Making a go of e-commerce

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Updated Oct 19, 2016

The opportunities for e-commerce success in the independent aftermarket are immense, Dick Friedman says. Sure, there are threats, too. Lots of them, in fact. But in presenting Monday and Tuesday at the VIPAR Heavy Duty Annual Business Conference in Orlando, Friedman made it clear that the opportunities presented by e-commerce are worthy enough for distributors to still give them a go.

Friedman, president at General Business Consultants, says it is self-evident that e-commerce sales platforms allow distributors to reach new customers. (When anyone from anywhere can see your inventory, Friedman says you’re going to make new sales.) But when developed as part of a comprehensive business and sales plan, Friedman says e-commerce can do much more.

E-commerce allows distributors to better inform customers. Whether through online catalogs or full sales sites, Friedman says distributors and suppliers willing to provide detailed product descriptions and specifications online can educate their customers on their needs without ever leaving the store. This information not only allows customers to make purchases without contacting a distributor, but it also entices them to return to the website (or a store) in the future when they have other questions about other part needs. Friedman describes this as a natural evolution of the consultative selling approach.

That said, Friedman says it’s imperative that the content you provide is your own. Product information copied by a distributor from supplier websites will be viewed as spam by search engines (Google, etc.) and will weaken the ability of a distributor’s website and product catalog to be found by customers.

Additionally, Friedman says e-commerce allows distributors to harvest a wealth of customer data. Using cloud-based or (more expensive) licensed software, distributors can track customers’ search and buying patterns, and use that data to help sales people approach customers and/or develop marketing platforms customized to customers’ needs.

E-commerce also can ingratiate distributors with younger customers and fleet purchasing managers who are comfortable operating online.

As for e-commerce’s threats, Friedman says those will exist whether a distributor enters the fray or not. Marketplaces like Amazon Business and Alibaba are going to keep selling truck parts and accessories regardless of what the traditional distribution channel does. Other distributors are going to get into the action as well.

Which means customers are sure to follow. And Friedman, paraphrasing customers, says it’s clear what that means.

“If all the sellers are selling there, I might as well buy there,” he says.

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