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What is a Digital Branch for Wholesale Distributors?

“Digital Branch” unifies offline and online channels to create a stellar shopping experience.You run a successful wholesale business dedicated to providing quality products and personalized service to your customers. You most likely have multiple branch locations, tens of thousands of items, and a team of experienced sales staff to assist buyers who call and visit your locations. Perhaps you even have a non-transactional website that includes basic information like branch locations, phone numbers, and line cards.

Your business may be doing well, but is it maximizing its potential? Technology has driven buyers to expect more convenience, accessibility, and options from distributors – big or small. While a website gives you an online presence, it is not nearly as powerful as a digital branch that unifies your offline and online channels to create a cohesive, stellar shopping experience.

If you aren’t familiar with the term “digital branch,” think of it as a new branch of your operation – an extension of your business that allows you to better serve customers and build your brand. A digital branch is much more than a website; it’s an online resource where people can browse your catalog, view customer-specific pricing and availability, place an order or submit an RFQ, and manage their account. Also referred to as an eCommerce site, digital channel, or digital commerce, a digital branch is an integral component of an omnichannel business so that, no matter where and how a customer interacts with your business, they will have a consistent experience and reliable information. To be clear, a digital branch is not meant to compete with or replace your brick-and-mortar locations; it is designed to complement and support all your sales channels.

As we’ve recently witnessed, unexpected events can have a catastrophic effect on the marketplace. If businesses don’t evolve their sales model to be better equipped for these crises, they will have a much harder time enduring the storm. When traditional sales channels become compromised, as is the current case with COVID-19, an eCommerce site provides buyers an alternate outlet to shop and transact with you. Now, more than ever, a digital branch is essential to growing revenue, servicing customers, and remaining relevant.

By 2021, organizations with robust, scalable digital commerce will outperform non-commerce organizations by 30 percentage points in sales growth by better using digital channels during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Source: Gartner Report “Mitigate Coronavirus (COVID-19) Business Impacts With Digital eCommerce”

A well-built eCommerce platform serves both your customers and your business. It supports a customer-centric strategy that allows buyers to do more in a self-service capacity with the convenience of shopping when and where they want. For your organization, eCommerce opens the doors to new customers and opportunities to expand product offerings. A digital branch provides benefits you can’t get with a strictly brick-and-mortar business model:

Digital delivers more value and convenience for buyers

  • Accessible 24 hours a day: Buyers want to shop on their timetable, which may be at the end of the work day, during lunch, or while on a job site. A responsive-designed website and mobile app make that possible. Robust sites with a built-in customer portal also allow them to manage their account so they can access their order history, view the status of open orders, and reorder items without having to make a call to a sales rep.
  • A virtual endless aisle of product offerings: With an eCommerce site in place, businesses can subscribe to syndicated product content to extend their online product offerings beyond their in-store stock. Known as a virtual endless aisle, syndicated content allows distributors to sell hundreds of thousands of SKUs with relevant and current product information. Expanding your online product catalog can increase your existing customers’ average order value (AOV) and attract new customers.
  • Real-time pricing and availability: When your digital branch is properly integrated with your ERP or POS system, online customers who log in will see their contracted pricing for items, as well as product availability. Buyers – even first-time site visitors – are more likely to make a purchase on your site when pricing and availability is made visible to them.
  • Rich product content that informs buyers: Enriched product content like product descriptions, images, dimensions, and other specifications gives buyers the confidence to purchase products from you online. Enlist the help of a content service provider like Unilog to enhance your product catalog with content that attracts search engines and buyers to your site.
  • Convenient purchase and delivery options: Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is a highly desirable shopping option for B2B buyers – especially for those in need of a product fast. Digital commerce platforms that are equipped with BOPIS functionality connect with an organization’s inventory management system to display real-time product availability in specific branch locations. In addition to providing more convenience to buyers, BOPIS drives more foot traffic into your brick-and-mortar front counter.

As many as 75% of BOPIS users make unplanned purchases within the store.

Source: Agilence

Digital increases organizational efficiencies and opportunities

  • Exposure to more buyers: A strong online presence leads more buyers to your business. Enriched content and targeted keywords help your site rank higher on search engine results pages and draw visitors who want to learn more about your company and your products. Plus, with a wider range of products available online, you increase your chances of attracting new customers who realize the convenience and value your digital branch offers.
  • Less investment and maintenance required than a physical branch: Compared to the investment required to open and manage a physical branch location, an eCommerce site is much less expensive to implement and maintain. Not only is a digital branch more accessible to buyers, it can also provide a higher return on investment. Online AOV can be anywhere from 45% to 90% higher than offline orders, simply due to a website’s easy order features.
  • Organizational efficiencies: Many wholesale distributors who have implemented the Unilog platform report savings and efficiency gains across their organizations. Bay Fastening Systems has experienced major savings from their self-service site, including 81% time saved in order entering and an 83% reduction in warehouse order processing times. Their associated cost savings have allowed them to invest in further site enhancements as well as other areas of their business. Turtle & Hughes has seen major time savings in building and managing product SKUs using Unilog’s built-in product information management (PIM) tool. As a result, they are able to add hundreds of new items to their online product catalog every day to continually expand their offerings for customers.

“If it wasn’t for the ROI from our digital sales, we wouldn’t have had the resources to invest in other areas.”

Mike Eichinger, COO – Bay Fastening Systems

  • Scalable and flexible architecture that grows with your business: As your business grows and customer needs shift, your digital branch must be able to evolve as well. An eCommerce solution like Unilog’s that is built and hosted in the cloud can easily adjust based on your organization’s needs. If your site sees a surge in traffic, a cloud-based platform can instantly scale to provide the necessary compute and storage resources. More cost-effective and flexible than on-premise eCommerce systems, cloud software gives businesses a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Digital unifies your sales channels

To bridge the physical and digital branches of your business, you need a digital commerce solution that tightly integrates with your enterprise systems. Unilog’s all-in-one eCommerce solution does just that. Built specifically for wholesale distributors, our digital commerce platform integrates with most ERP or POS systems and features an advanced API tool set to connect with any other applications your business uses, including customer relationship management software, payment gateways, shipping and delivery programs, and marketing automation tools.

Along with system integrations, the Unilog platform includes a dedicated PIM tool that manages your entire catalog of product information in one central location. The PIM houses everything from product descriptions and pricing to product images and documents like user guides and spec sheets. It also has the ability to clean and normalize the data, then publish it to your internal systems, channel partners, and other marketplaces, giving you the flexibility to deliver unique, quality content to different channels based on their needs and audience.

Additional platform features include an intuitive content management system (CMS); easy online checkout with quick order pads and flexible payment options; configurable site search capabilities that produce fast, relevant results; plus an onsite Event Management tool where customers can register for training classes, webinars, and other events. Our comprehensive eCommerce solution has everything you need to manage every aspect of your digital commerce business, plus options for a mobile app and advanced eCommerce site analytics.

Now’s the time for your business to branch out digitally. A digital channel enables you to serve more customers, remain competitive, and strengthen your brand. Speak to a Unilog rep to learn more about our eCommerce solutions and services, and to see a demonstration of our powerful platform in action.

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