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The Next Generation of E-Commerce

Brent Grover, President — Evergreen Consulting

• distribution management best practices • distribution industry trends • distribution industry technology • eCommerce

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E-Commerce is generating increasing amounts of business for distributors. Not that long ago, distributors counted themselves lucky if 10% of their business was coming from e-commerce. Today, 10% is nothing for many companies.

The beauty of e-commerce is that it allows you to take orders at any time, it reduces errors, and requires less manpower. However, the nature of e-commerce is changing as customers' expectations evolve. In this interview, Brent Grover discusses what he calls the next generation of e-commerce.

"The original generation of e-commerce was basically just a storefront," Brent said. "It focused entirely on the order entry side and was limited to simple bits of information, such as item price and if it was in stock. It was great for your existing customers who knew what they wanted, but it wasn't attracting new business."

"This is where the second generation of e-commerce comes in," Brent continued. "Second generation e-commerce puts a strong emphasis on content and search capability. In terms of content, customers want to be able to see product images, product specs, user instructions and trouble-shooting info. Product reviews from customers are also very popular and help people make buying decisions."

"This approach can also include suggestions about other related products," Brent said. "This could include information about products bought by people who purchased that same item. The system can also remember what customers purchased and suggest that they might need more of that item."

The key idea is that e-commerce needs to do more. A bare-bones website might have been good back when e-commerce was only a small part of most distributors' business, but we've reached a point where e-commerce can drive a lot of volume and streamline operations.

Second generation e-commerce is one element that's fundamentally changing the role of the salesperson. Salespeople used to sources of information when it came to pricing, product expertise, and trouble-shooting but, thanks to e-commerce, customers can simply go online for that information. This is especially helpful for customers who might not want to have to deal with salespeople.

"Different customers will have different wants and needs depending on their industry," Brent added. "Some will want a salesperson while others will want to just place an order. However, it's important that salespeople don't perceive your online operations to be a threat since they may undermine or sabotage it."

It's important for sales people to understand the benefits of e-commerce, as it frees them up from busywork like order handling. At the same time, you probably won't need as many salespeople. Because customers can just order online, you won't need to have salespeople handle marginal accounts with extremely limited profit potential. You won't have people doing a job that a salesperson should never have to do, such working on accounts that only generate $500 in a year.

As time marches forward, it's going to get more and more difficult to build your business without e-commerce. Every time a customer buys something online, that's one fewer physical order. If you don't have a solid e-commerce platform, you're losing out on those sales and falling behind the trend.

For more information about Brent Grover, visit: www.evergreenconsultingllc.com

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