The Case for Creating an Integrated Wholesale eCommerce Experience - Modern Distribution Management

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The Case for Creating an Integrated Wholesale eCommerce Experience

Does your wholesale eCommerce site have the features it takes to be best-in-class? Find out what customers really want from distributors.
MDM eCommerce (alexsl from Getty Images Signature via Canva)

Distributors wondering how much to invest in their wholesale eCommerce platform should stop the uncertainty and go all in. Trends show two critical things about B2B online shopping in distribution:  

  1. It’s growing like a weed in the spring garden, and; 
  2. There’s probably room for improvement.

Recent data from Wunderman Thompson Commerce and Technology shows:

  • 68% of B2B buyers say they will increase their use of digital shopping channels in the future. 
  • 46% of global B2B buyers say they are frustrated with buying B2B products online. 
  • 40% say they have changed all their suppliers in the last 12 months. 

We also know these customers feel something is missing in their B2B wholesale eCommerce experience, according to the research. 

  • 53% say online shopping is more complicated than offline purchases. 
  • 66% say they want (and expect) a B2B experience as intuitive as B2C shopping. 
  • 74% say they want to move from inspiration to purchase commitment quickly. 

Looking at this data, it’s clear that, in 2024, distributors with a wholesale eCommerce presence should focus on having or building a customer experience that doesn’t frustrate buyers and turn them away. 

The question is — how? Here are four critical suggestions to achieve this goal: 

  • Understand what your customers want from your site and where you and others fall short. 
  • Look to great examples in the market – who does wholesale eCommerce successfully? 
  • Identify challenges so you can plan to address or get ahead of them. 
  • Identify the features you must have for wholesale eCommerce in 2024. 

What Wholesale eCommerce Customers Really Want

Understanding wholesale eCommerce customers’ wants, needs and priorities sounds more daunting than it probably is, but it will require some sleuthing to figure it out. Specific research into a customer segments aside, there are a few things we know generally from distribution customers. They want: 

  • A personalized experience similar to B2C. 
  • Interactive, intuitive self-service tools. 
  • Product searchability without having all the information upfront. 
  • Tighter integration between inventory and wholesale eCommerce to avoid stockouts. 
  • Faster, no-hassle shipping and billing. 
  • Automated, straightforward returns. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) allows distributors’ to deepen relationships with their customers and personalize their experience. New AI platforms can turn customer service reps (CSRs) into trusted advisors with a seemingly telepathic understanding of client needs. But it’s the AI that serves as the crystal ball. AI-driven sales software can scan prior customer purchases for patterns that guide a CSR into a successful upsell. These tools can automate reminder emails to keep customers fully stocked with the goods they crave. These tools offer easy online suggestions for buying extra products, like the “Do you want a package of sanding belts with that?” when B2B buyers are making purchase decisions.   

What Successful Wholesale eCommerce Looks Like

McKinsey points out the fallacy of skimping on a wholesale eCommerce design. 

“Our research shows that the majority of B2B companies are treating eCommerce as a full-service channel — and investing accordingly,” it reported.

More than 80% of companies reported investing in building eCommerce sites with the same intensity as any other sales channel. According to the research, it’s a lucrative approach; self-service isn’t for low-value purchases. Most buyers will spend $50,000 or more in their eCommerce channels. 

But the question remains, “How do we get there?” Distributors can look to larger competitors to see who is winning and what techniques got them over the finish line. For example: 

  • Alibaba, a global trade platform, has advanced search functionality to emulate. Buyers experience a variety of filters that customize the search process.  
  • While Zappos is primarily B2C, wholesale eCommerce companies should note the level of customization the site offers. Their recommendation algorithms are particularly robust, based on buying patterns and customer browsing history. 
  • Siemens leads B2B eCommerce in seamless navigation features despite the complexities of their service offerings. But distributors should also emulate their emphasis on sustainability in customer relationships and their products. 
  • Fastenal offers outstanding product information, divided cleanly, in an intuitive user interface. Customers experience real-time product availability, SKUs, pricing and detailed specs.   
  • SRS Distribution, a roofing material and building products distributor, offers its customers a mobile app that provides order, delivery and invoice details. It integrates with the desktop version giving users the same access to order information no matter what device they use.   

