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Hey, Where’s My Order?! Part 1

One would think that we all know about the wonders and power of the internet when it comes to greasing the wheels of commerce.  However, a recent Modern Distribution Management report, The Distributor Marketing Imperative (subscription required), found that only about 50 percent of midmarket wholesale distributors have true eCommerce capabilities.  Moreover, the research concludes that distributors that engage in multi-channel sales achieve better results than those that rely solely on conventional inbound or outbound channels.  If that’s not enough, technology is expanding to provide innovative distributors with even more competitive advantage; for example, mobile applications that provide ERP access and support field sales and service – this will be discussed in the next installment.  

It may not sound like it (and depending on your business it may not be), but knowing how many times your phone rings because of simple order inquiries is an important question (and if it isn’t today it will be some day if your business is growing).  Don’t get me wrong, talking to customers is great, but aren’t there better things we could be doing than confirming the status of an order?  Consider on hold wait times and warehouse constraints.  Any unnecessary call volume creates a bottleneck for customers waiting (or not) to buy, may put a strain on warehouse operations by squeezing the window in which priority orders can be shipped and likely has adverse effects on warehouse morale, and so on.

I like it when I see the Netflix email telling me which movie in my cue is on its way to me, just as I like it when an email lets me know when something I’ve ordered online will soon be arriving.  Not that I spend much time thinking about the former, but the latter gives me piece of mind that I’ll have that birthday gift for so and so in time and won’t have to take time out of my day to make phone calls to track it down.  Your customers, unless they have a lot of time on their hands, are the same way.  They have people to please and don’t like to wonder about their ability to do so.  As much as you like it when they call, they, too, have better things they could be doing.  And with advances in technology there is no reason why they should have to.  You can communicate with customers as seamlessly as Netflix or any other big name internet retail or distribution outfit.  Moreover, you can do it quite affordably when you consider all of the hard and soft benefits.

Epicor eCommerce can provide you with this level of sophistication and beyond.  What if your customers could view their entire order history online, or look up the technical details of a product on a website that was created after the dotcom boom and bust?  Think rich media content or syndicated content to keep things fresh.  Imagine a site that is easy to manage and being able to charge for marketing through your website.  Imagine if sixty percent of your orders came in online and how much call center expense that could reduce.  What if you killed the fax order entirely?  If you trim your full-time equivalents by just four you’ll likely cut a hundred thousand or more from payroll annually…or better yet retain and promote the performers to focus on activities that can generate more revenue for the business.

Some of you might be saying, “Our industry is full of curmudgeons who don’t use the internet, or we prefer the personal touch of direct communication.”  Regardless, of whether or not this is actually true, you will no doubt have to train your customers and provide a web environment that is easy to use.  But it can be done and must be done because the next wave of workers in every industry will be younger and will expect to use the internet.  Where will you be then?   This happened in the bicycle industry that I used to work in.  When the distributor I then worked for launched its website, many retailers balked and we initially had about a ten percent adoption rate.  But that number steadily grew and within five years, more than half of the company’s orders were coming in via the web.  We also took share from competitors because the industry had changed that fast once it realized how convenient it was to build an order on-line with a cold beer in hand after brick-and-mortar retail hours had ended. 

So this is about more than being able to provide customers with options today; it is about keeping up with the Joneses technology-wise.  In any industry, it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine the laggard who still refuses to set up an eStorefront someday wondering where the orders are.

Posted by Michael Tatara, Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor

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