B2B eCommerce

Distributors sink money into the user experience

Improving ease of use and customer experience continues to be distributors’ highest priority when it comes to investing ecommerce investment, says the annual State of eCommerce in Distribution survey from the Distribution Strategy Group.

Distributors that are highly satisfied with their ecommerce site tend to be more focused on delivering a satisfying customer experience. Distributors in this grouping have already completed ERP integration, and have prioritized increasing efficiency and productivity with their platforms.

According to the study, 47% of distributors say improving the customer experience is their top operational priority. In comparison, 23% rate that metric as their next highest operational priority. Other operational priorities to rank first or second include integration of the website with the ERP platform, 16% and 12%, respectively, and increase proficiency and productivity, 14% and 21% respectively. As part of the survey, the Distribution Strategy Group allowed respondents to give multiple responses to the same question.

One important factor distributors’ should remember when creating a satisfying ecommerce experience, is that customer satisfaction levels are based more on website design than website aesthetics. Designing a site that is easy to navigate improves the customer experience. One reason why is that customers can quickly find products they are looking for, which moves them forward in the purchasing process. Another important factor for distributors to keep in mind when creating a digital experience is that there’s a big gap between what distributors think the digital customer experience is, and the buyer views the customer experience. “It’s critical to survey your customers to understand what defines a great customer experience for them,” the report says.

Characteristics that define a good customer experience include speed, transparency, personalization, and consistency. When it comes to speed, fast support, easy product search, and easy to use self-service features fit the bill. Transparency means making product and pricing information accessible on-demand, and personalization is about tailoring recommendations to the buyer based on his past purchasing and browsing habits. Finally, pricing and recommendations must be closely coordinated across all channels.

For distributors that prioritize increasing efficiency and productivity with ecommerce, benefits from this strategy include having existing customers shift their spending online. Another benefit is improved order accuracy, and lower costs associated with field sales due to the self-service capabilities of an ecommerce site.

But’s there are a host of other benefits too, such as leveraging EDI, punchout and order automation with orders sent from the customer’s ERP system to a distributor’s ERP system. The advantage of this configuration is that it reduces to manually enter item information and sales orders. When it comes to financial priorities, not much has changed in the past year, according to the report. A new addition to this year’s survey were questions around product data, which can be one of the most challenging aspects of ecommerce implementation and maintenance.

When asked how satisfied they were about the quality and completeness of their data, 7% of distributors said they were extremely satisfied, 51% said they were somewhat or moderately satisfied, 18% were slight satisfied and 12% were not satisfied.

Another question asked of distributors was how they acquire their product data. Pulling product data together in-house was by far the most commonly method cited, with 79% of distributors saying they rely on in-house product to some degree. Obtaining product data, to some degree, from third-party organizations, ranked second (50%), relying on groups and organizations to supply product data—to some degree—ranked third (38%), and having product data bundled with the ecommerce platform, to some degree, ranked fourth (28%). Respondents could cite multiple sources for product data in the responses.


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