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Is your e-commerce solution up to snuff?


Building blocks for a successful strategy

by Rich Vurva

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many companies do business. It has shined the spotlight on the need for industrial distributors to have an effective e-commerce strategy. Here are a few ideas from leading technology providers to help you fine-tune your e-commerce strategy.

Joel DeGuzmanJoel DeGuzman
Product marketing manager, E-commerce and supply chain management

Distributors should lead first with defining an online strategy and not jump right to looking for a selection of e-commerce technologies to choose from. They need to understand how their buyers research and purchase - and what the buyer touch points are with their business. Next, they can align their sales channels to avoid conflicts, increase synergies, and design the right incentives to push products online. For example, transactional, repeat orders without a consultative sale are ideal for e-commerce. Finally, they can define their business goals and identify their success metrics – such as how much growth they expect, what is the average order size to target, number of transactions conducted and fulfilled and the percentage of revenue to be captured online. This groundwork will give them the right perspective when evaluating competing e-commerce technologies.

Except for the most basic solutions, e-commerce projects take time to implement and require a cross-functional effort. Distributors can start by selecting a team or steering committee with representatives from marketing, sales, IT and operations to make the business case. The team should work together to analyze the cost of an order, look at the variation in order size and categorize the business into what can and can’t be moved online. The team also needs an active executive sponsor who can provide guidance, remove roadblocks and help the team stay the course in case it encounters any delays or obstacles. The team can then start with the above-mentioned customer journey mapping, channel analysis, goal setting and eventually start communications with selected e-commerce vendors.

With Epicor Commerce Connect (ECC), Epicor offers an e-commerce solution on the cloud that can integrate seamlessly with either an on-premises or Cloud Epicor ERP platform, which reduces both support/maintenance costs and implementation lead times. This gives distributors a cost-effective and quick time-to-market head start for their e-commerce journey. As one of our ERP customers states:

“We chose to move to the cloud as we were investing in e-commerce and it made sense to have all transactions go into Epicor Prophet 21 in the cloud. Then, we don’t have to worry with what will happen to our e-commerce channel if a server goes down – we won’t risk our online business being impacted with Prophet 21 in the cloud. Our sales team is now able to pursue high-dollar custom business as opposed to low-dollar transactional sales that should be automated.”

ECC also gives distributors flexibility with a choice of offerings. It can be a complete and customized digital commerce solution that can help rapidly grow sales or it can be deployed with standard features to help distributors immediately establish an online presence with their customers.

Our underlying Magento technology platform has features that offers B2B customers a B2C buying experience such as search-friendly URLs and metadata, open browsing, anonymous checkout and more. Magento also has a largest developer ecosystem – giving a distributor the flexibility to continuously innovate on their site capabilities and improve customer experience with Magento extensions.

Kelly SquizzeroKelly Squizzero
Industry and solution strategy director

Recent circumstances have many organizations re-evaluating priorities and finding creative ways to add value and offer personalized service to their customers.

When developing an effective e-commerce strategy, the customer’s perspective must be the distributor’s first priority. Your customers expect collaborative technology that’s accessible anywhere, anytime, on any device. And you must provide a powerful engagement platform that delivers a convenient, personalized experience, with reliable data.

Your e-commerce site must also be easy for your employees to use and maintain. More importantly, you can save time and money when your existing marketing staff can make immediate updates to the site’s data and/or look and feel.

To get the most from an investment in a modern e-commerce strategy, consider a cloud solution that is tightly integrated to your ERP. In this scenario, you will always have access to the latest innovation without the need for major, disruptive upgrades, so you can remain competitive and agile in a changing market.

Ensuring your customers’ continued satisfaction amidst the current situation is paramount. Every industry is experiencing fluctuations from the norm. If you distribute safety equipment, you are most likely seeing unprecedented growth, an influx of new customers and a very challenging supply chain. If one of your segments serves the hospitality industry, you’re probably facing a historic decline in activity.

To address your organization’s unique challenges, you must first start with facts. Ensure you have the transparency to correctly evaluate the various sectors of your business. Then establish a plan to match the needs of that segment. By accurately anticipating and exceeding your customers’ expectations, you’ll secure their continued loyalty.

Infor can help distributors leverage technology to improve competitive advantages in many ways. For organizations that are running legacy solutions, Infor can help ease the way into a modern enterprise cloud solution that follows best practices, is easy to install and operate, and has low total cost of ownership. Regardless of your company’s size and complexity, Infor has solutions to support your continued growth.

