The distributor’s sales reps say its mobile app “changed their life.”

Executives from US Foods Inc., a distributor of more than 35,000 food products to hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other organizations, knew they had to make it easier for customers to order through the company’s web site or via mobile devices to stay competitive with rivals and grow its client base, says Jim Lyman, senior director of e-commerce systems.

Until US Foods underwent what Lyman calls a “digital transformation” a few years ago, its web site was “sluggish” with an overly complicated checkout process, he said during a presentation at B2B Online 2015, an annual conference for manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers.

To stay competitive and attract new customers, US Foods simplified the steps required to order online, and outfitted its 3,500-person sales force with mobile technology to take orders on the go, Lyman said.

The transformation started about three and a half years ago when the company deployed a US Foods mobile app for iPhones and iPad tablet computers. Instead of customers calling in to sales reps and asking when their delivery was due, nearly all of US Foods’ more than 110,000 active customers can now use the app to track truck deliveries themselves. As of press time, there have been more than 80,000 downloads of the mobile app. The app also lets sales reps place customers’ orders online from their tablets while on the road. Sales reps say that the mobile and online ordering system has “changed their life,” Lyman said.  

The digital transformation continued last year with a redesign of USFoods.com. The project was handled by in-house developers with design advice from Razorfish, a unit of Publicis Groupe that provides digital marketing and web development services. US Foods executives tailored the new design to give the site a more “business-to-consumer appeal,” Lyman said, by including more pictures, and increased white space. They also gave customers an easier way to place and manage their orders by combining in the checkout process the functions of the previous “Edit Lists” tab, where customers modified their orders, with the “Place an Order” tab that they clicked to make a purchase.

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“The web site is utilitarian, it saves time for customers,” Lyman said. “Customers can get on, place their order, and get off. Combined with our tablet and mobile app, customers can also edit or change their order wherever they are.”

Lyman declined to say what percentage of the company’s $22 billion in 2014 annual revenue was processed online, but says that a substantial number of customers now use the web site to order products.

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