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How Gen Z is Driving
the Next Generation

of Digital-First Plumbing Distribution Businesses

If anything has been consistent in the plumbing distribution industry over the past few years, it’s change. Factors like the pandemic, supply chain issues and staffing shortages have forced operations to reimagine the way they do business. And while that has undoubtedly been a daunting undertaking for many, it’s allowed the organizations that have been able to adapt to prepare for the next major challenge on the horizon: Generation Z.

Beginning to enter the professional world in mass—including plumbing distribution—Gen Z, whose eldest members are 25 years old, is bringing with them a massive amount of influence and expectations. Here’s a look at how Gen Z’s digital-first mindset will impact the plumbing industry in the months and years ahead.

A Look at Gen Z’s Impact

Businesses across industries have been working to keep pace with our youngest generations’ impact on the workforce for some time now. Take, for example, how this cohort’s expectations for more flexible and human-centric work environments have led to many employers extending work-from-home policies and implementing benefits catering to the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees.

This influence is also carrying over to the B2B world and in a major way. In fact, one of the most notable impacts on the corporate world that is being impacted by today’s youngest generations is B2B’s historic digital transformation—a revolution that is dramatically altering the way B2B’s buy and sell.


Similar to how consumer brands are moving online to meet their Gen Z shoppers’ demands for convenience and speed, B2B sellers are also adopting e-commerce at record speeds. As an industry that has traditionally followed a brick-and-mortar strategy, both adopting and adapting to digital transactions are a significant shift from how industries, including plumbing, have traditionally done business. And while this certainly doesn’t mean the end of physical storefronts, it does ratchet up the urgency for distributors to modernize their businesses. The good news is they’ve taken notice of this.

The Plumbing Industry’s Shift to E-Commerce

According to recent Billtrust data, 87% of plumbing suppliers have already deployed an e-commerce solution. Moreover, 51% of plumbing orders are now placed using e-commerce.

With 60% of B2B buyers saying that their supplier’s e-commerce experience is “very important” to their relationship with the supplier, this is a positive sign that the industry is moving in the right direction.

Of course, a huge driver of this shift has been the COVID-19 pandemic and how it necessitated new, remote ways of buying and selling B2B products. But what will continue to accelerate this trend in the months and years ahead is the emergence of a younger generation of buyers and decision makers.

These younger generations are sure to bring with them their ever-evolving expectations for how they prefer to do business. And although it will be a few years before they start to take on leadership positions within their organizations, there’s no doubt that when they do—they will carry through their demands for speed and convenience.

Indeed, similar to their influence in other areas, Gen Z is likely to leave a permanent mark on the plumbing distribution industry. And although businesses within the space have come a long way by adopting tools that are more conducive to today’s way of doing business, it’s clear that more change is on its way.

The Road Ahead is Paved with Digital Transactions

While the embracing of selling online has been a crucial step, the truth is that it is really only the beginning of what’s sure to be a continuous digital transformation. Because of that, businesses must build a pipeline of digital tools that allow them to keep pace and optimize the way they cater to the needs and expectations of the next generation of buyers.

This includes having the features and functionalities in their e-commerce presence that allow them to optimize the way they sell online—things like mobile capabilities, up-to-date inventory tracking, intelligent search functionalities and more. Another particular area that will need to be accounted for in order to appeal to today’s younger generation is payments.

Innovations such as mobile wallets and P2P apps such as Apple Pay and Venmo have become commonplace amongst the youngest group of adults today. According to Billtrust research, 93% of Gen Zers report using P2P platforms like Venmo, PayPal and Zelle on a monthly basis, while 85% say they use mobile wallets at least once a month.


A primary reason why this cohort so strongly prefers these digital payments options is the customer experience they offer. Gen Z is, after all, our first true digital native generation, meaning they’ve been hyperconnected to technology since childhood. As a result, they’re used to—and expect—instant gratification.

Similar to the ability to find the products and services they need online in a matter of seconds, this carries over to their ability to pay for products and services with minimal to no effort. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that 74% of Gen Zers say that a brand or retailer accepting new forms of digital payments has a positive impact on their perception of the company. Not only does this underscore the need for B2B industries to account for these technologies, but it also highlights the opportunity to elevate customer experiences in doing so.

Further illuminating the influence of this cohort’s behavior and expectations on B2B’s world is the fact that 36% of Gen Zers say they have not used a paper check in the last six months, with an additional 20% reporting having never used one in their lifetime. This parallels the paper checks’ incremental decline in the B2B world, where the percentage of transactions paid by check has plummeted from 42% in 2019 to 33% today.

With strong customer relationships largely qualified by how well a supplier meets their buyers’ digital needs and expectations, plumbing distributors must equip their businesses to keep pace with the transformative nature of the youngest generation entering their industry. Indeed while the industry has been built on a history of hands-on service, as Gen Z’s influence shows, the future is touchless.