From channel conflict to fulfillment to hefty shipping costs, there are plenty of reasons building materials companies are concerned about launching ecommerce. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable, and all the reasoning in the world can’t explain to a customer in need why they can’t easily buy your products.
Now more than ever, it’s essential that you think about how your business can succeed in today’s digital-driven economy.
This year has created a great opportunity for all types of businesses to thrive online. Because of COVID, ecommerce is now everyone’s expectation in both B2C and B2B markets. In fact, B2B online sales across industries are three times as large as B2C sales.
It’s time to stop viewing ecommerce as the competition and think about how you can leverage your online presence to increase market share, grow relationships, create new sales opportunities, and grow demand for your product.
Let’s take a look at five of the best ecommerce sites out there and what you can learn from their success.
Omaha Steaks has one of the best ecommerce sites in the business because it’s easy to use and provides solutions for their entire customer base.
Customers can view multiple offers, get meal ideas, gift suggestions, watch how-to videos, and add products directly to their cart — all from their homepage. It doesn’t matter if you are using their website, the mobile version of their site, or their app, the experience is consistent.
While their older demographic tends to utilize their desktop site, Omaha Steaks’ mobile app attracts a younger customer base and gives them a similar browsing and shopping experience in a format they are more comfortable using.
Omaha Steaks knows that when you work hard to give your customers a great digital experience, it will show them you are a customer-first business. This means doing your fair share of research about your client base and understanding what makes them tick. So, what does this mean for your company? Where should you begin with your online marketing?
As a building materials company, your ecommerce experience should allow your customers to select products based on their needs: through vertical, building type, or specific product requirements. The same contractor may need to shop different ways depending on the project, and they’ll be more likely to purchase through your website if they know they’ll be able to find what they need no matter how they wish to navigate to it.
A truly successful ecommerce experience is about more than putting an “add to cart” button next to your products. You need to focus on creating a positive buying experience.
Think about what makes sense for your customers. Where are they in the designing, specifying or building process when they need to purchase your product? What issues are they looking to solve or features would they want to find?
If the user experience is confusing or simply non-existent, they’ll project those feelings onto your company and likely leave your site to buy from a competitor who makes it easier to buy from.
When creating your ecommerce experience, ask yourself the following questions to be sure you have the right organizational support and the strategic planning you need:
- What demands are you responding to?
- What is your strategy for providing a good ecommerce experience?
- How much organizational buy-in do you need/have?
- How will your website be prioritized?
- How will the user interact with you using your website or app?
- How will you re-engage buyers after their first purchase?
It’s common knowledge that it’s more expensive to win a new customer than to resell to an existing one. As you shop online, you’ve probably encountered several experiences like the image above. You add something to your cart, but before you can checkout, you’re offered several additional ways to increase your purchase just a little bit.
This cross-selling strategy is an incredibly effective way to make more revenue per customer while offering them additional value as well.
Native’s personal care products have a huge following online. Their ecommerce strategy is all about creating new sales opportunities for existing customers. Their direct-to-consumer model has allowed them to leverage customer data and make tailored recommendations to customers based on previous purchases.
This is likely something your salesforce has been doing for years with their customers in the field. As you bring your business online, you’ll have even more opportunities to make targeted product suggestions with a higher close rate because it’s based on data.
As a manufacturer, how can you incorporate cross-selling online without overselling? Timing is everything. You need to be strategic about when and how you suggest products and services to your customers.
There are two distinct places Native uses to leverage their products that you can use too:
- Product page: Your customers are already interested in this product. Think about products or services that are related to the product page they’re viewing. This is your chance to sell them on other items you sell that they may need to complete the job.
- Checkout: This is a good opportunity to offer lower-cost add-on accessories. Think about tools, instruments and related products that will help your customer complete their project.
Harry’s is a direct-to-consumer company that has managed to use their website and subscription services as a high-powered marketing channel. Their subscription service provides shaving products to consumers on a quarterly basis or by a frequency selected by the customer.
Any product or service your customer buys at regular intervals is an opportunity for a subscription service. Subscriptions help you maintain a consistent customer experience, cultivate product loyalty and offer reliable revenue for your company.
What can you learn from Harry’s subscription model?
- Subscription services can help you introduce new products. It’s easier to introduce new materials to a captive audience of subscribers and have them add to their existing subscription.
- You can increase value. Showing your customers they can depend on a variety of products and services being delivered when they need them helps create a higher sense of value and loyalty.
