As a safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) distributor, your specialized products serve essential needs like safeguarding against workplace accidents, preventing exposure to environmental and health hazards, and maintaining regulatory compliance. Because you play such an important role in the safety and wellbeing of others, it is imperative you are available for customers when they need you – especially during a crisis.
The COVID-19 virus has turned our world upside down, impacting our health and economy, and changing the way we engage with others. Customary face-to-face interactions have been replaced with “contactless” exchanges, and shopping preferences have shifted from in store to online. At the same time, everyone – including your customers – is looking for products to protect them from exposure.
Clearly, businesses with an eCommerce site are faring better through this crisis than those without a digital branch. In a recent survey conducted by Unilog, 80% of B2B companies with an eCommerce site say their online channel is performing the same or better than it was prior to the COVID outbreak. With their digital branch up and running, these distributors can expand their reach to more people while serving their customers in a safer, “touchless” fashion.
If you are a safety supplies distributor who wants to enhance your digital presence, our white paper outlines the must-have components your organization needs in order to better serve customers and economically survive during this pandemic, as well as future crises that will undoubtedly come our way. In addition, we offer seven strategic ways you can optimize your site now – tactics your competitors are most likely not employing – that will help increase your relevance and gain a marketplace advantage.
WHY DIGITAL IS CRITICAL
For months now, safety and PPE distributors like yourself have been operating at reduced capacity, limiting your product and service offerings, and perhaps temporarily closing locations. But, while business operations have decelerated, the demand for your products has not. So, as manufacturers look for ways to produce more product, your business must continue to service customers with less inventory, fewer resources, and limited contact.
Amid the chaos, the beacon helping many safety suppliers stay afloat right now is their eCommerce site, or what we like to call a digital branch because it is an extension of your physical branch locations. A digital branch is a great asset to your business because it exposes more buyers to your brand, drives more foot traffic into your stores, and helps employees better service customers.
Well before COVID-19 affected the country, B2B professionals have been using the Internet to research and buy products. According to ResearchGate, 89% of buyers search online at some point in the purchase process. This behavior is fueled by more buyers relying on the Internet for product information, a greater need for convenient self-service options, and an increasing number of online offerings by distributors. With a rising demand for digital branches, Forrester Research has predicted B2B eCommerce will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023 and account for 17% of all B2B sales. However, these projections could be eclipsed given 2020’s unforeseen uptick in digital buying.
As our own survey of distributors found, those with an enhanced digital branch are weathering the economic storm much better than their non-digital counterparts. Their customer-centric move to make their products available online, and provide alternate methods to deliver those products, has boosted customer confidence and brought relief to those who rely on their product offerings to maintain their livelihood.
North American buying group Affiliated Distributors (AD) knows the importance of a good digital presence, which is why they partnered with Unilog to offer their members two important tools to build their digital branch: an eCommerce solution designed for their B2B needs and a vast catalog of enriched products to sell online. AD recently reported that 68% of members who subscribe to their eCommerce program saw an increase in customer online activity and orders in the first quarter of the year, despite the lockdowns. It is clear that a digital branch is just as critical as your other sales channels to meet fluctuating customer needs.
COMPONENTS OF A STRONG DIGITAL BRANCH
Many distributors with an eCommerce offering believe their site has everything customers need to do business with them. But, when they take a closer look at their site’s capabilities and compare them to others in the industry, they may find they lack some of the core features and tools that B2B buyers come to expect from distributors.
Any safety supply and PPE business that wants to remain competitive needs these essential eCommerce components that provide convenience, drive efficiency, and boost performance:
- A responsive website design with an accompanying mobile app that offers a consistent customer experience across devices and allows buyers to shop when and where they want
- A dedicated product information management (PIM) tool that manages your entire catalog of product information in one central location
- Sophisticated site search features like auto-complete, predictive search, and image previews that help buyers find products on your site quickly and easily, and provide relevant results
- Complex integration capabilities to ensure data is synced within your eCommerce platform and across all business systems, including your ERP
- An onsite portal where customers can log in to see account-specific information like order status, order history, past invoices, and more
- Multiple checkout, payment, and pickup choices such as quick order pads, punchout catalogs, and a buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) option to serve customer needs
- A cloud-based platform that automatically scales compute resources with surges in demand for your products, so your eCommerce site never slows down for customers
- Real-time pricing and availability that makes ordering more convenient and efficient for buyers
- Robust product content that goes beyond basic manufacturer data and includes product specifications, descriptions, multiple images, as well as user guides, manuals, and video links
A basic web presence is not enough to support a business, especially in our current state. Today’s B2B buyers have higher expectations and custom needs, which only a strong digital branch can provide.
