/or your budget to give you companies that are “appropriate” for you.)
  • Integration is critical. Yes, you can do APIs, but plan on an IT person who knows what they are doing. If you want a tool that can be your integration for eCommerce and other systems (i.e. CRM, marketing automation, EDI, marketplaces and more) consider talking to DCKAP about their Integrator tool.
  • Speaking of “other tools”, an eCommerce strategy needs to integrate other tools. CRM is a maybe. Marketing automation is becoming a must (and there are different definitions of this). Text apps, for HVAC is important due to the role of technicians (as well as generational dynamics). A couple of systems you should look into are Sales Management Plus and White Cup.
  • Need help with your content / marketing strategy? We can help with strategy, idea generation and have sources to help you with the implementation … as do your suppliers!

And speaking of suppliers, while they are a source for marketing content (and potentially product content), depending upon your importance to them, they can also be a source for “other” support.

While some say that acquisition activity is being driven by the need for technology investment (and this is a fallacy … it’s an excuse by the acquired company that says something about succession), technological tools and effective implementation does benefit from scale, however, smart investing and smart tools can be an equalizer. It also comes down to “what is right for your customers and your company.”

Technology, and some call it “digital transformation”, can also expand into some interesting opportunities to tighten customer relationships via services with key customers. Another opportunity is to automate downstream rebate processes for your customers … as well as integrate incentive programs into your site. And some companies are striving to integrate back to their manufacturers to provide visibility into manufacturer inventory systems and order status.

While your eCommerce sales may not represent as high a percentage as Watsco (and who knows how that is calculated – online only? Inclusive of EDI? Email? eProcurement”) they key is being able to offer a service that adds value to your customers. There are many different ways of determining ROI (future article, or again, give me a call), but the key is … offer something. Your customers expect it, although they may not express it (usually because they are receiving it from someone else.)

eCommerce / eCommerce Data surveyAnd don’t forget to take our HVACR eCommerce survey.

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