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6 E-Commerce Capabilities

Plumbing Distributors
Can’t Live Without

While online shopping has grown exponentially since the launch of Amazon in the mid-1990s, its value for the B2B market is only now being realized on a wide scale. In the past year, the industry has seen a substantial increase in web sales, with supply chain disruptions, logistics challenges and the slow movement of cash pushing buyers to take their supplier relationships online. In fact, data shows that B2B e-commerce is growing at more than three times the rate of its B2C counterpart. Meanwhile, in the plumbing distribution space, 87% of suppliers have already deployed an e-commerce solution, according to new Billtrust data.

This is skyrocketing the need for a true B2B e-commerce platform that can have a dramatic impact on productivity and a business’s ability to not only deliver exceptional experiences to its customers but elevate the efficiency of distributors’ and manufacturers’ roles in the process.

As a result, businesses that have been reliant on in-person interactions are asking: Where do we start?

We’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right B2B e-commerce platform to meet your needs. But first, we want to discuss which red flags to avoid.

Avoid Common Pitfalls When Choosing an E-Commerce Platform

The rapid rise in B2B e-commerce adoption has led to the emergence of new market entrants. This is certainly welcomed and perhaps an ode to how far B2B’s digital transformation has come. But B2B distributors and manufacturers need to be careful not to buy into the “glitzy” platforms that promote their AI capabilities and third-party widget integrations but neglect features that actually solve the complexities of selling online as a B2B supplier.

Distributors need a solution that enables you to improve project management and streamline internal data flows, upscale the buyer’s journey to stay competitive and ultimately do more with less. This is a platform that’s purposefully built for your unique needs and lets you futureproof your business with functionalities that support your operations—which oftentimes cannot be achieved on B2C-centric platforms that tout some B2B capabilities.

It’s important to choose an e-commerce platform that empowers you to deliver to your customers (e.g., contractors) the type of self-service experiences that meet their shifting and often more complex expectations. For example, when Billtrust recently asked buyers what e-commerce features are most critical to them, they cited fast delivery, inventory transparency, clear pricing, simple search capabilities and accurate product descriptions as necessities. Offering these will not only create a more loyal customer base but also lead to significant bottom-line benefits for your organization.

With this in mind, here are six capabilities you can’t live without:

1. Quality Control and Manage Data Efficiently: PIM and DAM Systems

As a B2B distributor, you need to be able to handle your organization’s huge catalogs with ease within an e-commerce platform. A truth that marketers know all too well is that content is king. Content needs to be presented professionally and accurately. Further, it must be optimizing the buyer journey. After all, you want to deliver high-quality experiences for your buyers while also boosting your own e-commerce management capabilities.

This is why it’s crucial that the e-commerce solution you adopt features a product information management (PIM) system and a digital asset management (DAM) system. A PIM centralizes product information from multiple sources, like product attributes and marketing copy. DAM systems enable you to manage and optimize digital media like photos, videos, PDFs and branding materials. DAM provides the ability to not only consolidate your webstore’s assets but ensures that images will be sized correctly, and you can modify them without additional manual design resources. Another huge advantage of DAM is the ability to improve SEO by ensuring these assets are automatically tagged correctly.

Both of these are imperative for B2B teams creating efficient, digital-centric processes and strategies. These systems will enable customer acquisition efforts and increase order amounts as your internal and external web store visitors easily find what they need.

2. Accurate, Real-Time Information with Deep ERP Integration

A deep ERP integration is vital for distributors to maintain a scalable e-commerce platform that supports seamless product, account and order management. In reality, it’s never been more crucial to success as wholesalers strive to serve both traditional and digital channels equally. This is something businesses often struggle with, leading to mistakes that threaten to impede the buyer’s journey such as inconsistent pricing and inventory, missing specs and miscategorized data.

With a robust ERP integration, however, you can reduce these errors and shorten the order fulfillment cycle by providing consistent, real-time visibility into stock, order history and accurate customer specific pricing. Furthermore, it allows you to automatically update all product information, relationships and categorization in your ERP, saving you valuable time across the organization and shrinking costs.

As your value as a distributor skyrockets, your job role is also changing. However, your mission remains the same: to design and deliver consistently superior customer experiences that drive revenue. A seamless ERP integration enables you to achieve this by removing silos and prioritizing consistency in every customer interaction—and helps you enable internal sales teams with the right info when they need it.

