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What Happens When Amazon is Your Customer’s Search Engine? Part I

What Happens When Amazon is Your Customer’s Search Engine? Part I

You may not even know it, but more and more of your distributorship’s customers are turning to Amazon to look for products. Here’s how to turn the tide and steer them back to your site and/or a search engine like Google.

Most distributors would like to think that, when the need to research and buy products online arises, customers will either pull up Google and do a quick search or—best case scenario—navigate right to their supplier’s URL to find what they’re looking for. And while this may have been the case 5-10 years ago—when business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce was still taking shape—it doesn’t work that way anymore.

And surprise, surprise—guess which online e-tailer is once again at the middle of this conversation? That’s right; it’s Amazon. According to recent reports, many of your B2B customers are skipping right over to the online behemoth to find what they’re looking for, and forgoing the “direct URL” and/or Google search altogether.

Trouble Ahead
Citing numerous industry studies, e-commerce expert Brian Beck says that anywhere from 52% to 55% of people start their product searches on Amazon versus jut 28% for Google. “It is now clear: Amazon has traded places with Google as the preferred search engine for products,” Beck writes in Amazon is the new Google for Product Search.

“This only means one thing for companies across the B2C and B2B spectrum – retailers, brands, manufacturers, and distributors: not being listed on Amazon creates risk of obscurity and irrelevance for your company,” Beck continues, noting that the rate of return on “traditional” Internet marketing methods for products—using Search Engine Optimization and Paid Search tactics to drive traffic to products on a branded website experience—is decaying. “Yes, branded product websites remain relevant and can still provide a powerful customer experience. However, they are simply not the engine for product discovery and purchases that they once were.”

This trend spells trouble for electrical distributors, many of which have yet to embrace the Amazon Business platform and/or invest heavily in their own e-commerce sites. With more and more consumers looking for stuff on the e-tailer’s site versus using a generic search engine, it stands to reason that those habits would make their way into the business environment.

“When it comes to buying products, everyone has their own immediate association with where to buy it,” Justin King, co-founder of the DigitalBranch, and senior partner at B2X Partners, explains. “We don’t typically go to Google, but we do go to Amazon for books, electronics, and other goods. Our brains just automatically associate with Amazon.”

The question is, how does this “association” translate in the electrical distribution world and what can distributors do to get their customers thinking differently? “When faced with their e-commerce options, sellers face a conundrum. Sell on Amazon, and you get access to the enormous (and growing) Amazon customer base, and drive brand awareness,” Beck writes in Selling on Amazon: The ups and downs for B2B. “But you can’t directly re-market to customers buying your products through Amazon. You don’t ‘own’ the customer.”

Giving Amazon the Ammo it Needs
Noting that some companies choose not to sell on the platform due to fear they are “teaching” Amazon their business, Beck notes that by selling as a marketplace merchant, these companies believe they may be “enabling Amazon to become a highly capable future competitor by providing sales, market, and customer data—all without Amazon needing to take any inventory risk.”

King has a better solution: put some extra time and effort into your distributorship’s branding and brand awareness efforts. Defined as “anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need, including physical goods, services, experiences, events, persons, places, properties, organizations, information, and ideas,” branding is an age-old strategy that some companies are successfully leveraging in the digital selling environment.

“It’s purely about brand awareness; when your customers think about a product and where to research it, learn more about it, see a picture of it, or buy it, your brand has to be ingrained in their heads,” King says. This point is particularly poignant online, where your next nearest competitor is literally one mouse click or a screen tap away. “That requires a good marketing strategy.”

Put simply, where Amazon Business may be the place that your customers go to because they’ve used the site 15 times already this year (and, as such, on the 16th round his or her brain just automatically associates laundry detergent with Amazon), that level of association doesn’t come naturally for the typical electrical distributor.

“When you can get your brand out in front of your customer—be it online, offline, or both—you can really up your brand awareness and get your name out in front of that customer,” says King. “That will help them associate better with your company and its website, and ingrain both into their heads.”

But here’s where things can get tricky. Brand awareness is short-lived. If you buy lightbulbs from one source, for instance, and even if you’ve purchased them from that source for the last five years, “that image in your head can shift pretty rapidly to where you’re envisioning an entirely new source, and then making that your ‘go-to’ source for lightbulbs.” And this is where branding—something not all distributors have mastered—comes into play and helps keep those customers focused on buying from you (versus the next competitor).

Shining Brightly Online
Where distributors can shine online is in the self-service realm—a sector that Amazon tends to struggle with, and particularly when it comes to complex products and complicated product attributes. As true specialists within the electrical supply and equipment sectors, distributors can take this expertise online and use it to steer more customers right to their websites (or, to Google to search for their company names/products).

“Amazon also struggles with trying to give buyers exactly what they need to do their jobs,” says King. For example, an electrician or electrical contractor that’s working on a jobsite, and that needs products for that job for the next three months, needs a level of self-service and support that a site like Amazon Business probably can’t provide. “This is where electrical distributors have a unique advantage, and where they can provide tools that are very specific to their customer bases.”

To tap into that strength, King tells distributors to start by mapping out their “customer journeys.” By that he means to put the customer at the center of the conversation by asking yourself questions like:  How can we help our customers perform their jobs easier and more seamlessly, and as it relates to us?

To answer this question, King says companies should look closely at where their customers go first online. And if it’s not to their e-commerce site, then it’s probably to Google or Amazon—a reality that basically means distributors aren’t doing enough to keep their brands “top of mind” for customers. “The first place they should think about going online is to ‘electrical distributor ABC that sells this particular product or service,'” says King, “versus thinking, ‘I’m not sure where I can get this item, so I’ll just go look for it on Google or Amazon.'”

In the next installment of this article, Justin King walks us through some of the first steps that electrical distributors can do to get more of their customers coming to them first (instead of Amazon) online.

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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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