Industrial Distributor E-Commerce Challenges and Solutions

NetPlus Alliance CodifydDuring our distributor roundtable at our 2017 Annual Meeting, our buying group’s members gathered to discuss e-commerce challenges and what’s worked – and what hasn’t. Many of our industrial distributor members expressed their concern over how online competition has contributed to shrinking profit margins. There was also a lot of talk about differences in how customers behave when purchasing online.

Other challenges members said they are facing included determining and implementing pricing online vs. contract and street pricing, and selecting the right e-commerce platform for their businesses.

A common theme in our discussion was that NetPlus members need to think strategically when it comes to e-commerce. One of our distributors quoted author Stephen Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.” What’s your goal? How can your online platform support your existing business beyond just product purchases?

As our president, Jennifer Murphy, said at the Annual Meeting: “We must translate our product knowledge, strong customer relationships and pride in the industry for today’s buyers. They must be coupled with digital practices – e-commerce, digital marketing, CRM and more – that can position you to compete against the Amazons of the world.”

Distributors at the meeting weighed whether to create an e-commerce solution for all visitors or a website that is initially only available to customers to make existing purchases more efficient. Regardless, members encouraged others to make the purchasing process as seamless as possible, and to start by asking customers how they’d like to shop and buy. Many said that age seems to matter; younger customers tend to visit your website before picking up a phone.

Some members said they have attracted new customers – in some cases outside their geographic region – with their e-commerce offering.

Consider starting small (one or two product lines) or with a selection of products that appeal to your customer base – hard-to-find items, for example, or frequently purchased items that require little sales time, members said. One distributor member started with 2,000 always-in-stock items, offering them online for no minimum or no freight.

Whatever their strategy, distributors agreed that search engine optimization (SEO) is a priority, ensuring that products show up when someone is looking for them online.

Good product content is a challenge for many of our members. That’s why we’ve partnered with Codifyd to automate the flow of product content from manufacturer to distributor. Codifyd Bridge transforms the content into the desired format of each individual distributor. To learn more about our partnership with Codifyd, give us a call at 716-438-2014.