Increasingly, we hear distributors say that their e-commerce site is not getting the revenue traction they expected. The distributor went into the initiative thinking, “Build it and they will come.” But, what really happened was, “We built it and they didn’t come.” As part of a Distribution Strategy Group study of over 2,000 distributor end-users, we posed an open-ended question to survey participants about why they leave an e-commerce site without buying. We categorized each open-ended response and summarized the findings as shown in Figure 1, below.
Getting revenue traction with your e-commerce site involves both driving traffic to the site and converting traffic once on the site. The reasons shown for leaving the site only have to do with conversion. We’ll explore at each reason and include corrective actions that can be taken to keep customers from leaving your site.
Not Enough Product Information
When users are frustrated by the lack of product information, this refers to product specifications, technical specifications, application specifications, photos, and drawings. It can also include substitution and cross product suggestions. One survey respondent said, “When there is no technical data on the website or it doesn’t answer the question I need it to, I won’t necessarily go to another company, but I will have to go to the inside sales support.” So, it is less efficient for this customer and for you because inside-sales now needs to get involved. And, your customer just might go to a competitor.
Another respondent had this perspective: “As an engineer, I am designing equipment and typically wouldn’t place an order until all details are worked out. I look to the website for part dimensions and specifications to determine required parts.” Implicit in this response is the engineer’s preference for one-stop shopping. If your site doesn’t have all the information, you are at-risk of losing that customer.
Here are two moves to improve data quality on your e-commerce site.
- Pareto principle: Often 90% or more of your revenue comes from 10% of your SKU’s. Make sure the data on those SKU’s is really good. You can worry about the long tail product later.
- Third party data cleansing: Cleansing product data is arduous. We have seen a number of companies try to do it internally. However, we have yet to witness a success for an internal project with small or mid-market distributors. The projects take forever and never quite get over the goal line. Working with a skilled third party will get the data cleansed very quickly even if the cost per SKU is higher.
These moves will radically accelerate the timeframe in which you have good data and help keep customers on your site.
Can’t Find What I Need
Nearly one-sixth of the respondents said they would leave a website if they can’t find what they need. This includes searches by manufacturer’s part number, keyword search, and distributor part number searches as well as parametric or hierarchical search. When they can’t find what they need, they assume, often incorrectly, that it is unavailable from that distributor and look elsewhere.
One respondent had this to say: “I would leave a site by not finding all the parts I need to complete a task. If I’m assembling something, multiple BOM’s for different vendors cost about $200 each to process internally.” This smart buyer knows the real cost of multiple BOM’s and also prefers one-stop shopping.
It is tempting to think that you only lose that order because they are unable to find what they need. The problem is actually deeper: our research shows that you may lose future orders and even the customer relationship if they are unable to find what they need and have to work harder as a result. Imagine if you walk into a distributor branch or store and can’t find what you need. You may not go back there at all.
When customers are unable to find products on a website, there are two interacting causes: not enough product information (already discussed) and bad search capability. Here are two ways to think about getting the right search engine.
- Find out how your customers search and how they want to search. Your web analytics tools will provide the information for how they search. A survey of customers, such as the one that Distribution Strategy Group is conducting on shopping and buying, will tell you how they want to search. It is not difficult to administer the survey or interpret the data from such a survey.
- Use a business case to justify the right search engine. A few experiments on your site and a related competitor with good search will tell you how much is missing when you do a search. An improvement in the search engine could increase conversion by several percentage points. That is typically enough to justify procuring and integrating a better search engine.
Site is Hard to Use or Slow
Nearly 20% of the survey participants listed this as the top reason they will leave a site. This is related more to the difficulty in navigating the site and the site being not intuitive to use. Most people today are under a time crunch, and if it isn’t apparent how a website navigates, many people will move on. They just want it to be easy – not necessarily with a lot of bells and whistles – when they are shopping. The objective is to reduce the number of mouse clicks necessary to accomplish a task whether it is finding or buying a product. Here are two approaches to optimize the user experience on your site:
- Emulate good sites. In contrast to 10 years ago, today there are many good sites with tried and proven navigation schemes. It might be the leader in your sector or perhaps you need to look at a different sector. Either way, you don’t have to invent it all from scratch.
