Merely offering customers the ability to order via an e-commerce platform won’t put you ahead of the game. It’s a basic requirement just to stay in the game.
After all, half of all companies now conduct more than half their purchasing transactions online, a recent B2BecNews survey found.
And with some distribution sectors continuing to get hammered by Amazon, Staples and other competitors that have driven the buyer online with easy-to-use websites and quick shipping, the time is now to make a move. For many – especially less technical products in sectors such as jan-san and office supplies – e-commerce sales are outpacing brick-and-mortar while at the same time small and mid-sized distributors are facing a rapidly consolidating market, with Staples buying wholesaler Essendant this year. This move highlighted how the largest players in that market have “decimated traditional distribution channels,” MDM Publisher Tom Gale wrote last year.
Amazon has set the standard for online buying, with intuitive design, exhaustive product selection and fast delivery. Distributors may not be able to compete with all that Amazon offers. But most of your customers have used Amazon and they now expect a certain level of service. So, if you hope to build and maintain brand loyalty, it’s essential to employ cloud-based technology to make shopping and buying easy, to provide outstanding customer support and seamless transactions – and to do it all on whichever platform your customer prefers.
Here are four strategies to help you build customer loyalty and wallet share through e-commerce:
1. Focus constantly on your customers’ experience.
Many people think it was Uber’s technology that delivered a gut punch to cab companies. The reality is Uber simply used widely available technology to deliver a better customer experience.
On your website, it should be easy for a customer to search, find and purchase what they want. But that is a basic requirement. Customers also want to be able to pick up the phone and speak to a sales or customer service rep when they have questions about a product, or when they have problems, or just need contract maintenance. Customers want self-service options, but they also want the distributors’ team to be responsive when they need help.
2. Track and use data.
Amazon seems to know what its customers like to read, cook with and sleep on because it collects information about everything a visitor to its site looks at, clicks on and buys. The technology that enables you to track customers’ buying habits is available to you, too. Using technology to understand what your customers are buying and when and how often gives you the visibility you need to develop deeper relationships with customers and quickly adapt to their changing needs.
What’s more, by analyzing those historic buying patterns, you can better predict what customers may want in the future. This means you can operate proactively, using data to create new revenue streams through cross-selling and upselling.
3. Provide easy access to customer and order information.
Amazon updates consumers on the status of their orders at every step. To stay competitive, enable customers to track their purchase in real time on their mobile device. You should also provide easy access to order and invoice history; quick re-order capabilities; product reviews and recommendations; and customer-specific pricing.
4. Be agile.
To keep up with rapid changes in both technology and customer preferences, distributors must meet customers on the channel they want to be on, whether it is a website, smart phone, mobile app or face-to-face.
Distributors must take advantage of all that the latest technology offers to them and to their customers. But even keeping up may not be enough. In a business climate that evolves daily, your business can’t afford to simply react. You need to drive change.
Brett Vest has more than 20 years of experience in e-commerce development, marketing, integration and implementation and is a Managed Services leader for ENAVATE, which provides consulting and wholesale distribution-focused enterprise software solutions based on Microsoft Dynamics 365, AX and CRM platforms. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit enavate.com.