Distributors are pressured more and more to cater to customer needs and to enhance their buying expe- rience, both online and offline. The B2C market has
always seemed to have a leg up on B2B in this area, but
B2B distributors have made great strides, especially over
the last 2-3 years. B2B websites continue to look more like
B2C websites with each new e-commerce upgrade and
overhaul, and beyond products, distributors are investing
into the content-side of their websites.
I recently spoke with two B2B executives about this
topic: Mike Gartner, head of web sales at Saskatoon,
Canada-based Construction Fasteners & Tools; and Peter
Sheldon, vice president of strategy at e-commerce solutions provider Magento.
ID: What elements of the
consumer buying experience
have Construction Fasteners
infused into its business?
(on the e-commerce end and
Mike Gartner: One element
we focused heavily on was
creating an online catalog
that allowed for great
navigation and exploration
of our entire product inventory. We immediately noticed a huge increase in product
awareness, meaning customers had no idea we offered
much of the equipment in our catalog prior to our transition online. This is huge for us because customers can
become loyal buyers of more than one product.
ID: What market factors have driven these B2C-like
strategy adoptions for Construction Fasteners, or
distributors like Construction Fasteners? Do you foresee
this trend continuing to grow?
Mike Gartner: Everything is open now. Anyone can
Google a product and find out exactly what it costs,
and more importantly, what price four competitors are
offering for the same product. It’s certainly driven us to
become more competitive with our prices. There has been
a huge “gold rush” to not only get online, but provide a
great experience. Everyone is doing it but it’s pretty new
for the industry. We wanted to stay on top of this trend.
ID: What kind of success is Construction Fasteners
seeing from these B2C adaptations? How much of a
challenge is it for Construction Fasteners and similar
distributors to implement these?
Mike Gartner: Overall, our customers have become much
more knowledgeable about all the products and services
we offer. We’ve noticed about a 20-30 percent increase in
the breadth of products that current customers purchase.
With online discovery they are finding not only new
products, but specials and deals they can take advantage
of such as our bulk discount offers. Customers can also go
quickly from finding the product to checkout much faster
online than via other channels.
We’ve also started to see big impact from social
proof, leveraging social sites like Instagram, Facebook
and Twitter to promote in-store sales online. Customers
see pictures of people buying and interacting with our
products in-store and want to come in to experience it
For transitions like these to be successful, the entire
team needs to be on board. It’s not just the web department, it’s everyone from sales managers to product
buyers. On that note — a huge challenge distributors face
in transitioning to online and mobile sales is a lack of user
understanding. A programmer selling to a handyman just
doesn’t work. We are fortunate because all our web team
has previous experience working with end users who they
are selling too. This allows us to keep our customer top of
mind in developing our digital presence.
ID: What elements of the
B2C buying experience do
you see B2B distributors
adopting/infusing into their
Peter Sheldon: The B2B
industry can learn a lot from
consumer retail — 62 percent
of our 250,000 merchant
customers sell to other
businesses in some way,
and that’s something we’re
seeing more and more.
The first element I’d say is that many B2B distribution
Q&A: How Is B2C Shaping B2B Distribution?
sites need to invest in the “product discovery experience”
By Mike Hockett, Editor