While these examples can be a starting place for wholesale eCommerce site goals, the reality is that what a distributor builds must be specific to the business, its competition and its customers. While replication may be the highest form of flattery, the most successful eCommerce sites also serve as a point of differentiation.  

Challenges to Anticipate and Mitigate

In 2024, distributors will continue to face challenges — and opportunities — brought on by the rapid pace of technological advancements. While two-thirds of B2B companies already offering eCommerce options, distributors must continue to optimize their use of technology for operational efficiency and determine how best to use artificial intelligence, automation and predictive analytics to stay ahead of competitors.

According to global accounting firm KPMG, half of supply chain organizations plan to invest in AI and advanced analytics applications in 2024. B2B customers expect a seamless transition from online to phone and email to chatbot. If distributors don’t give them what they want, they’ll go to companies that will.  

Must-Have Wholesale eCommerce Features

Consider the following features for a best-in-class wholesale eCommerce website in 2024.

  • User-Friendly Interface: A user-friendly interface is the bare minimum for any wholesale ecommerce platform. These websites should prioritize a clean, intuitive design with effortless navigation. The interface should cater to experienced wholesale buyers and those new to the platform, making product discovery and order placement straightforward. 
  • Advanced Search and Filtering Options: Wholesale buyers often have specific product requirements. The website should offer advanced search and filtering options. End-users should quickly locate products based on various criteria such as category, price range and quantity. Advanced search streamlines the purchasing process, saving time for buyers and increasing satisfaction. 
  • Mobile Responsiveness: Most distributors understand the increasing reliance on mobile devices for business transactions. They should aim for a responsive wholesale eCommerce platform that views well on all screens, providing a consistent and optimized experience across mobile, tablets and desktops. Some distributors develop a mobile eCommerce app to complement their eCommerce offerings.   
  • Personalized User Accounts: Personalization is still a key driver for customer satisfaction. A distributor’s website should enable users to create personalized accounts that save favorite products, track order history and receive tailored recommendations. These features will enhance the user experience and foster long-term relationships between distributors and customers. 
  • Efficient Order Management System: Wholesale transactions often involve large quantities and complex order processes. A best-in-class wholesale eCommerce website for 2024 should incorporate an efficient order management system. The features include bulk ordering, easy reordering of previous purchases and the ability to manage multiple shipping addresses seamlessly. 
  • Real-Time Inventory Management: Accurate inventory management is crucial in wholesale eCommerce to prevent overselling and stockouts. Consider integration with backend platforms to update inventory levels instantly, providing buyers and sales reps with accurate information on product availability. Your goal should be smooth data flow between the eCommerce platform and the business’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and inventory management software, warehouse management tools, fulfillment, billing and more. 
  • Security and Compliance: While integration can create an ecosystem, security is a top priority across the network, especially when dealing with wholesale transactions. The website and any cross-functional applications should implement and continuously upgrade the latest security measures to protect sensitive customer information and ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations. 
  • Analytics and Reporting Tools: Comprehensive analytics and reporting tools are changing the game for many distributors. Today’s wholesale eCommerce websites should provide insights into customer behavior, sales trends and inventory turnover. These platforms can facilitate data-driven decision-making that empower businesses to optimize their strategies for growth. 
  • Scalability and Flexibility: As a business grows, so do its eCommerce needs. The best-in-class wholesale platform for 2024 should be scalable and flexible, capable of adapting to increasing product lines, user volumes and technological advancements. Is this an argument for cloud adoption? We believe it is. 

B2B Wholesale eCommerce and the Future

Predictions point to a bright future for wholesale eCommerce. These websites can generate significant revenue and drive real growth in a distribution company. McKinsey suggests distributors should design their site with million-dollar traffic in mind. But to get there, distributors must first understand their customers and give them a million-dollar user experience courtesy of their wholesale eCommerce site. 


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