• President for North America and Europe, John Caplan, describes three types of e-commerce platforms: Marketplace, SaaS, and Wholesaler / Retailer.
• When developing a platform plan, start with the most basic things: what do you want to sell through e-commerce and who do you want to buy it from?
• The right strategy can lead to the development of global reach for new customers.
If you haven’t embarked on your digital transformation journey by switching to an ecommerce platform, now is the time. That was John Caplan’s advice from Alibaba.com recently when he spoke at ISA21, the annual conference of the Industrial Supply Association. The president of Alibaba.com in North America and Europe shared best practices and tips for finding the right kind of ecommerce platform.
Caplan noted that global B2B e-commerce is six times larger ($ 23.9 trillion) than B2C e-commerce ($ 3.8 trillion) and added that the onset of the pandemic has accelerated the need for platforms. – electronic commerce forms. “By using e-commerce, industrial wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors are able to attract more customers, work more effectively with those customers, and continue to move their inventory and move their products on their own terms.” , did he declare. “This is really important because in a digital environment, in an individual relationship with your customers, you can manage precisely how you want to price, sell and promote the products you offer.”
Through an e-commerce platform, distributors can develop best practices while connecting with their customers through online storefronts, which is especially important during the shelter-in-place and quarantine days of the pandemic. “B2B e-commerce can give any business, large or even small, a competitive advantage,” said Caplan. “Over the past 13 months, we have seen how much faster and faster the shift from the traditional method, the analog method, to businesses to an even more digital method.”
Thinking about when a customer searches for a distributor’s name online, Caplan said it makes sure there is fluidity between the brand across different e-commerce channels as well as in third-party markets. Ensuring consistency of brand, product photos and content across all platforms is critical, he said.
Three types of e-commerce platforms
Not all ecommerce platforms are created equal, according to Caplan, and distributors can perform due diligence to find the best fit for them. Caplan highlighted three different options.
The first was a marketplace e-commerce platform, like Alibaba.com. A marketplace e-commerce platform has an annual membership fee and can provide marketing for its distributor, manufacturer, or wholesaler customers.
“Membership in our platform includes all the tools you need for the online storefront of the world’s largest B2B trade show. It’s the easiest way to think about it. … There are 20 million people buying on the platform and you have a storefront. You have access to logistics and payment terms and all kinds of ingredients you need for massive success. And of course you get inquiries from buyers, ”he said.
The second e-commerce platform Caplan talked about was the software-as-a-service model. The SaaS e-commerce platform includes membership packages, digital storefronts, and access to value-added tools. “It gives you the tools to build your online store, but it doesn’t meet customer demand,” Caplan said. “All the marketing to attract customers is up to you. These platforms have amazing customization options. You can design your storefront, set up your photos, and do whatever jazz you want. “
The third e-commerce platform is the wholesaler or retailer model. The prime example of this ecommerce platform is Amazon. Companies like Amazon have their own inventory and inventory from third-party sellers. Amazon is a B2C platform that owns customer data. “It’s a channel that’s good at reaching some customers, but I’d be careful not to use it as your only digital strategy. All of this data that they collect about customer preferences, behaviors and trends, they use that information to inform about how they serve their customers, ”he said.
Caplan spoke with Scott Vaughn, president of BRAH Electric Mfg. During the presentation. Vaughn said his company – an aftermarket electrical parts, manufacturing and distribution company – uses a combination of eBay, Amazon and Alibaba. “Each of them has totally different goals, the types of customers you’re going to get and the type of orders you’re going to get,” said Vaughn.
Vaughn said his company’s eBay sales tend to be for older, obsolete products for industrial customers, while Amazon generates business for newer residential products that include fast shipping with Prime. Alibaba enables BRUH to gain greater exposure nationally and internationally, while leveraging data provided by Alibaba.
Tips for a successful e-commerce platform
Some retailers may be reluctant to switch to a full e-commerce platform, as the rush to get websites up and running during the pandemic has often failed to meet customer expectations. “There is so much going into digital, and there are a lot of people faking it,” Vaughn explained. “There are so many pop-up websites that I think it really messed with people’s confidence in general. There is a lot of skepticism when people shop online. So this is an obstacle that you have to overcome.
Caplan said it’s important to start with the basics. Think about what products a distributor wants to sell on their e-commerce platform and who the potential customers would be. In addition to defining the types of products to sell, distributors can also determine whether they want to sell custom or finished products and whether they want to take a B2B or B2C approach.
Caplan said he spends a lot of time with CEOs going over the basics of communicating with their customers in an online environment and marketing their products appropriately. “Do you communicate clearly? Do you have the photos you need? Can you use video to bring to life the unique attributes of your business, your customer service, the service plans you offer and the history of the company, ”Caplan said of his checklist for the launch of an electronic commerce platform. “The more authentically you can communicate what you sell, who you are and how you do business, the more effective the online channel will be for you.
“Things like payments, financing and photography, video, all that work is really important. But at the end of the day, the more open you are, the more engaged you are and the more curious you are to learn this new way of engaging customers, the more effective you will be at growing your business. “
In addition to images with multiple angles of a product, Vaughn of BRUH said it’s also important to provide accurate descriptions, especially when customers are shopping online.
“For your front-end ecommerce, it’s all about consumer confidence,” Vaughn said. “How do you present it? It’s not just a good description or a track record and a solid price tag. There is so much more to be done in order to be successful in e-commerce. You need to put yourself in the customers’ shoes when you don’t have the opportunity to go to the counter and deal with the representative, – hold this product in your hand and compare it to the one you just took out a service. You have to provide anything you can imagine to enable you to buy something that you don’t know. “
Vaughn also said that running a successful e-commerce site requires constant iterations of search terms, descriptions, photos, and touchpoints on various social media sites. “For us, we’re constantly upgrading and updating our database and front-end website,” said Vaughn. “We sell direct replacement components. It’s really about making sure we have all the right language in there, so that when the consumer goes to look for a product that they might not have the part number, they will find it when they do. it will do a general search. Make sure your content is well described. “
The market advantage that distributors have with e-commerce is being able to provide customer services to their buyers. “On Alibaba.com, you sell physical goods. This is what trades on our platform, ”said Caplan. “But when a customer comes to Alibaba.com and requests a quote, they receive offers from several different suppliers. Often the reason you receive the order is that you have a department that provides after-sales support. I think distributors are essential because the people who are experts in this type of service are really the most important value proposition in the B2B supply chain. It is not always the cheapest price. But it’s a fair price, with great service and high quality products. “