The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

The Rise of the Mobile Worker & What It Means for Distributors

United Stationers research highlights purchasing behavior of workers who can work from anywhere.

A new whitepaper from master distributor United Stationers highlights what we covered in our January episode of Executive Briefing: Workers are increasingly mobile – driven largely by technology – and distributors need to take note.


The whitepaper, titled Technology-Enabled Mobile Workers, is focused on office products purchasing behavior. (One of United Stationers’ businesses is as an office products/business technology wholesaler.) The distributor conducted the research, which outlines purchasing considerations and behaviors of mobile and work-from-home workers, to help its resellers better understand and leverage these trends.

“The growing proportion of mobile and work-from-home employees, coupled with a comparatively low proportion of corporate buying departments’ influence over the purchasing behavior of those workers, is a beacon of opportunity for informed resellers,” Carol O’Hern, United Stationers director of research, analytics and sustainability, said in a news release. “The tremendous opportunity that exists for resellers to understand this niche market’s purchasing patterns, mediums, motivations and behaviors drove our research – which is ultimately designed to grow resellers’ businesses.”

(Read about other ways master distributors across sectors are working to build their value in the channel in this MDM report: The Growing Role of Master Distributors.)

A few points of interest from the report on mobile workers:

  • Mobile workers as a percentage of the workforce is highest in smaller companies. But even in larger companies, as many as 15 percent of workers say they sometimes work offsite.
  • Office and computer supplies are the categories most purchased by mobile workers. Not surprisingly, mobile workers are purchasing less office furniture, breakroom and jan/san products.
  • Mobile workers are online – 82 percent indicate they purchase at least some workplace products online.
  • Mobile workers purchase more than they need – just 11 percent say they actually stick to a list of items they originally needed.
  • Price is No. 4 on the list of important attributes mobile workers consider when buying. No. 1: product quality, then comes easy reordering and sustainability reputation. Brand is No. 6.

While this study was focused on the office environment and the purchasing of office supplies, lessons can be carried over into other sectors.

The more mobile a workforce is, the more necessary it becomes to reach your customer base in the way they want to be reached. As the United Stationers report said, a mobile worker frequently accesses the data they need on a mobile phone or tablet, which means that product information must be accessible and your website must be mobile friendly. Mobile technology also improves convenience, which may allow more users to purchase products themselves rather than rely on a company or departmental buyer.

Access the United Stationers whitepaper.

Listen to why John Sonnhalter tells MDM mobile should play a big role in distributor marketing strategies across distribution sectors over the next few years:

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