In this article series, we’re examining how electrical distributors’ e-commerce websites stack up by comparing them to non-industry sites in areas like HVAC, plumbing, floor covering, and plastics distribution—all in the name of helping NAED members create more effective, customer-centric e-commerce sites for the year ahead.
In this article, we tackle the data side of the conversation and show what distributors can be doing to stand out in the crowd and develop e-commerce sites that give customers a full, reliable experience online.
More Online Business, Please
Multiples images increase site conversion rates, 360-degree imaging takes those rates to unprecedented levels, and good taxonomy ensures that customers easily find products. None of these statements are revolutionary, but many electrical distributors are ignoring them in the e-commerce space. For example, Denise Keating, president of Sycamore, Ill.-based DATAgility, clicked over to one distributor’s site that returned a list of 54 products after a keyword search, but that lacked a mechanism for filtering through the options to find a specific item.
“Attributes drive the faceted search (defined as a technique for accessing information organized according to a faceted classification system, allowing users to explore a collection of information by applying multiple filters), on websites that allow the user to select key attributes to help narrow the search result on the product the buyer wants,” Keating says, adding that such searches are now being driven by more than attributes. For example, companies are incorporating warranty information (five years versus 10 years) to can be included in a buyer’s selection process.
Keating says photos are another area where electrical distributors can up their games online. Rather than just posting a single, front-facing photo for every product, for instance, she says using multiple angles, several viewpoints, and even 360-degree product spins, can greatly improve a buyer’s ability to select the right item the first time around. “When you use multiple images,” she says, “you’re more likely to increase your conversion rate.”
Getting the Data Down to a Science
In many cases, distributors can improve their site conversion rates by adding marketing copy or feature and benefit statements on their e-commerce sites. That can include attributed data about the physical and performance characteristics of a product (e.g., 600 volts, 15 amps, yellow in color, price, etc.).
Put simply, if you have another manufacturer that has a similar product that’s 600 volts and 15 amps—and if the price of the second one is lower—then the chances are good that the customer will pick the cheaper option. “The marketing copy, features and benefits allow you to tell the customer what’s unique about your product—such as, it saves you an additional 15 hours is energy-efficient,” says Keating, “and helps customers filter through their options versus having to go through an entire list of 54 alternatives.”
Taxonomy—or the classification of something into ordered categories—is another important consideration for electrical distributors, many of whom center their taxonomy around text-based product types. After reviewing the sites of a few NAED members and comparing them to those in other industries, Keating says a few were associating images with higher-level taxonomies. Association categories, she says, at higher levels of the taxonomy are usually a family image (i.e, a grouping of enclosures to show different-sized options).
But an image is worth a thousand words, Keating notes, and associating the images makes it easier and faster for the customer to navigate the high-level taxonomy and provides a visual cue that buyers are looking in the right categories.
“We’re starting to see taxonomies beyond the product type and that’s very good,” says Keating. Several HVAC websites are utilizing multiple taxonomies that allows users search according to product type, application or use, or even compliance. “A lot of people assume that taxonomy is strictly related to product tree hierarchy and classification systems, when in reality the best approach is to put yourself into your customer’s mindset,” says Keating. “Ask yourself (and also ask your customers) questions like, ‘When I come to your site, how am I most likely to search for products based on my need?'”
Keating says relationships among products are another data point that electrical distributors should factor into their e-commerce strategy. So rather than just giving site visitors an item and a description, for example, associate your “good, better, best” selections with other products that you can effectively cross-sell and upsell. This is a tactic that’s used often by furniture sellers, which present a variety of related options when a customer puts a bed, couch, or table into his or her shopping cart.
“At IDEAL (where Keating once worked), we had a Vol-Con Tester that had a hip holster and an extra set of leads. We had all kinds of products like that, and we weren’t focused just on a single product,” says Keating. “Instead, when the opportunity to upsell or add onto an order arose, we used product relationships to do it. The same thing applies in the online space.”
Going Beyond Line Cards
Handing out line cards may have worked 20 years ago, but today’s e-commerce expects an engaging, data-rich experience online. “Your customers could care less about line cards; they’re trying to solve a problem and they need products to be able to do that,” says Justin King, co-founder of the DigitalBranch, and senior partner at B2X Partners, who adds that the data that’s distributed by IDW or certain buying groups is baseline and a core attribute, but it’s not enough for today’s online buyer.
To get to the really useful stuff, King says electrical distributors should focus on “taking all of the knowledge out of their sales reps’ heads” and then translate that knowledge onto the web in the form of product detail pages. “Spend 2-4 hours a week getting inside your sales reps’ heads and use it to build out your web pages,” says King. “You don’t have to change any of the current attributes, but you can show how a 12-foot cable fits into a specific application, how to select that cable, and how to do the things that your sales reps are telling customers every day.”
Start with your top-selling products, King suggests, and those that are viewed the most online. Do 10 or 20 products at a time and pay particular attention to the organization and structure of the content that you’re uploading. “For a good search experience, you want to present search results and a way to drill down further for a specific item,” says King. “Creating a solid taxonomy, and a category and subcategory structure, are critical for that. Then develop a product data team and program to continue to enhance the data as needed.”
Because electrical distributors have a built-in resource for getting this task handled, King says improving an existing site and polishing its data should be fairly attainable. “There’s not a distributor that can’t do this by simply thinking through the buying process from the customer’s perspective,” says King. “Just look at what customers are trying to solve and write the content and descriptions around those needs. It will take some time to do, but it will definitely add to your distributorship’s unique value proposition.”
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