How distributors can leverage e-catalogs for aftermarket success

Updated Jul 14, 2022

Employees looking at computer

Distributors have a multitude of complex products that have traditionally been made available in a physical parts catalog.

But as the industry shifts digitally, customers are searching for a way to identify the part they need online. They don’t want to call someone and then have that person rifle through pages of a physical catalog. That’s where the electronic parts catalog comes in. An e-catalog gives customers up-to-date information, increases efficiency, and simplifies the purchasing process. It transforms the online experience, and the best part is distributors already have the information they need to implement one.

The information is already available

Distributors and aftermarket organizations possess massive amounts of data and information about their products. Whether from bills of materials stored in the ERP system or technical publications manuals, this information is readily available and can be used to create an e-catalog. The engineering department will also likely have 2D and/or 3D assembly drawings that can be repurposed to create a richer interactive online experience. Customers will be able to select a part from a visual assembly to get the right part number and product information to confidently identify what needs to be quoted or ordered.

If all of this data is already in an ERP system, it can seamlessly integrate into a digital solution so that customers don’t need to worry about supersession, obsolescence or ordering the wrong part. So while this process may seem complicated, distributors already possess the tools they need to make it a success. It’s about leveraging these tools, recognizing that this is what buyers want and taking the steps to make it a reality.

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Provide up-to-date information

Distribution customers don’t have time to waste when they want to make a purchase. In their most urgent times, they need parts quickly and they want the most effortless way possible to get them. A digital parts catalog provides up-to-date information about both price and availability. There’s no more having to call or email to find out if something is available or what it costs. If the price changes on something, that information is automatically updated and prevents potential errors or misunderstandings. All the information they could need is available instantly and at their fingertips.

This is becoming increasingly vital as more and more buyers seek out digital experiences. A lot of times, they won’t even make that call anymore. They’ll check online first, and if a distributor doesn’t have the information they want, they won’t hesitate to find one that does.

Improved transparency

Customers want to know what’s going on when they make a purchase. An e-catalog accompanied with an e-commerce platform gives insights into the status of an order, along with the tracking information. Creating this transparent buying experience is a critical way to boost customer satisfaction. There’s no more confusion about when an order has shipped or if it’s available, and that leads to more loyalty and repeat purchases.

Increase efficiency

One of the most considerable impacts an e-catalog makes is on efficiency. What used to eat up hours of time for call center employees to identify the right product, can now be done by customers in seconds. This frees those employees up to work on higher value-adding activities. It also reduces many costly errors leading to fewer returns because the buyer has access to the specific information for the equipment they own and operate.

Digital catalogs improve efficiency for customers too. Their equipment will have less downtime because they can access parts information faster, and there’s a lower chance something will go wrong along the way. It’s a win-win for every member of the supply chain and bolsters the aftermarket potential of distributors.

The value of e-catalogs

Providing customers with a digital catalog can be a powerful shift in the customer experience. It improves the parts identification and ordering process, increases efficiency and transparency, all while decreasing errors. And distributors already have the information they need to make implementation easier. It’s time to shift to an interactive digital bill of materials catalog giving customers a digital experience that will keep them coming back for years to come.

Kris Harrington is the CEO of GenAlpha Technologies.  During her time with OEMs in the mining industry, Kris and the other founders of GenAlpha saw a need to find a better way for B2B brands in manufacturing to do business.  This led to the development of an eCommerce solution for manufacturers and distributors who want to grow their business online.  For more than 10 years, the experienced team at GenAlpha Technologies has been helping equipment manufacturers repurpose their bills of materials, 2D and 3D engineering data to make it easier for customers to safely identify and purchase parts.

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