With almost 30 years of experience, Infor can help distributors find new ways to solve challenges they’ve previously relied on software modifications to address. Our cloud-based solutions ensure that you’ll have access to the latest industry features with the highest level of security protocols. In addition, having the right tools can unlock data insights to strengthen relationships and grow revenue. Infor’s investment in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other advanced data modeling is helping wholesale distributors make better use of the vast wealth of stored intelligence they have yet to monetize.

Our priority is to partner with distributors to understand their unique environment and create differentiation in the market. To learn more, listen to our recent Meet the Experts series to hear short, engaging conversations about topics that matter to you. Find it at by searching for “Meet the Experts: Conversation Series.”

Jane LiuJane Liu
Marketing manager
Tofino Software

People typically associate e-commerce with a shopping website and that B2C “experience” is what most distributors are providing their B2B customers. Why stop there? How can we differentiate ourselves? How do we make ourselves sticky? How do we compete alongside national distributors?

The answer is to become deeply embedded in their customers’ operational and purchasing environment. For the customer that is looking for e-commerce to provide ease-of-use, real-time visibility, support for their business rules, support for work-flows, the clear answer is punchout.

Punchout leverages a seller’s e-commerce website investment by integrating access to the distributor’s site directly in the customer’s e-procurement system. The customer can browse and select items as they would if they had directly accessed the website but the difference, and benefit, to the customer is at checkout. The cart is added to a requisition or a PO that then flows through the e-procurement system for approvals.

Punchout is a win-win for the distributor and customer. The distributor’s catalog is entrenched in the customer’s processes, easily accessible by all buyers, all-the-while driving spend. The customer achieves convenience, efficiency and spend visibility.

Affordable punchout and e-procurement solutions are accessible to all distributors. Build your e-commerce strategy to include punchout and be ready for the large customers who already have an e-procurement system. You can also support your mid-size
customers, who are the backbone of your business and who want to move toward modern e-procurement by deploying punchout as a bundled value-add e-procurement offering.

Tofino is an economical e-procurement solution that gives a distributor first-mover opportunity at spotbuys by being in the heart of operations with included CMMS and automated inventory replenishment solutions. Tofino delivers spend management and operational excellence value to the customer while driving spend to the distributor through punchout and e-procurement optimization. Our distribution partners have achieved stickiness and have grown their wallet share while delivering a digital experience that helps the customer drive efficiencies and savings.

Jim MaherJim Maher
Global customer success and operations
Distribution One

In modern e-commerce, an effective strategy must focus on both the needs of the business and the customer experience. The e-commerce platform must be fully interconnected to business software to reduce the amount of manual processing needed to add and update items and pricing. Further, the solution must be mobile-responsive in order to ensure selling opportunities exist across any customer device. To further reduce the need for manual sales engagement, the e-commerce platform should also provide a self-service portal in which customers can log in for viewing order status, order history and special pricing—all information that can be delivered instantly online instead of over the phone.

What steps should you take now? Evaluate your current business system for any integration limitations to a successful e-commerce launch—if the two systems cannot adequately pass information to one another, then you will be making more work for your team in the long run. Explore industry leaders’ websites and list features you want to incorporate within your own site. Then, review multiple e-commerce options using an apples-to-apples approach to functionality.

Research if item, pricing and inventory data can be automated to pass from your system to your online sales platform. The goal is to streamline your entire sales process by minimizing the need for employee processing. Consideration must also be given to how you want the customer to interact with your sales platform—remember that a good customer experience will promote the stickiness needed for return visits and future sales.

Because our ecommONE E-Commerce platform fully integrates with our ERP-ONE+ distribution software, manual activities around online selling are substantially reduced, allowing employees to focus on completing other tasks.

Once ecommONE is live, item descriptions, pricing, images and quantity information can be pulled from ERP-ONE+. With a credit card integration, online sales orders can be received around the clock without employee involvement, which greatly lowers processing times and reduces costs—savings that can be used to differentiate your products and services from your competitors.

Gina ParryGina Parry
Distribution and pharmaceutical sales manager

In developing a solid e-commerce strategy, distributors should be prepared to leverage software that offers a view of real-time customer information, availability and customer pricing, as well as marketing integration that will track activities and automatically follow up to promote both the brand and the products offered.

Distributors should prepare a plan that will result in an ease of doing business for them and their customers. The plan should include getting an online presence and offering a mobile app to reach the widest audience and enable the easiest access to their products for purchase, to pay invoices and to perform customer self-service.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications such as VAI’s cloud-based S2K Enterprise offers completely integrated e-commerce solutions and ready to go apps, all of which are branded to the distributors running the suite. An ERP is essential in maintaining a competitive edge, especially in a digital world, and in times of disruption where face-to-face or in-store ordering may not be possible.

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2020 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2020, Direct Business Media.


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