3. Robust User Account Functionality That Supports B2B Buyers

Your business customers may come in a variety of sizes and have different purchasing needs, which are all more complex than your average B2C consumer online purchase. There are approval routing processes and accounts payables processes, inventory tracking and different roles that all need access to detailed information. Understanding those needs and accommodating them is not only a way to retain and grow the customer relationship, but is also a big value to doing business with your company for prospects researching new suppliers.

The goal with your e-commerce presence is to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase the products they need. User accounts should allow for multiple roles and permissions and have access to detailed order, payment, credit and account information. Also, offering functionality like punchout creates a sticky experience when systems are more streamlined.

One way to accomplish this is to ensure the proper product grouping on your platform. Whether displayed as categories in your top or side menu, or as a grid or carousel on your home page, your products should be neatly grouped to make finding them as effortless as possible.

In a similar vein, a functionality like barcode scanning can remove friction from the purchasing and reordering process by allowing customers to use any camera-enabled device to quickly and accurately scan and reorder the product they need in seconds, while substantially cutting their own inventory stocking process time.

Similarly, estimator tools and other tools and widgets are features that your buyers can use to help support their own business. Estimate tools can be provided so that your small business buyers can create professional looking digital invoices to send to their customers, while streamlining the ordering process with you online.


4. Intelligent Search

B2B buyers expect to be greeted with the same flexibility and simplicity that they enjoy on most B2C e-commerce sites. In fact, 70% of B2B buyers say personal e-commerce experiences raise their expectations for their business usage. This means being able to easily find and order what they need, when they need it. A platform that offers the ease of intelligent search is therefore non-negotiable when it comes to optimizing your e-commerce presence. Intelligent search allows you to truly understand what is being looked for and helps customers find it even faster. This includes allowing customers to search by their own product codes and terminology to easily find items on your site. This, in conjunction with alternate product recommendations, frequently bought together and similar products, ensures a frictionless journey.

Research from Sana Commerce found that nearly 90% of buyers are turning to online channels as their primary method of identifying new suppliers and 74% are using it to evaluate new suppliers. This illustrates just how important intelligent search is for prospects and customers to quickly find the product they need—and identifies a seamless customer experience at the very beginning of their buyer’s journey.

5. Personalization

Similar to the above, B2B buyers’ rising demands are requiring systems to personalize every digital interaction you have with your customers. Fortunately, this e-commerce boom has opened up new opportunities for you to do so from multiple store fronts. Yet, some of you have struggled to take advantage. The aforementioned Sana Commerce report found that 29% of B2B buyers say that a lack of personalization is a customer experience challenge they still see in the online B2B buying process.

Interestingly, they also listed access to order history, ease of repeat ordering and relationships with suppliers as key challenges they experience—all of which could be solved by choosing the right platform that makes personalizing interactions easy. You can scale personalization through e-commerce by providing things like AI-powered product recommendations, quick repeat ordering functionalities, a streamlined checkout process and personalized content like informational assets. Furthermore, you can customize your store front in a way that allows personalization by account, so that you can properly segment your buyers and serve them more effectively.

6. Ability to Order Anywhere With Mobile

Mobile is more important than ever in B2B. According to research from Smart Insights, 75% of B2B queries are expected to be made on mobile phones by the end of this year. Meanwhile, 58% of plumbing suppliers say that 51% to 75% of their orders already come from mobile. This data showcases how a new generation of digital savvy B2B buyers is transforming how organizations make purchasing decisions. To keep up with these changes—and stay ahead of competition—every B2B e-commerce solution needs a native mobile app that provides the same B2B capabilities as its desktop version. It must be branded, configurable and fully integrated with their ERP to support a seamless buyer journey.

Choosing a Vendor That Understands Your Needs

As wholesale distributors continue to push the industry forward, it’s important to choose an e-commerce solution that meets your evolving needs, supports resource constraints and empowers you on many levels to continue innovating into the future.

“Our focus is to make it easier for our customers to do business with us, and our e-commerce solution has been an important part of our strategy and contributed to our growth,” said Sharon Doss, internet sales director for The Tap of Kansas. “Additionally, having a support system through the Billtrust team has been an instrumental part of our success. The response time is phenomenal.”

And while there are lots of products on the market today, many of them are just that—products. Businesses today need more than that: you need a vendor with a customer-centric mindset and commitment toward guiding your customers down a path toward success.