Industrial distributor Turner Supply provides buyers with a first-class online shopping experience that includes transparent pricing and availability, a quick order tool, and enriched product content to help buyers make an informed purchase decision
SEVEN WAYS TO GAIN MORE EXPOSURE
As a safety and PPE distributor, your products are even more important to buyers at the moment. COVID-19 continues to impact our world, so now is the perfect time to highlight those products that help defend against the virus. Here are seven marketing tactics – with examples from some of our own eCommerce customers – that will expose more buyers to your protective products and provide a quicker path to purchase:
- Promote timely products on your home page
Take advantage of the valuable real estate on your site’s home page to demonstrate your dedication to COVID protection. Use your platform’s content management system (CMS) to build promotional banners that feature calls-to-action and links to dedicated pages promoting COVID-related products, services, and resources. Buyers will appreciate having all your COVID solutions in one location where they can shop more effectively.
Turner Supply features a COVID-19 top menu tab and prominent banner ad on their home page where site visitors can go to for all their COVID needs
Provide visibility to high-demand items by adding a product category devoted to those items. Due to a huge need for powered air-purifying respirators, Mallory Safety and Supply added a “Featured Pandemic PAPR” category to its taxonomy and has it displayed near the top of their product category list online. With a single mouse click, buyers looking for PAPR items are directed to their available products.
Mallory Safety and Supply added a product category filter to their product navigation menu for quick access to their pandemic PAPR products
Or, consider adding a tab in the top navigation – as Safeware does – to promote popular products, brands, and topics. The safety distributor updates the list on the Trending tab as customer interests and/or promotions change.
Safeware provides quick access to trending products, manufacturers, and more at the top of their site page
- Open real-time product availability to anonymous buyers
An essential element in building trust with buyers is transparency. By displaying up-to-date product pricing and availability on your website, you can help current customers view on-hand inventory and order at their negotiated price point while allowing anonymous buyers the opportunity to purchase at list price – which many will do if you have inventory available, creating better margin for your business. While customer-specific contracted pricing is customary in the distribution marketplace, more buyers expect to see a product’s price (even if it is your list price) and availability without having to create an account or log in to your web portal.
Southern Pipe & Supply displays product price and availability to everyone who visits their site
There are a number of advantages to exposing site visitors to your product pricing and inventory: you will develop better brand visibility, which will lead to more site traffic and a wider audience – including B2C buyers who are interested in your products. Plus, anonymous shoppers who like what they see will be more inclined to register with you to find out if they can receive better pricing.
- Configure site search results to include synonyms for COVID-19
Add references to COVID-19 on your web pages, including alternate terms like “virus,” “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” and any other keywords visitors are typing in your search bar to find COVID-related products. Web analytics can reveal the most popular terms used by your site visitors, as well as search terms where your site returned zero results. Incorporate these keywords into category pages and product descriptions to identify products that aid in the protection of the virus, but be careful not to overuse terms or you will be penalized by search engines.
Not only will these strategically placed COVID keywords help visitors find products more easily while on your site, they will also improve your site ranking on search engine results pages because your content will be deemed more relevant to buyer searches.
Your eCommerce platform should also be able to establish synonyms for specific words, so if a buyer searches on “coronavirus,” the site will treat that the same as “COVID-19” regardless if the word “coronavirus” appears on that product detail page or not.
A search for “coronavirus” on Mallory’s website leads to over 250 product matches
- Group product families together to simplify the path to purchase
Many PPE products come in multiple sizes and colors so, instead of displaying each variant as a separate item online, group similar items together into a product family and present them as one product with available options.
