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Distributor Q&A: What to Know Before Launching Your eCommerce Site

Are you a distributor launching an eCommerce initiative? Those who have gone through the process recently shared their insights during a panel discussion at Unilog’s E-VOLVE 2018 conference. The customer panel included Don Preston, Business Analyst with The Macomb Group; Roger Moore, CIO of City Plumbing & Electric Supply Company; and Shawn Arnold, eCommerce and Marketing Manager at Turner Supply Company. Following are the key lessons they learned and recommendations for fellow distributors:


Unilog: What are the most important first steps when embarking on your eCommerce site launch?

Shawn: There’s definitely a need for top-down alignment around an eCommerce project. If you build a strong business case and strategy, you’ll have a much better chance of getting executive buy-in and support during your journey. When building your case, be sure to set proper expectations. Remember, it’s not just about building a new site design; it’s also about adding new functionality to improve the customer experience and creating an omnichannel business.

Don: To Shawn’s point about setting and managing expectations, I’d add that you don’t want to rush the timeline of your site implementation. Don’t try to do too many things at once and remember that the launch of your site is just the beginning of the journey; if you want to stay relevant with customers, you must constantly evolve your site and its offerings.

It’s also critical to build the right cross-functional team within your company. You can’t just rely on your IT guy to manage and maintain your site. It’s a group effort that includes key staff – from product managers to marketing and sales people. And speaking of sales, you will probably get some pushback from your sales team to adopt and promote your site. Remind them that the site launch is not going to result in layoffs of sales reps. Show them how the site is actually going to improve their job and benefit both them and their customers.

Lastly, avoid adding products to your site that you haven’t sold in the past year. It’s not the quantity of products on your site that will attract visitors, so focus on selling the products that matter most to your customers.

Roger: It’s important to educate sales and everyone else in your organization so they understand how the site works, which includes everything from the registration process to placing an order. When everyone becomes an expert user, the responsibility of being a “site owner” doesn’t have to fall on one person.


Unilog: What are the key personnel roles you needed to ensure a successful eCommerce initiative?

Shawn: Having the right team in place has played a huge role in the success of our eCommerce program. We have built a small yet powerful team that works well cross functionally and has all of the experience and knowledge needed for success. I can say with confidence that one vital role for us has been that of a data analyst. He has completely changed the game by introducing new ways to work with data, automate it, and ensure that we have the right data processes in place for a scalable and sustainable eCommerce program.

Don: We have a person dedicated to graphic design, customer experience and blog entries on our site. But, in addition to that resource, we make sure we have representation from sales and product managers. It’s understood that our website is not just an IT project; it’s a company project.


Unilog: Were there things you needed to do in your ERP before site launch?

Don: We learned that pricing has to be right in the ERP because customers can see that price when they go on our site. If a sales rep quotes customers at a lower price, you can say goodbye to your website because they won’t trust your site as the place for the most up-to-date information.

Roger: Great product content is critical, so I’d say Unilog’s content services are a must. We needed to build better product content in our ERP, but it was something we knew we would never be able to do on our own and, even if we tried, it would probably take ten times as long. Unilog built robust content for our products which really helps us compete in the age of Amazon.

Shawn: I completely agree. Enriched content is a great way to help you stand apart from your competition.


Unilog: What are things you did that helped increase adoption of the site?

Roger: Since we couldn’t rely on our sales people alone to promote our site, we spoke to existing customers on the management side and explained how much time our site could save for their people. We felt this approach worked better than trying to sell the site to people who pick up product in our store.

We also added information on our home page that promotes the company and our people. Use your site to tell people about your industry experience, your team and what services you provide. Customer reviews are also a great way to promote your business.

Don: We placed a kiosk in our store locations. If you have a storefront, consider putting them at the front counter so buyers can access your site right in your store. Spiffs are also a way to drive site adoption. See what kind of results you get from spiffing sales on their first customer orders.

Shawn: Spiffs are definitely helpful in building adoption. They encourage sales reps to get their customers to buy online and build loyalty to your eCommerce channel. Additionally, I think you should over-train your staff. Don’t assume your teams will pick up things on their own. Arm them with the knowledge to become website experts who can confidently speak to customers and answer any questions they may have. The website is a great resource for your staff because it offers so many more capabilities than what they’ve had in the past.

As our panel members explained, when it comes to implementing an eCommerce site, you’re not just building a new design; you’re creating the opportunity to do so much more, like adding new functionality to improve the customer experience, offering alternate payment options and creating a true omnichannel business. We hope their insight and suggestions help you on your eCommerce journey.

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