Shopping vs. Buying: Distributors need to know the difference

Distributors who fail to recognize the importance of online sales may be harming their future growth.

Dean Mueller with Distribution Strategy Group spoke at the ASA Network 2023 conference in Orlando, Florida, in November which was hosted by the American Supply Association (ASA).

He outlined methods for businesses to recognize the importance of online sales. Many distributors look at their website statistics and do not see the importance, he said.

In his presentation, Mueller laid out the key lessons distributors should adopt:

  • Digitally engaged customers buy more online and offline than less frequent website visitors.
  • Large customers are more digitally engaged.
  • Good shopping and account management capabilities are critical for your website even if shopping cart revenue is minimal.

Buyer behavior on a distributor or wholesaler site is different than general shopping. Customers will research product on a website, and then switch to calling to place an order, or by submitting a purchase order through the customer’s business department, he said.

This can deceive sellers looking at how much money they are bringing in through online sales, because the sales numbers are showing up elsewhere, Mueller said.

In any case, retailers need to expand digital sales and adapt to customer demands, which can be best understood by talking to the customers and encouraging sales reps to ask for guidance on how to improve site navigation so buyers can more easily find products and assess them.

“Probably the most important thing that people could do is talk to your customers, understand what your customers want,” Mueller said.

Online chat is a powerful tool to work directly with customers, he said, and a “quote cart” can provide a valued tool for buyers who have to follow their own accounting processes.

“The main thing is that the urgency and reasons why a distributor would want to have a digital presence go way beyond if they actually transact. It’s so important for distributors to have a website that meets customers’ needs regardless of how they buy,” Mueller said.

There are several online tools to track customer behavior on a website, and analytics will show how often people are returning to a website, which is another key driver for sales.

Understand “reasons why a customer will visit your website early and often. That’s probably the key,” he said.

Dean Mueller with Distribution Strategy Group standing behind a podium presenting at ASA.

Dean Mueller with Distribution Strategy Group presenting at ASA Network 2023.