- You can better predict revenue. Subscriptions can give you a reliable and repeatable amount of revenue.
Stikwood is a DIY-focused building materials company that is doing ecommerce well. Stikwood does an excellent job of giving its customers easily digestible information.
One of the most attention-grabbing elements on their homepage is a yellow bar that says “Shop.” This immediately lets you know that you can buy their product directly from their site. They are also using customer reviews, images and videos to help explain their products, show how they are used and offer project inspiration.
But they don’t stop there: Their cart experience is also great. They give you several ways to make purchases and continue to provide helpful information throughout the process.
When creating your ecommerce store, you need to make sure you’re answering your customers’ biggest questions about your products. The main components that are necessary to do that include:
- Provide strong imagery of your products
- Offer good lead times that you know you can achieve
- Include product reviews
- Show how your product works
- Demonstrate product size and dimension
- Demonstrate installation
Clare offers more than just a good building materials ecommerce site; they also have a great samples program that helps customers select and purchase large peel-and-stick color swatches to test for their projects. There is no longer a need to use tiny paint chips or messy sample pots of paint. Clare’s custom-curated peel-and-stick samples are large, color-accurate samples that help eliminate a lot of the decision-making stress that comes with choosing paint colors.
Their custom configurator is a chatbot that helps select paint and calculates how much paint to buy, making the decision-making process easier for purchasers. Clare’s use of chatbots is something they do particularly well. By using technology to answer customer needs easily and quickly, they have bypassed the need for filling out forms to get quotes. Instead, chatbots converse with customers, helping them find the right paint instantly.
This is how chatbots can help optimize conversion rates. They provide a quick, one-on-one communication experience and shorten the amount of time it takes customers to get to the end of the sales funnel.
The chatbot helps Clare market their services and industry knowledge in a way that feels clean and concise. Their use of icons is also visually appealing and makes the decision-making process fun for their customers and encourages them to engage more with the site.
As a manufacturer, your customers (hopefully) already see you as an industry expert. So leverage that opinion by engaging with them and making recommendations for solutions that will solve their problem.
Why are chatbots a conversation tool you will want to have on your eCommerce site?
- People are using messaging tools more than ever. In fact, 90% of people prefer to use a messaging tool more than any other type of communication.
- You’re essentially supplying the same level of service as you would in-person but using technology to amplify it, whether that’s through chat or email.
- Chatbots can act as your virtual sales team, shifting a pitch based on whether they’re talking to a DIYer, an architect, contractor or builder.
It goes without saying that competing with Amazon’s experience and platform can be a challenge, especially if you are a distributor who is new to ecommerce. And if you are thinking about also partnering with the retail giant, there is still a lot to consider — but it is not all intimidating.
Correctly using Amazon as an additional sales channel may be a step in the right direction for many distributors who are looking to improve their ecommerce success. If you choose to partner with Amazon Business and use them as an additional sales channel, you need to start with a solid game plan. Before entering the Amazon marketplace, consider these thoughts to help develop your business strategy.
- Don’t make Amazon your only ecommerce platform. It’s smart to have your own ecommerce platform in the works. While you may have a lot of ground to cover to meet up with Amazon’s site experience, you do have something they do not: exclusive insider knowledge and purchasing history specific to your business. Use this information to tailor how you sell on your site and improve your customer experience with suggestions, recommendations, reviews and more.
- Carefully choose what you sell on Amazon. Start by choosing products that are safer for you to market through this specific platform. Depending on your business, this may mean selling commoditized products or highly customized items. Think about your most competitive products and what best fits your strategy.
- Don’t get caught up in the quest to be the lowest-priced product. Getting fixated on pricing and beating your competitors can land you in dangerous territory with distributors who may have better unit economics and can run down the price of a product. Never drop below your MAP (minimum advertising price). You run the risk of compromising your margins, your value as a distributor and your relationships with your partners.
- Is commoditization important to you? When you are selling commoditized products, always remember there is a chance that Amazon could create a private-label version that is cheaper. This may not be an issue if you are more focused on single orders, but be aware a similar competing product could outmatch you when it comes to larger, bulk orders.
Remember, you know your customer better than anyone — even Amazon. While Amazon uses its data to gain insights about its customers, it lacks the years and years of direct customer experience you have used to understand purchasing habits. Use this to your advantage when developing your strategy.