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E-Commerce Investment Pays Off for Airgas

Digital sales up 20 percent during quarter, while overall sales grew only 3 percent.

Exactly one year after launching its new website with more robust e-commerce capabilities, Airgas Inc. (NYSE: ARG), Radnor, PA, is reaping the benefits of a more intentional B2B digital strategy. Though the company's first-quarter sales improved only 3 percent to $1.3 billion and profit decreased 0.7 percent to $88.2 million, Airgas saw double-digit growth with e-commerce.

"Our recently enhanced e-business platform is enabling customers to interact and transact with Airgas through a robust suite of functionality and services," CEO Michael Molinini said this week in an earnings call with analysts. "Digital sales in the quarter were up 20 percent over the prior year period as sales on the reached record levels. Our new e-business capabilities are driving customers’ option at a rate of over 100,000 new locations annually."

The company launched the new on July 29, 2014, and at its analyst meeting the following December, Airgas it reported that all existing customers had been converted from the old site. The company noted that hardware and software systems, including mobile-friendliness, were operating as expected.

Airgas executives in December also outlined goals for the new site, saying the focus moving forward was to "enhance the user experience, add requested new features and enhance our marketing content," while also "driving customer adoption."

Along with the website, the company created a new "eMarkets" platform that connects to a range of ERP and spend-management systems. Airgas launched eMarkets in October and expects to see 50 percent of e-business revenue from this platform.

The company is banking on e-commerce to be a key driver in the coming years; it projects around 7 percent annual organic sales growth as it looks to hit $6.8 billion in revenue by fiscal year 2018 – up from $5.3 billion in its most recent year-end report.

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