DDI System COO Barbara Jagoe says there is a major wave taking over the distribution industry.

“It used to be if someone was buying something from a plumbing supply house or showroom they would go to the location,” she says. “Now, a lot of people don’t want to go there first, they want to go online. If it’s a contractor, they are going to go online and see what you have.”

Jagoe stresses distributors must be proactive when it comes to their e-commerce capabilities on a number fronts. “As a customer of a plumbing supply house your expectation is you will go to their website and be able to shop as if you are a longtime, well-regarded customer of that supply house,” she says. “Today, you must have your e-commerce capability as an extension of your ERP system. It’s the only way supply houses can compete with the retail big-box world.”

Jagoe adds in addition to being proactive on the e-commerce front, distributors must be cognizant of how their customers use those services, particularly when it comes to mobile devices.

“Say a contractor in the field previously ordered 250 Kohler faucets for a subdivision and he wants to go back in and recreate the order and wants to do so on his phone,” she says. “Contractors want that mobile ability and the supply house can provide them that by having an e-commerce site that is part of their ERP software.”

Just how important is the mobile-responsive component these days? Mincron General Manager Wendy Berger points to data that shows that type of connectivity is expected to generate in excess of $1 trillion in B2B e-commerce sales within the next four years.

“We are living in a world of instant answers and seemingly endless information at a person’s fingertips anytime day or night,” she says. “To take advantage of the opportunities that type of volume presents, wholesalers need to embrace an e-commerce solution that will separate them from their competitors.”

Epicor Director of Product Marketing Doug Smith adds that mobile connectivity isn’t restricted to only supply-house customers. “To meet customer expectations, businesses need to ensure their employees have anytime, anywhere access to their business system,” he says. “If your sales team can access the latest prices and lead times from their smartphones and tablets, they can provide better service to customers. The most sophisticated solutions allow a salesperson to change a customer’s order on the move so the office can react to those changes instantly — giving the customer a service that truly feels personalized.”

Jagoe says the e-commerce and mobile-responsive trends have taken a strong and swift foothold in recent times. “Even last year, it was not the case,” she says. “Buyers have become more dependent on online shopping and places such as Amazon and Grainger have given them all that ability. As a software and tech company we have to adapt and be able to give that similar ability to these mid-sized independent supply houses.”

Mincron Director of Sales Brent Tippett says that trend toward higher levels of e-commerce and mobile connectivity to customers will not slow down.

“Today’s distributors are much more technically savvy, have greater faith in software reliability and security, and come to the table with very specific issues and expectations based on their current needs,” he says. “Because technology and the business environment is continually evolving, we spend a lot of time listening to what customers want and e-commerce is routinely at the top of the list. They are looking for an effective, user-friendly e-commerce solution that will help grow their business in a very competitive market.”