eCommerce is an ever-evolving challenge for distributors. As Amazon makes inroads into industrial parts and the national distributors focus on growing their online businesses, mid-sized distributors are left with the challenge of how to compete. The question is no longer if your customers will buy online, it is when and where. If your customers aren’t purchasing online now, the upcoming five to ten years will see that change as digital-first millennials become your customer base.

There are three core opportunities we see for independent distributors to compete:

  • Customer-centric user experience
  • Onsite search
  • Product content


Customer-Centric User Experience

While the mantra “the customer is always right” is now infamous, applying that to eCommerce can be complex. For distributors, the task is to create an online experience that helps their customer do their job as easily and quickly as possible. In a nutshell, customer-centric user experience means two key activities:

  • Understanding your customers’ motivations and needs
  • Creating and adapting your website to meet their needs

For B2B, this means focusing on letting your customers do their jobs as quickly and easily as possible. Whether they want to research products, purchase products or manage their invoices and account, your website needs to be designed to make these goals exceptionally easy to accomplish. In doing so, you’ll be addressing a huge pain point.


On-Site Search

Your search bar is the most important real estate on your website. As online users become more and more search-savvy, how does your on-site search line up? Can they find what they are looking for the way they want to look for it?

Here are three key ways to improve your on-site search:

  • Make the search bar easy to find –
    put it front and center (literally) of
    the design and use a color or contrast that makes it stand out from the rest of the page
  • Use type-ahead capabilities (also known as autocomplete) to guide customers and use an expanded search box to show related or recommended products, categories
    or brands
  • Make sure the search considers how your customers want to find products, including manufacturer part number, company part number, brand name, common name and easy misspellings

Optimizing your search box is not a project, it is a program that improves month over month. Implement analytics that tell you how your customers are using the search box and what results they are seeing, and then optimize the search box and results every month.


Product Content

Product content drives your site search, your site navigation and how your customers discover the products they are looking for. To tackle this, your organization will need to manage a few key activities:

  • Taxonomy review and optimization
  • Attribute structure
  • SKU build
  • Rich content build (images, videos and other supporting content)
  • Merchandising (cross-sell and upsell widgets)

The product knowledge you have within your organization is a core differentiator from online competitors such as Amazon. Start by leveraging your internal expertise in the specific products, product lines and applications you serve. Pull in your internal sales team - what are the products they know sell and why do they sell? Optimize the top-selling products and add the information that you know your customers need.

Like the search box, product content is a program, not a project. There is no such thing as perfect product content; there is only product content that is better than the previous month.


Getting Started

These changes aren’t piecemeal or easy – and they are part of your digital transformation. As mentioned in a recent President’s Letter from Brian Tuohey, this is one of your benefits as an ASA member. For more resources, please visit the DigitalBranch Incubator. It is the only online community with the resources, training and articles for distributors looking to build their DigitalBranch. Free for all ASA members at