Construction contractors—those working with concrete and other building materials—were dead last in a study last year by Harvard Business Review of how 20 industries were digitally transforming their operations.
Nonetheless, HD Supply Construction & Industrial-White Cap, a provider of building supplies, is finding ways to bring contractors into e-commerce, Ian Heller, vice president, marketing and e-business, said in a presentation during the B2B Workshop at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2015 in Chicago last week.
Total sales for HD Supply Construction & Industrial-White Cap, were $1.5 billion last year, up 15% from $1.3 billion in 2013. The company sells through a business-to-business e-commerce site at WhiteCap.com, and through 156 physical branches across 31 states. It also channels sales through 455 outside account managers. It provides specialty hardware, tools, safety equipment and safety products for mid-sized to large contractors.
Heller said the company, a unit of industrial products distributor HD Supply Inc., is using new mobile and desktop e-commerce offerings to bring more customer orders online, as construction personnel and managers are using new online buying tools to get what they need, when and where they need it on job sites. The company does not break out online sales.
But HD Supply Construction & Industrial’s traditional customer base, and its manner of processing many orders through account managers, have made it difficult to move customers into ordering online, Heller said.
He cited the most notable challenges:
A highly mobile customer base located on job sites;
Many purchases were made via a bidding process;
Many sales were handled by HD Supply’s account managers;
Most contractors are small business;
HD Supply delivers most orders on its own trucks to job sites.
tThe company sought to address these challenges with a mobile site to complement its transactional web site, Heller said. The mobile site lets buyers browse among more than 20 product categories—including fasteners, building materials, electrical supplies and power tools—and arrange for delivery at specific job site locations and times, and arrange for copies of orders and order confirmations to be routed to supervisors and accounts payable personnel at the customer’s company. The site also routes those documents to account managers at HD Supply, who can check if the customer ordered all that it needed.
The mobile site is also designed to be easy to navigate by the small businesses who buy from HD Supply. It offers such features as a Help section where customers learn how to click to pay online invoices or to apply online for a credit application. Other features include a mobile calculator for determining the amount of price of concrete needed on a job site.
To make buying easier for customers, HD Supply’s account managers can set up product lists for each customer based on their business and purchasing history. Customers can purchase quickly from lists of frequently purchased items.
Customers can also enter purchase order numbers to maintain records in their financial management systems, and instantly view running totals of the numbers of SKUs ordered and expenses.
Customers also receive order confirmations via e-mail, with copies sent as necessary to such additional customer personnel as accounts payable managers and project managers as well the buyer;
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