Univar looks for sustainable growth with e-commerce platform
Global chemicals distributor Univar Inc. is mixing it up more with digital commerce—and it’s starting to pay off, executives say.
The company’s e-commerce platform, at MyUnivar.com, has produced steady increases in web traffic since it relaunched a year ago, as customers use it to access documents and place and track orders from any desktop or mobile device, David Jukes, president and CEO, says.
“We’re really pushing digital commerce,” adds Steve Martinez, senior director of digital commerce. “It’s the only way we’re going to scale and hit our goals.”
Univar, based in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, distributes worldwide “specialty and basic” chemicals used in industrial and consumer products from a network of more than 8,000 suppliers. It also has been increasing training programs for its worldwide network of sale agents, “with the goal of achieving sustainable, double-digit growth,” Jukes said on a conference call in May about Univar’s first-quarter financials.
The platform benefits Univar and their customers
Univar doesn’t break out e-commerce revenue, but the combination of a stronger digital commerce operation and a more effective sales force has helped it to produce sharply improved financial results in the past year. For the first quarter ended March 31, net sales grew 8.0% to $2.16 billion from $2.0 billion a year earlier, as net income nearly tripled to $65.4 million from $22.6 million.
Univar attributes much of the surge in net income to a sharp drop in operating costs. Part of the contributor to that drop is the self-service ability that MyUnivar.com provides to let customers place orders and download important documents—such as safety data sheets required for safe use of chemicalswithout having to go through a sales rep during business hours.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of orders placed outside of standard business operating hours,” Jukes says.
MyUnivar.com, built on the CloudCraze e-commerce platform from Salesforce.com Inc., was designed with such features as two-click re-ordering, personalized product recommendations and instant downloads of SDS documents to expedite service for customers as well as purchasing. “We’ve made things like SDS sheets available 24/7 online that customers formerly had to wait for,” Martinez says.
When customers log into MyUnivar.com, they often see alerts that recommend purchases of items based on their past buying activity. “If a customer is off-cadence from their ordering pattern, we say, ‘You might want to place an order for this.’ It saves them time from having to return and order,” Martinez says.
E-commerce platforms don’t come easy, though
While building online features that make online buying easier for customers, Univar also is using its digital commerce platform to compile data on customer demand and share that information with its suppliers, Jukes says. “We’re developing a suite of digital tools to help drive demand, as well as connect supplier to the data we capture in the marketplace,” he says.
The CloudCraze platform, which operates as part of the Salesforce Commerce Cloud software suite, was deployed in eight weeks, replacing a legacy platform that would have taken more time and cost to upgrade, Martinez says. Univar also runs Salesforce CRM software, which integrates with CommerceCloud.
Salesforce doesn’t publicly display the cost of deploying Commerce Cloud, noting that pricing depends on the features and order volume associated with each client’s e-commerce site.
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