This year’s EVOLVE event consisted of a free, two-day virtual event for Unilog customers featuring presentations, panel discussions, and training sessions by B2B digital experts and industry professionals. Unilog led a panel discussion on eCommerce adoption and shares with readers some of the insights from that session.
Our EVOLVE 2020 panel discussion tackled the topic “Driving Increased eCommerce Adoption” and included four Unilog customers from the distribution and hardlines retail industries. Joining us were B2B distributors Sara Nelson of GT Midwest, Nick Seefeld of Hill & Markes, and Jason Stokes of Geary Pacific. Bill Harrison of McGuckin Hardware also chimed in from a B2C hardlines retailer perspective. All four panel members implemented their sites within the last five years – with McGuckin launching at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These eCommerce managers shared their best strategies to drive website adoption and offered great advice for other businesses looking to increase employee and customer engagement online.
Unilog: What sort of impact have you seen from COVID-19 concerning customer buying behaviors?
Harrison: As you know, we launched right at the beginning of the pandemic. We started out with just a small number of transactions per week but, once the pandemic hit, online transactions just skyrocketed for us. We also rolled out our curbside pickup at the same time as our launch, which also helped tremendously. Online sales have since slowed down a bit, but not a lot.
Nelson: We have certainly seen our sales grow immensely in the past months due to the pandemic, too. This September, we actually surpassed our 2019 web sales, so we were incredibly happy about that. We’ve seen a lot more engagement online. Our chat feature has much more traffic, and a lot of that is because our salespeople can’t get in front of the customers right now. We’re definitely seeing an uptick in everything online, and we hope this web traction will stick.
Harrison: There were definitely a few bumps in the road launching right in the middle of this pandemic, but it’s really helped us grow our business because we have so many opportunities we can utilize with the Unilog solution.
Unilog: When you look at your customer base, was there any specific segment that you targeted first for adoption on your site?
Nelson: We actually didn’t go after our biggest customers first. That may sound strange, but our biggest customers are the ones who are transacting through EDI (electronic data interchange) or punchouts, and the parts that they buy are proprietary parts which we don’t sell online anyway. So, when it came to adoption, we targeted the bottom half of our customers, which has worked well for us. We actually had someone register and make a purchase on our site today who hadn’t done business with us in three years. They received an e-mail from one of our inside sales reps telling them about our eCommerce site and that simple communication brought them back as a customer.
Seefeld: Our strategy was to get the smaller customers online first so that we could free up our inside sales and customer service teams from having to work with them over the phone. By moving those customers to transact online, it allowed our staff to focus on other responsibilities.
Unilog: So that makes sense to think about the cost per transaction. For smaller customers or those with lower margin buys, if you can get them to purchase online, there’s value in that.
Seefeld: Exactly. Typically, when we get them online, the AOV (average order value) goes up because our website has features like related products and “Customers also bought,” which makes them more likely to search the entire product category when they’re registered online versus when they’re on the phone just ordering what they think they need.
Stokes: Our online lines per order are almost double the size than when a customer calls in their order. On the new construction side, those orders can typically be 50 to 80 line items, so those were the first customers we pushed toward website adoption. Normally, they’d come in to one of our branch locations with their long list of items to order and spend upwards of an hour to hour-and-a-half at our counter because that’s how long it took to write up and pick the order. Now, they have saved carts and can place orders on our site in five minutes. And, when they show up to pick up their order, it is already picked and pulled for them. That’s a game-changer for those customers.
Unilog: Speaking with a lot of our other customers, they say their AOV is anywhere from 45 to 90% higher for their online orders than offline orders, so it’s good to hear you echoing that same sentiment. So, what has been the most successful strategy or tactic that you’ve taken to help drive internal adoption of your digital branch?
Nelson: No doubt about it, it’s been cold hard cash. We offer cash incentives to our inside sales team to get them to push the website. That has been, by far, the best promotion we’ve run. We’re actually still running it now and because it’s done so well, we plan to extend it. The tactic that didn’t really work was promotions for our outside sales team. I believe the reason our incentives work better with inside sales staff is because they work directly with people who place the orders, so they see the value in it for both them and their customers.
Seefeld: I agree with Sara. We’ve had very little success with promotions for our outside sales team, but much success with our inside sales and customer service teams. They see customer adoption as a timesaver for them so they can work on other projects. We’re actually running promotions right now with these inside teams offering cash payouts on new orders, recurring orders, and customer registration.
Stokes: We have an ongoing contest between our different branch locations with a goal for each branch to get 25% of their sales as online orders. We’ve created a leaderboard with their standings to help drive a little friendly competition.
Unilog: And what customer adoption tactics have you used?
Harrison: We set up a loyalty program for our retail customers that has seen a lot of success. We promote the program at our store locations using banners and signage. We also use bag stuffers at checkout that have coupons printed directly on the bag offering a discount for online purchases. Right now, about 50% of those who shop in store are loyalty customers, so it’s driving a lot of people to our website. We actually have more people signing up for our program online than we do in store, which is great.
