When MSC Industrial Supply and Crescent Electric Co. gather customer feedback, they get an earful that helps to improve their e-commerce sites and boost online sales.

Ask B2B buyers what they think and want, and they usually will give an earful.

For two distributors out to improve their e-commerce operations, getting an earful from clients and customers is precisely what they want.

The main driver behind the mobile app was to give our customers more flexibility as they conduct their business and enhance their overall experience with Crescent Electric.
Steven Annese, director of e-business and commerce
Crescent Electric Supply Co.

MSC Industrial Supply Co., which carries a broad selection of more than 1 million metalworking tools and maintenance, repair and operations products that business customers purchase to manage their facilities, and Crescent Electric Supply Co., a 99-year old supplier of electrical hardware, each use customer feedback to fix problems, try out new concepts and troubleshoot new features for their B2B e-commerce site.

Customer comments help redesign Cesco.com

Two years ago, Crescent scrapped an old e-commerce site built on technology from SAP Hybris and instead began to rebuild Cesco.com on an internal platform from Home Products Inc., a company Crescent had acquired earlier. “The older Hybris platform was antiquated,” says Crescent director of e-business and commerce Steven Annese.

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But prior to relaunching the site, Crescent, which has annual sales of about $1.5 billion and more than 2,000 employees, filtered through years of customer comments and complaints and surveyed 100 long-standing customers to ascertain their priorities and what they wanted for better tools and a user experience.

The top comment and complaint: Customers said they needed faster and easier ways to find and purchase products on Cesco.com, which offers 550,000 items ranging from circuit breakers and fuses to wiring devices and power distribution products.

Steven Annese, director of e-business and commerce, Crescent Electrical Supply Co.

Crescent e-commerce and sales managers sent 100 existing customers a survey listing various tools, web pages and account management features on Cesco.com and asked them to rate their level of satisfaction with each feature. Crescent mangers then used the feedback to develop the list of priorities in a website and e-commerce systems redesign. “It gave us a road map,” Annese says.

With customer feedback as a starting point, Crescent rebuilt Cesco.com to include better site search. Now customers can search by specific keywords and filter results for such products as light bulbs by criteria including category, finish, manufacturer, style and bulb length, width and height. Site search also now serves up pages with stock availability and product specifications.

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Feedback leads to a more useful mobile app

Crescent also took a cue from customer feedback to redesign its mobile app with responsive design which renders the same content across multiple devices. Mobile visits now account for about 46% (or 76,360 visits) of Crescent’s total monthly average traffic of about 166,000 visits, according to website measurement firm SimilarWeb.com.

With access through the mobile app, Crescent customers wanted the same features and functions available on the desktop site. “Job managers on the floor wanted an app to search and place an order, and then go back to their office to manage their account” on their desktop, Annese says.

Crescent relaunched its Google and Apple versions of its app based on customer feedback in 2016. The redesign features such upgrades as barcode scanning, which lets customers quickly and accurately add products to their shopping cart without having to type in part numbers, Annese says. The app also lets customers submit a product image to get help from a customer service agent in identifying or cross-referencing a product. Crescent went on to use additional buyer feedback to update the redesigned app, which now lets customers search by voice, use express checkout, reorder products and schedule a pickup at a Crescent distribution center or delivery by a Crescent truck—the same features available on the desktop site.

The app, which Crescent built with help from mobile web design and development services provider Unbound Commerce, also gives mobile buyers tools to check on open orders, view previous orders, track shipments and view billing information.

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Crescent is reticent to deliver many e-commerce specifics such as annual sales, but customer feedback was essential in helping the distributor develop a better e-commerce—and mobile—experience for customers. “The main driver behind the mobile app was to give our customers more flexibility as they conduct their business and enhance their overall experience with Crescent Electric,” Annese says.

MSC learns from a customer panel

Mike Roth, senior director, e-commerce, MSC Industrial Supply Co.

Some companies with B2B e-commerce sites only use customer feedback tools for a specific topic or project. But a big reason MSCDirect.com, the B2B website of MSC Industrial Supply, continues to grow and evolve is because MSC has a standing panel of 300 long-term customers it surveys frequently on e-commerce, says senior director of e-commerce Mike Roth.

MSC, which launched e-commerce in 2000 and today does about 60% of all sales digitally, assembled its customer feedback panel about 18 months ago. MSC built a feedback link into the account management tools of customers on the panel, Roth says.

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The panel regularly sends in comments and complaints. The panel is also the audience MSC e-commerce and sales managers use to A/B test new website features.

Developing buyer personas

Lately, MSC has used feedback from the panel to build specific buyer “personas” or profiles that designers and programmers combine with analytics results to predict and serve up more specific product recommendations to repeat buyers. “It helps us know exactly what they want,” Roth says.

MSC has also used feedback from A/B tests  to refine such site search functions as faster-find, order-by-product-number and auto-spelling of search terms, also known as type-ahead search. In addition, it has such feedback to refine such site features as the ability to order  multiple products at the same time for multiple dimensions.

Next up is getting panel feedback on ways to more easily search for MRO products by image. “We take feedback from the panel seriously,” Roth says.

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