Northern Safety & Industrial (NSI) displays similar gloves as a product family on the category page and indicates if there are color and size options available
An eCommerce platform with an integrated PIM makes it possible for distributors to identify their product families and choose the differentiating attribute to include in the dropdown menu. Then, when a buyer clicks on the dropdown, all the available variants are displayed. Product groupings eliminate the need for buyers to click or scroll through dozens or even hundreds of items to find the one they want. With a more efficient and easier path to purchase your items, buyers will be encouraged to shop with you more often.
Convenient dropdown menus on the product family detail page enable the buyer to choose the specific size and color they need without having to click through multiple pages
Our website is more than just a place to transact. We see our customers having a more enjoyable shopping experience; it’s very different from the typical online storefront other distributors offer.
Marketing Supervisor, Hill & Markes
- Focus on great content
Another way to draw more site visitors and gain customer confidence is by making your digital branch a reliable source for great content. Start by enriching your online catalog’s product data to include the robust content we noted earlier. Next, build a comprehensive library of white papers, how-to guides, webinars, checklists, and other reference materials that educate and advise your audience.
To ensure fresh content is published regularly and purposefully, maintain a content calendar and enlist the help of product managers, salespeople, and company leaders to develop interesting pieces around topics that speak to your customer base.
Hill & Markes produces a variety of timely content to help their customers navigate marketplace challenges such as industry-specific reopening protocols following the coronavirus outbreak
- Manage your educational sessions online
Many distributors of safety and PPE supplies focus on more than just product. They deliver continuing educational services for the industries they serve, such as OSHA compliance and safety training programs. If you provide educational training for your customers, create a page on your website to promote class offerings, manage registration, and even secure payment. Some comprehensive eCommerce platforms feature convenient event management modules that eliminate the manual labor of registering and processing event attendees, and provide a smooth, painless experience for customers looking to receive safety training and PPE certifications. If you do not currently offer specialized training for your customers, consider adding this value-added service to your offerings. Besides providing your customers with convenient training from a company they trust, educational events give your staff the opportunity to further engage and connect with them.
Safeware has an Events page that promotes tactical training for its customers
- Allow buyers to customize items with their own logo
Give your customers another incentive to shop with you: offer personalized products they can design themselves through your site. With the help of a third-party customization program specific to safety products, your eCommerce provider can integrate software so that customers can choose a PPE product on your site, add and preview their company logo on the product via the customization application’s portal, and then complete their transaction back on your site. It’s a virtually seamless process that allows businesses to brand and purchase products using one streamlined workflow process.
Mallory had Unilog integrate their eCommerce site with this custom branding tool to create a one-stop shop for their customers. As a result, they’ve eliminated form requests, multiple e-mail communications, and longer processing times associated with traditional product customizations.
Mallory customers can brand the safety distributor’s products with their own company logo from the convenience of Mallory’s site using a third-party customization software tool
While these digital marketing tactics are helping our safety and PPE customers stay relevant and busy during the current COVID crisis, remember that these strategies can be employed in any situation where you see a surge in product needs. Keep your finger on the pulse of your customers by using analytics reporting to determine what types of products are selling the most, which are your most-visited site pages, and what are the most common search terms so you can understand what is driving their buying interests.
Before you begin implementing these successful digital marketing tactics to optimize your digital branch, make sure your eCommerce platform has the tools and functionality needed to tailor the user experience. Built specifically for the B2B industry, Unilog’s all-in-one platform features everything a safety and PPE distributor needs to maintain a strong foothold in the marketplace – from an integrated PIM and responsive web design, to configurable site search and advanced cart and checkout options. As a true cloud platform, our solution eliminates the need for local servers, hardware, and long-term capital investments, and is fully supported and maintained by Unilog. Packed with power and functionality, our leading eCommerce solution is the quickest, most cost-effective way for distributors to compete today.
Unilog is a global technology company that delivers powerful, affordable eCommerce solutions for the B2B marketplace. Our cloud-based eCommerce platform and product data enrichment services help distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers increase online sales, reduce cost to serve, and enhance their digital channel. Unilog is an ISO 9001:2008- and ISO 8000-certified company with North American headquarters outside of Philadelphia, PA and international headquarters in Bangalore, India. For more information, visit www.unilogcorp.com.