When electronics distributor Premier Farnell decided to relaunch its e-commerce technology platform a few years ago, it set a lofty goal. “Our goal was to hit online as 70% of total sales,” Matt Clark, global head and vice president of e-commerce and digital marketing, said at a recent seminar on business-to-business e-commerce strategies.
Four years later, Premier Farnell hasn’t quite hit that number, but it’s getting close. E-commerce, once a small fraction of total sales, now accounts for more than 50% of the company’s $1 billion in sales—and that percentage continues to grow, Clark said.
Clark explained several elements of Premier Farnell’s e-commerce strategy at the B2BecNews Executive Seminar on April 27 in Chicago. The seminar, which also featured speakers from several other manufacturers and distributors, was the first in a series of B2BecWorld executive seminars produced by B2BecNews publisher Vertical Web Media.
Premier Farnell stocks about 600,000 products representing 3,000 manufacturing brands. It operates 48 e-commerce sites worldwide, accommodating 27 languages, under the brands Newark.com and Farnell.com. Its e-commerce sites connect to element14.com, the company’s community and informational portal for more than 475,000 electronics engineers registered on the site.
The website re-platforming project replaced the company’s “old spaghetti code” that had underpinned three separate technology platforms for websites across North America, Europe and Asia, Clark said. Those sites were difficult to manage and provide customers with a poor online buying experience, he added. After pushing a lot of its customers to buy on those websites, customers expressed frustration, sales slowed and Premier Farnell lost “many good team members,” Clark said.
Under the new system, all of Premier Farnell’s websites worldwide now run on a single IBM WebSphere e-commerce platform. The change has improved website page-loading speed and made it easier for Premier Farnell to manage and personalize content across its network of sites.
“We focused on fundamentals,” Clark said. That meant improving basic website features like site search, product content and overall usability.
The improved site search, for example, included an updated search algorithm and a reworked product information taxonomy to improve both on-site searches and external searches on the internet for Premier Farnell’s large number of products.
To provide richer product content, Premier Farnell acquired and updated more product images and descriptions from its suppliers as well as developed such content in-house; it uploaded more high-resolution and 360-degree images, videos and 3-D computer-aided design files; and it posted more product reviews and other content generated by customers and industry experts. In a development that serves customers placing orders for large, sophisticated and costly products, it lets customers enter a customized list of requirements, then receive a price quote within one business day.
To improve site usability, Premier Farnell reduced the number of clicks customers needed to find and purchase products; and it provided a guest checkout option for buyers who didn’t want to sign into an account.
Clark cautioned, however, that e-commerce strategies can get overly focused on online results alone and overlook how e-commerce fits in with a company’s overall business results and customer satisfaction.
In addition to technology and design upgrades, Premier Farnell also takes steps to ensure that its employees are happy and motivated. For example, it has allocated more travel for its staff to strengthen bonds both among employees and with external partners; provided more consistent employee training programs; and established “centers of excellence,” including a web analytics center in Bangalore, India.
“We can’t forget that we need to have fun,” Clark said.
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