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In an E-Commerce World, Content is King

Distributor and manufacturer panelists at the recent AD eCommerce Summit discussed the importance of getting advanced product content onto websites. 
e-commerce depiction laptop digital shopping cart

During the salad years of the dot.com bubble, an oft repeated phrase was “content is king,” before the bubble popped. That phrase has taken on new meaning as distributors work to populate their burgeoning e-commerce sites with advanced product content for ease of use and increased sales.

At the recent AD eCommerce Summit in Maryland, distributor and manufacturer panelists discussed the importance of populating e-commerce websites with syndicated product content, which led ABB’s Matt O’Kane to declare that “content is king.”

“You can’t operate and provide consistent data if you have multiple ERP systems and multiple PIMs,” said O’Kane, who is vice president of digital customer experience at manufacturer ABB. “We’re in the process now of consolidating all of our ERPs onto one SAP instance in North America, and we’re also writing the proof of concept with three global PIM suppliers. The investments being made by ABB are to focus on and support our distributors because distributors are our main channel to market.”

In particular, the panelists spoke about the merits of AD eContent Services, which AD created with input from 80 of its members, according to panel moderator Kevin Druecker, director of e-commerce at AD. The eContent Service, offered as part of AD’s eCommerce Solutions, launched in early 2016.

“It includes that full product attribution, [and] there’s normalized values within the attributes in the member-driven taxonomy,” Druecker said.

Mike Page, CMO and CTO at R.S. Hughes, said having quality enhanced product content “is absolutely critical,” but to get that content distributors need to work hand-in-hand with their manufacturers.

“We can’t sell without that, and that starts with the manufacturer,” Page said. “The responsibility for us as a distributor is to turn that into the sales call. That’s trust. That’s confidence. That’s conversion to order or conversion to call. It keeps that process in your organization executing the way you need it to. Without that, you have no chance.”

Search engine importance

When distributors’ customers can’t find what products and information they’re looking for, they bounce to the next website, according to Page. Equally important as content, is “findability,” according to Page. Findability, or search engines, lead to new customer acquisition, Page said.

Customers need enriched content and search capabilities from one place, but it’s up to the manufacturers to provide distributors with the product information.

“We have hundreds of suppliers, and we cannot possibly collate and curate all the data, normalize it and organize it correctly,” said Purvis Industries’ Brian Radichel, vice president of marketing and business development. “We don’t have the bandwidth. Manufacturers, in our view, should own their data and provide it.

“Content is the heart of everything we do. Every single tactic, sales execution and expectation comes from that.”

AD’s content platform enables it to deliver millions of SKUs of attributed data based on the information provided from its distributor and supplier partners.

“The e-commerce service is really a great way to have all the normalization done for you, all the taxonomies, so that we’re consistent across an industry,” Radichel said. “We can work together on not just inter-site normalization, but inter-industry normalization.”

The product data for the same SKU that the manufacturer provides can look different on distributors’ sites based on their own style guides or templates, but AD’s eContent Service gives distributors “a quick, easy pull of updated data,” according to Radichel, without having to contact each manufacturer.

“I’ve been contacted by individual manufacturers that say, ‘Hey, we just want to give you the data, we don’t want to do it through the site,’” Radichel said. “‘OK, you can give us the data, and we’ll get to it, or you can put it on the content service, and it will download immediately.’ Big point.”

Since the launch of the AD eContent Service, O’Kane said ABB gets very few calls from AD distributors seeking content information, but the company does get calls from non-AD distributors. O’Kane, who has been involved with e-commerce for 25 years, said the pandemic accelerated the need for e-commerce platforms.

“Its been a step function change, from my perspective, in terms of how serious our core electrical wholesale distributors are really focused on e-commerce,” O’Kane said. “It’s not just the e-commerce site itself, in terms of the transactions. It’s the perception that you’re providing to the marketplace in being able to show and represent true quality in terms of product content. Because perception is reality and if someone looks at a website that looks disorganized, they’re going to bounce away from that right away.”

Also, from the manufacturer’s side, Amanda Piatti, digital integrated marketing manager at 3M, said because her company is constantly adding hundreds of new products it’s continuously optimizing its content with the AD eContent Service. Working with the platform enables 3M to syndicate its content the same way every time.

“I think we all have our own different templates,” she said. “What we see as e-commerce-ready content, that’s been a really great relationship builder for us to have those discussions and make sure that we are understanding what product detail pages look like, what the anatomy of a product detail page is and what are we trying to convey to our customers.”

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