By providing a superior customer service experience adding value to the transaction with rich content and data, electrical distributors can get and keep customers for life (yes, even online).
To B2B distributors that have decided to take on Amazon Business and other online sellers by trying to beat them at the pricing game, Chris Apollo Lynn has this advice: Focus on figuring out ways to provide a better experience for your customers. “Whether it’s giving them a store dedicated to a particular niche, or just providing them with more of a boutique experience, there are many ways you can stand out from Amazon,” he writes in How to Beat Amazon: 5 Best Practices Any Online Store Can Use Today.
When selling online, that means having an assortment of inventory readily available; using complete product descriptions (e.g., use as many keywords as you can, keep descriptions under 200 words); use and test keywords (long-tail phrases are more specific phrases and can work better than more popular keywords); and add value that justifies a premium (i.e., flexible shipping options, superior customer service, etc.).
Charlie Lawhorn, chief customer officer at Riversand and a 20-year B2B distribution expert, says electrical distributors should also recognize that competing with Amazon is all about speed, information, service, and support. “Amazon has a non-traditional approach to B2B. It wants to enable people to buy easily, and it [doesn’t want] to go out and sell,” says Lawhorn. “It does this by providing general product information that it receives from manufacturers, but without much actual industry or product knowledge.”
For example, Amazon Business can’t define a solution, he adds, nor can it easily provide detailed options for electrical contractors to consider during the selection process. Instead, the e-tailer expects customers to know what they need, and then it offers a simple platform for procuring those goods.
This is both a blessing and curse for the independent distributor that has made a name for itself by standing out on service, support, and technical expertise. “As Amazon continues its growth in the B2B sector, distributors find themselves facing off against a new type of competition,” Lawhorn explains. “It’s one where speed and information are crucial new factors, and in addition to the quality service and support levels that have previously defined the independent distributor’s competitive advantage against traditional, mainstream competitors.”
Playing to the Digital-First Customer
In the e-commerce environment, speed is not just about moving fast, says Lawhorn. It’s about moving strategically fast. “Speed is about making decisions based on traditional market information, as well as understanding emerging digital trends and commerce models,” he says. “Speed is also about supply chain and fulfillment; the adoption of new customer experience tools and technologies; and leap-frogging the competition, not just trying to keep pace with them.”
Speed is also about improving new product introduction times and providing efficient commerce models, Lawhorn adds, “where digital-first customers can access significant amounts of information in order to confidently buy from you.” One way to leverage this strength is with good product information—an area where Amazon Business falls short. “Amazon is not really known for quality content or product information,” Lawhorn points out, “and it doesn’t have product experts on staff that can define detailed specifications based on product fit or specific solutions.”
So, while Amazon Business does stand out on price and assortment, the best it can do on the information front is offer limited comparison charts (and sometimes it doesn’t even do that). Lawhorn doesn’t expect this approach to change anytime soon, and he sees the lack of information as an “in” for the electrical distributor that offers a more content- and information-rich online experience.
“Amazon can’t easily do this because the data that it needs to drive those capabilities does not exist in its platform,” says Lawhorn, “nor is that platform normalized in a way to quickly enable it.”
The Door is Wide Open
At its core, Amazon focuses on volume sales and on feeding its customers what its own manufacturers and vendors give it to work with. “The reason that model works is because Amazon relies on its sellers to put their own information on the site. And if the seller puts junk out there and then doesn’t sell very much, Amazon says, ‘Well, hey. That’s your fault,’” Lawhorn says. “They really don’t have control.”
This approach leaves the door wide open for distributors that can provide not only the data and information that its customers want, but that also follow up with superior customer service and value-added offerings that online selling platform can’t conjure up on their own.
“If everything on Amazon is just paragraph-based text, it can’t build out a comparison tool or chart for comparing electrical products,” says Lawhorn. “This is a good opportunity for B2B distributors that can create more detailed descriptions and then use that data to group products and allow their customers to compare those items side-by-side.”
The Secret Sauce
In an industry where matching the right product with the right application in a safe and efficient manner is paramount, the distributor that applies its old-school line card/comparison chart mentality online can effectively beat out its larger, volume-mindset rivals, and even if it’s not offering the lowest price in town.
“Distributors still have a leg up because they have access to the critical data and knowledge,” says Lawhorn, who knows that leveraging that advantage isn’t always easy for traditional, brick-and-mortar distribution firms. “What they’ve got to figure out is how to gather that information into a useful format for customers. That’s kind of the secret sauce against Amazon, which isn’t going to do that itself,” says Lawhorn. “That would require a massive change to its whole platform.”
In Part II of this article series we’ll look at the critical role that your inside and outline sales reps will play in creating an information-rich e-commerce presence that outplays Amazon and other online, price-centric competitors.Tagged with Amazon Business, B2B, best practices, e-commerce