Ecommerce News

Global Industrial is creating a customer-centric ecommerce experience


Rather than fear ecommerce, Global Industrial Co. CEO Barry Litwin told attendees at the Envision B2B Conference & Exhibition, the digital sales channel has become so pervasive, the company no longer sees it as a competitive threat to its sales force.

“There is plenty of market share out there,” Litwin said during a keynote Q&A at the conference.

Despite the opportunities that ecommerce presents, selling digitally is a complex issue for a manufacturer, Litwin added. As a result, Global Industrial has developed a customer-centric strategy centered on personalized commerce and enriched content tailored to individual customers’ needs.

Two pillars of the strategy:

  1. Creating exceptional self-service experiences for customers who prefer to purchase online with minimal assistance.
  2. Creating a high-touch experience for large enterprise customers who value more interaction in a seller/buyer relationship.

“Customers are indispensable business partners, so make their experiences great,” Litwin said.

Customer retention and feedback

To improve customer retention and drive sales though its ecommerce channel, Litwin said Global Industrial dissected its business to not only understand its revenue and profits stream from ecommerce, but also to create a vision to drive its digital sales the next several years.

Central to creating that vision was identifying ways to remove friction from the customer experience.

“We began listening to customers to learn about their needs and what friction they experienced to raise customer satisfaction levels,” Litwin said.

The company used that feedback to learn how it can better compete against the likes of Amazon Business and other marketplaces. Along with ecommerce sites, Amazon Business and marketplaces are the preferred options for purchasing, compared to EDI or punchout B2B, according to Digital Commerce 360 research.

In addition to gathering customer feedback, Global Industrial looked at its strengths and weaknesses. While efficiently shipping big and bulky items was identified as a strength, the company realized its needed to pay more attention to areas of its ecommerce business that had been neglected for years. Those include marketing, getting sales reps to engage more in merchandising, and gathering price intelligence, Litwin said.

To address those issues, Global Industrial hired five key executives over the past 36 months.

Personnel and other big players

“We looked for people that can embrace and affect change, and that were nimble and flexible when it came to decision making,” Barry Litwin said. “That leadership has created amazing engagement within the company.”

On the technology side, Global Industrial has developed ecommerce dashboards that provide sales reps with tools to increase customer retention and sales.

“We provide tools that tell sales reps where products fit,” said Litwin.

The company has also begun identifying vertical markets where it can become a bigger player, such as health care, multi-family, nonprofits and group purchasing organizations.

“We see GPOs as more of a long-term play,” Litwin said. “But as we move into verticals, content, product and product assortment are going be areas we can leverage to create value in these markets.”

The right kind of communication

Communicating with buyers on their terms is another key element of Global Industrial’s digital strategy. Increasingly, consumers want sales representatives to communicate through digital channels such as chat and email, as opposed to the phone, as they are more comfortable communicating through those means.

“More and more, buyers want sales reps to chat online or communicate by email,’ CEO Barry Litwin said. “Buyers also want order-tracking information, not just for parcels, but less than truck load shipments. We can now include that information in emails.”

When it comes to making less than truckload shipping more efficient, Litwin said the company is investing in warehouse automation. That will help reduce the amount of walk time needed to fulfill an order.

“Walk time is the greatest time expenditure in a warehouse,” Litwin said. “When a distribution center has the right product in the right aisle, it can improve efficiency and reduce walk time. We are continually looking at way to improve big and bulk shipping/LTL shipping by making the warehouse more efficient.”

Another prong in Global Industrial’s customer-centric strategy is the development of a knowledge center. The center serves as a destination for buyers to access product data and videos. They detail how a product works to put product information into perspective. The center also includes buying guides and articles that subject-matter experts write.

“This has been a big investment for us and was something we had to do, actually,” Litwin told attendees. “We want to take it to the next level by creating more community-oriented experiences, such as creating two-way dialog with customers,” Litwin said. “There is a connection between the content and where we are taking it.”

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.

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