Stokes: We’ve taken a more handholding approach to drive customer adoption. We actually walk them through the steps to sign them up on our site. For our larger accounts, we also sign up all their techs and any other people within their company that are in a position to place an order with us. This is by no means a difficult task to do, but by showing them that it can be done easily, we put their mind at ease and get them registered with us.
Unilog: Once they’re registered, how do you continue to keep them engaged?
Stokes: We’ve done a couple of unique things to help keep our customers engaged. First, we set up an item favorites list on the site, which pulls all the online and will-call purchases the customer has ever made with us. Once the item list is curated, the system sorts the items by the number of times they purchased them, and the top eight items then appear in their favorites list on our site.
Unilog: You have a special name for your customers’ favorites list; what is that?
Stokes: Yes, we call it “Geary Favorites.” This personalized list is already created and ready for them the first time they log in. Plus, it gets refreshed everyday using an API. As soon as we show our customers their Geary Favorites, their eyes always light up and that immediately grabs them. At that point, they’re typically sold on using the site.
Seefeld: We do the same thing but call it “My Items.” It’s a customer purchase-based history of items that is pulled in a daily query we run. An API is by far the cleanest way to go if you have the capability to do that, but since we don’t, we pull the information via an Excel import each morning.
Unilog: In our latest roadmap, we just announced a new add-on feature to our platform that gives you the ability to build a curated list of items for an account or user. We call it “My Promoted Items” so if any of our customers are interested, they can now add this customer feature to their site.
Stokes: Another thing we’ve done to keep our customers engaged is utilize the VMI (vendor-managed inventory) tool we had built into the platform, which lets us manage some of our customers’ parts rooms. We start by entering all the items they order from us into the tool. From there, the customer tells us what minimum quantity they want to keep for each item, what they want to be replenished to, and then they can fill in the quantities that they currently have. If they don’t want to do it themselves, we can log in as that customer, do the count for them, and create that replenishment order. Those two features, the Geary Favorites and the VMI tool, have really helped get our site adoption up and going.
Unilog: Switching gears, what role does social media play in driving traffic to your site?
Seefeld: First off, we use Google Analytics to track all our social media marketing on five platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Our marketing team creates custom links to all these platforms so they can track exactly where customers are coming from. The most successful platform for us, being a B2B supplier, is LinkedIn. But we’ve seen a lot of success from all our social media campaigns. Videos – specifically our Product Spotlight videos – are the most popular types of posts. These are quirky, fun videos we create that spotlight a product or family of products. We post them on social media and include a link that always calls back to our website. We also embed the videos on the item pages of our website so that it goes both ways. It took a little while for us to find our voice and build our presence, but we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor this year.
If it’s something you want to get into, it doesn’t take much, just a video camera and some young people who are willing to get in front of it. It doesn’t have to be super professional either. We bill ourselves as a local distributor, so our videos have that local hometown feel to them. If that lines up with your company’s presence, then I would say go for it. There’s really nothing holding you back from doing it – all these platforms are free to join. But just be willing to give it a couple of years before you see the return.
Harrison: As a retailer, Instagram and Facebook are our best traffic drivers. Like Nick, we also create videos that highlight our products, but also our people. We have a lot of long-term employees who have great backgrounds, so we like to showcase their talents as well as the products.
[For more about social media marketing, read our white paper: How B2B Companies Can Leverage Social Media Marketing]
Unilog: If you had to leave our listeners and fellow Unilog customers with just one piece of advice to help drive eCommerce adoption, what would it be?
Nelson: Make sure your inside sales team is on board and comfortable with the fact that the site is not out there to take their jobs. We’re four years in with our implementation and I hear some people are still concerned about that. Combat that fear by getting inside sales involved; that has made a huge difference for us.
Harrison: Our customer loyalty program and e-mail marketing campaigns have been the most successful drivers for us. And I agree with Sara; having your staff on board is so important. When they’re talking to customers, they can point them to the website to check events, product images, and other product information.
Stokes: I’m with Sara’s advice to make sure any inside or customer-facing people are on board; but further than that, make sure they’re trained. This way they know how to use all aspects of the website and can answer any and every customer question. For us, when our inside salespeople were comfortable with it and started to see it as a resource, then they really started to talk about it with our customers and generate more buzz.
Seefeld: I have to echo the same message: get your inside team on board. Make sure they’re trained, that they are aware of any new site features, and that they know how to use them. Also, be available if they encounter issues while training customers. Jump in and do a screen-sharing session to help train them. If you’re capable, conduct onsite training sessions for some of your larger customers.
Unilog: So, the theme that we’re hearing is get your inside sales team on board, incentivize them to promote your site, and make sure they’re educated and trained to use it. Customers need to be trained as well, which may require some handholding. You have to do what’s necessary to drive the kind of adoption you hope to see.