As consumers and end-users continue to demand more instantaneous access to accurate data and information, manufacturers expect the same from their distributor partners and reps. In such a data-rich and ever-changing marketplace, it can be challenging — to say the least — for companies to produce and maintain accurate product data online. Add price fluctuation, codes and standards changes and ceaseless inventory level changes, and you’ve got more than a full-time job on your hands.

To dig deep into what e-Commerce-ready product data actually looks like, and to go over some best practices, Supply House Times sat down with Matt Christensen, president of Distributor Data Solutions (DDS).


E-Commerce product content is not the same as what is usually found in an ERP. ERP content is often referred to as transactional content. E-Commerce data is made up of web-friendly content such as images, videos and spec sheets. Christensen explains that this type of web-friendly content doesn’t necessarily fit into an ERP; and the differences between e-Commerce and ERP content become much more nuanced from there.

“Elements as simple as product names and descriptions differ significantly when you’re talking about a web store or other online application,” he says. “In an ERP, there may be character limits or other standards that dictate what things are called, while on a website, these elements need to be formatted to be search-friendly.”

When working with a manufacturer whose content was built around transactional data puts distributors at a disadvantage as they try to display the content to their own customer base.

Christensen points out that product images are a common culprit of confusion. “For e-Commerce, a plethora of images are needed for various usage, file format and file size considerations,” he says. “But these assets don’t come from manufacturers in any standard format. So if you want all product imagery to be consistent on your website — and you do, for the best possible user experience — how long would it take you to create all of these specific sizes and formats, for every single image? That’s where products like what we offer at DDS can step in and help.”


The way content is organized on your website can be as important as having thorough product information when it comes to helping your customers find exactly what they’re looking for.

Organization elements such as categories, facets and normalized attribute values (used for left-hand navigation drill-downs) make up another major aspect of e-Commerce data.

Christensen says that since these values aren’t usually provided by the manufacturer, most distributors must assign and periodically maintain them in-house. “A lot of time and effort is required for a distributor to set these categories and values for display on the website, and then maintain them,” he explains.

Multiple industry studies have confirmed that B2B wholesale buyers are doing as much as 70% of their product research online, before they ever engage with a distributor's sales team. 

Christensen adds that in order to help distributors manage and organize their data, flexibility is key. “DDS helps distributors manage the major aspects of their data as well. While the choices are yours, DDS offers a base-level categorization that adheres to industry best practices, and provides you with tools developed by DDS that allow you to make changes to your varied product categories as necessary.”


Obtaining e-Commerce-ready content and organizing it online are just part of the equation. According to Christensen, distributors need to focus heavily on the quality of content they are presenting.

“It’s common for distributors — regardless of size, and across multiple distribution industries — to underestimate both the value and impact that ‘quality’ content has on their e-Commerce offering, as well the amount of effort required to manage all that data (from obtaining it initially, to keeping it maintained over time) from hundreds, or even thousands, of different manufacturers.”

So, what exactly does quality content mean when discussing e-Commerce-ready data?

Christensen says “quality” content, refers to all the media-rich assets that manufacturers make available to help their distributors, and ultimately their joint end-user customers, conduct the in-depth research that they’re doing more and more of online nowadays.

“Multiple industry studies have confirmed that B2B (wholesale) buyers are doing as much as 70% of their product research online, before they ever engage with a distributor’s sales team,” he says.

Other stats emphasize the impact of assets like images, videos, drawings and 360-degree or 3D “spins” on the e-customer experience.

For example, statistics from e-Commerce Nation find that:

  • 93% of consumers consider visual content to be the key deciding factor in a purchasing decision;
  • Poor content accounts for upwards of 40% of returned items ordered online;
  • Products with 360-degree imagery have shown 30% higher conversion (sales) rates over those without;
  • Having product videos can increase the length of time a visitor stays on a website by as much as 340%; and
  • Even after the purchase, 45% of shoppers would return to a website that has videos; and 93% of shoppers say videos are useful after purchase.

Christensen says all of these statistics point to one truth: “If customers aren’t finding thorough and accurate product detail on a distributor’s website, they will absolutely look elsewhere — and that often means going to a competing distributor’s website, or a retailer’s website, that does have better product information — or maybe they end up looking at another brand’s products — because the online information is better.”

The other major challenge for distributors is in managing and maintaining e-Commerce data, especially in today’s disrupted supply chain.

“Regardless of how they’re getting data from their manufacturers, a distributor can spend as much as 12 hours (per every 5-10 manufacturers) each month on manual data management,” Christensen says. “Because every web store platform is different, and because each distributor has a unique product file, there is a significant amount of leg work that each distributor has to do individually to format all that data for their specific e-Commerce site, as well as match all their manufacturers’ products to their unique product file for ERP integration.”

With distributors facing labor shortages and increased demand, Christensen says e-Commerce management platforms are here to do the “heavy-lifting” for distributors.

“Custom exporting processes, automated product file match and data that is delivered in a clean, formatted way are all things distributors want and need from an e-Commerce content management solution,” he says.

“The bottom line is, having rich, complete and accurate product data on your website gives your customers the information they need to quote the right material, purchase the right items, and gather information for submittals, all of which enables self-serve customer support while increasing sales and reducing ordering errors and costly returns.”