- Hire an expert. Only a few of the largest distributors have expertise in improving the user experience on your site. For all others, they need to hire a skilled consultant to guide them. A little bit from an expert goes a long way.
If you have resolved the issues discussed so far, but the product is unavailable, you will not get the business. The perspective of B2B e-commerce buyers is well encapsulated in this quote from the survey, “We search for quickest availability when we go to the website. We would leave without placing an order when we find faster availability from another distributor.” They want it NOW!
There are three variations on unavailable products that fluster your customer:
- The product is not in stock today.
- The lead time doesn’t meet their requirement.
- The information about availability or lead time is unclear or missing altogether.
The first two variations reflect an e-commerce operations problem. We have seen many distributors who have treated e-commerce inventory and fulfillment strategy as an afterthought because they are so focused on getting the e-commerce platform deployed. If you are primarily an MRO distributor, much of the strategy can revolve around the SKU’s that constitute 90% of your sales volume. For OEM, you can leverage planned buying by your customers to drive the strategy.
When the information about availability is unclear or missing, it could be an operations issue or an IT issue. Either way, it needs to be addressed.
Part of the promise of e-commerce in B2B is that there is less negotiating on price, if any at all. This results in higher margins. However, one fifth of the respondents said they would leave if the price is too high or they couldn’t see pricing at all. Beyond doing price optimization, which we recommend to all of our clients, there are two key moves that will remove this obstacle on your website:
- Show list and contract price. If the shopper has an account, make sure that the contract prices are accurately reflected when they do a search or drill into product detail. If the shopper does not have an account or is not logged in, it is imperative to show your list price. Many distributors are afraid to show price. However, in our experience, that merely communicates to your customers that your prices may be exorbitant. It is similar to when you peruse a menu outside a fancy restaurant where prices are not listed.
- Get competitive pricing intelligence. It is easier today to gather competitive price intelligence. We strongly recommend some combination of periodic mystery shopping at your competitors store or site as well as automated gathering of price data through screen scraping or third party aggregators. This will inform your strategy of setting list price online and offline.
Many site visits are really about research and shopping rather than buying a product. In this case the visitor had no intention of buying at that time. Perhaps they just needed product specs or pricing with an intention to purchase in their normal process. However, for the visitor who will ultimately purchase online, you want to make sure they come back to your site. Our Shopping and Buying survey shows that the three primary ways of shopping are:
- going directly to a manufacturer website
- using a search engine
- going to a distributor web site
Notice that going to a manufacturer website is first on the list. Your objective should be to make your distributor web site the primary place they shop. Applying the techniques described previously will make you top of mind.
The barriers to entry for creating a distributor e-commerce site are dropping rapidly. Many distributors can get a site built for $50,000 to $100,000. As a result, the number of distributor e-commerce sites has grown and will continue to grow over the next few years.
It is essential that visitors to your site can easily navigate the site to find detail on products that you have in stock at prices that are competitive. Otherwise your site will get lost in the shuffle.
About this Research
This research is part of an ongoing study of end user shopping and buying habits within e-commerce and multi-channel environments conducted by Distribution Strategy Group. The research includes an online survey taken by more than 2000 end-user participants who buy products from industrial distributors.
Jonathan Bein, Ph.D. is Managing Partner at Distribution Strategy Group. He’s
developed customer-facing analytics approaches for customer segmentation,
customer lifecycle management, positioning and messaging, pricing and channel strategy for distributors that want to align their sales and marketing resources with how their customers want to shop and buy. If you’re ready to drive real ROI, reach out to Jonathan today at