Distributors spend fortunes standing up websites that will never work.
I think a good rule of thumb for distributors is that you can’t complain about your e-commerce failure if your problems are self-inflicted. How do you know?
Well, your e-commerce failure is probably your own fault if:
- Your website is the most expensive way to buy from your company.
- Customers can’t log in and get account-specific pricing.
- Customers can’t see real-time, on-hand inventory on your website.
- Your website is not fully integrated into your ERP.
- Any of the products you show to logged-in customers are marked, “call for price.”
- Your sales are dependent on outside reps, and they aren’t paid the same commission for website sales.
- You don’t build a great website because you aren’t sure it will be profitable someday.
- You think your customers wouldn’t use a great website if you built one — because your company is, somehow, the magically-exempt unicorn in the world of B2B.
- You think you can list a small portion of your assortment on your website — clearance, aged, “A” items, etc. — and not your full line.
- You think your e-commerce site should have a different value proposition than the rest of your business — instead of offering customers a complete digital version of your value proposition.
Uncomfortable, Inescapable E-Commerce Truths
I’ve worked with enough distributors to make most of those mistakes. And I’ve also learned these hard truths:
- Great digital capabilities are now a survival requirement. Millennials and younger generations now make up the bulk of the workforce. They think print catalogs make great doorstops. They don’t want to see sales reps nearly as often as did their predecessors. In many cases, they’ll interact with you digitally or not at all.
- “Protecting” your reps by handicapping your website is increasingly foolish. You can make both your website and your sales reps effective, and ensure they help each other. If this is still an issue for you, you’re stuck in the past.
- A great website isn’t just about transactions. But if customers can’t make purchases on it as easily as they buy from other channels, they won’t use it much.
- If your website is poor, customers will buy from your competitors. I’ve talked to distribution executives who think they can keep customer revenue coming in through other channels even if their website is bad. Increasingly, customers are simply buying from competitors instead.
We Are Living the Future
Companies with great digital capabilities are growing rapidly and taking market share during the COVID-19 crisis. Since a crisis accelerates trends that were happening anyway, this is a look into the not-so-distant future. If you were an e-commerce skeptic, you now have abundant evidence to demonstrate that time is running out for you to be digitally competitive.
Part of being a great leader is anticipating industry changes and adapting faster than your competitors. If you do not have a highly successful website by now, then you’re failing as a distribution leader.
You have precious little time to respond before you will be known as the person in charge when your distribution company fell hopelessly behind the competition.
What will be your legacy?