Amazon is the future of commerce,
which increasingly is conducted digitally.
And it’s a new era for which many electrical distributors are ill-prepared. Indeed, according to a range of experts,
much of the industry does not seem to
have fully grasped how much of a seismic shift e-commerce represents. Far
from just another IT add-on, standing
up, fully functional e-commerce platforms will necessitate a marked change
in company business models—if not a
complete transformation—to one that is
far more customer centric than what has
succeeded until now.
“For the wholesale distribution space
and for B2B in general, everybody’s second choice is Amazon at this point.
Everybody’s going to use that as a reference price—and those that don’t have
the ability to actually offer something
similar that can go toe to toe with
Amazon will be left in the dust,” said
Rick Chavie, OmniCommerce vice president for Hybris ( hybris.com).
Industry laggards should be afraid,
very afraid, but Chavie does not detect
sufficient fear. “I found it rather stun-
ning, frankly,” he noted. “If companies
don’t get onboard quickly, it’s going to
be a big threat in terms of other compa-
nies either growing into their space or
acquiring the ones that can’t keep up.”
This is, of course, a clear and pres-
ent threat for virtually all businesses.
Among the key findings of a joint MIT
Sloan Management Review and Cap-
gemini Consulting survey, conducted
last year among more than 1,500 execu-
tives: 78% said achieving—not just
starting—digital transformation within
the next two years was critical to their
For electrical distributors, compelling
evidence of this growing threat—as well
as the opportunities for those meeting
the challenges head-on—is already in
plain sight. In a word: Grainger.
Even as the Chicago-based firm
stood up its new enterprise platform—
launched at the end of 2013 after three
years in gestation—its online sales doubled in the interim from $1.5 billion
to approximately $3 billion. (Grainger
is the 15th largest North American
e-retailer.) That helped boost overall
sales to $9.4 billion from $7.5 billion in
2010. Roughly 25% of total sales came
from online in 2010; by 2013 that share
rose to 33%, and with all U.S. customers
now migrated to the new platform, that
percentage is sure to rise.
Achievements like this have hardly
gone unnoticed, and there is growing
interest in juicing e-commerce channels.
In a recent x Tuple ( xtuple.com) survey
of a range of manufacturers, virtually all
50 respondents said they would like to
boost online sales to a quarter of the
total—from an average of just about 5%,
reported Rick Murchake, a company
Four sites that work
E-commerce has entered its
“no nonsense” phase. Those
flashy graphics included for no
other reason but to dazzle are
banished. Added are comprehensive virtual catalogs with great
pictorials, easy-to-use payment
options, and complete corporate
contact data. Electrical distributors are on the train, and in recent years many have launched
sites; here’s a look at four.
• Brook Electrical Supply.
Dana Mavros, president of this
Addison, Illinois-based distributorship, has big e-commerce
ambitions—and the corporate
power to make them happen.
Backed by Sonepar, Brook Electrical overhauled its online store
and in April 2014 released a mobile app.
The app complements Brook’s
new web store: a full-product virtual catalog complete with spec
sheets, availability data, and 24-
hour access. But what takes the
Brook site to the next level are
the extras, including the ability to
create multiple shopping lists for
ease of search and organization
on either a personal, company,
or public site as determined by
the user. Customers can also
create an instant account and
pay by credit card—an option
open to both established customers and new ones.
“The Brook web store is cutting edge,” Mavros said. “It has
an intuitive search engine that
customizes searches to customer
history, right down to product history and price. It can search by
product name, code, and slang
and brand names and has the
ability to manage job quotations.
There’s also a feature called
eLink’, which channels purchase
orders straight into the systems
and provides a confirmation of
the order in 90 seconds. Customers enjoy full visibility as well.
Amazon has changed the world, certainly the
world of selling. First in retail, where its main site now
hosts more than 250 million products, and more recently
through the launch of Amazon Supply, which offers a
swelling inventory of 1. 4 million products for industry
and business. Amazon’s move into office and business
supplies reflects unmet need that the behemoth identified in these markets, and early indications are its
aim is still unfailing. A late March spot check revealed
Amazon offering, in its industrial electrical channel,
82,332 products grouped into 75,993 families. Welcome
to the brave new world of e-commerce.