More than in other product categories, large distributors have a bigger base in electrical products e-commerce than smaller companies, a new study finds. It ranks Grainger as No. 1, followed by Rexel and Global Industrial.

Big electrical distributors are going online with e-commerce, but many smaller ones are not yet plugged in. And even those that are online must still find a way to provide their B2B customers a fully developed e-commerce experience, according to new data from e-commerce credit services company Apruve Inc.

In a recent study of more than 230 distributors of electrical products, Apruve broke out the features and performance metrics of their e-commerce sites. The distributors in the study sell products ranging from maintenance, repair and operations products, such as replacement lamps, portable cords, wiring devices, to more technical products including programmable logic controllers, variable-speed drives and power monitoring systems.

Based on a criteria of user experience, marketing and website features, Apruve rated W.W. Grainger Inc. as the top e-commerce site among electrical distributors. Based on the highest possible rating of 300, Grainger scored 245.

Grainger was followed by Rexel USA, a business unit of Paris-based Rexel Group, which operates through a network of 2,000 branches in 26 countries, and Global Industrial, a part of Systemax Inc. Rexel scored 226.4; Global Industrial, 215.9.

The next seven ranked among the top 10, with their ratings:

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  • French Gerleman, 201.5;
  • State Electric Supply Co., 201.3;
  • Allied Wire & Cable, 201.1;
  • United Electric Supply Co., 200.2;
  • Granite City Electric, 200.0;
  • HD Supply, 199.2;
  • Villa Lighting Supply, 198.8.

The Apruve research reveals that only 42% of electrical distributors have an e-commerce site and far fewer companies have a mobile app. Among those with an e-commerce site:

  • 15% have a mobile app;
  • 24% let buyers place bulk orders or quick reorders;
  • 24% let buyers “punch out” from e-procurement software to purchase products on a distributor’s site.
  • 58% built their site with responsive design, which automatically renders web content to fit any desktop or mobile screen;
  • 57% offer a credit application to customers;
  • 33% require customers to log in to see certain products and pricing or use more custom purchasing tools.

The study notes that many distributors offer only restricted access to their e-commerce site, which Apruve refers to as a portal open only to customers with registered accounts. “These companies have an active e-commerce site but are typically locked from the general public unless you have a pre-established account,” Apruve says. “In the process of locking their site, they improve the buying process for current customers, but consequently, limit their SEO capability and create an enormous amount of sales friction for any new buyer.” SEO, or search engine optimization, is a method of design web content to make a site appear high up in internet search results

“Taking into consideration that 93% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when they know what to order, the e-commerce-focused companies are positioned the best for fast revenue growth,” Apruve says.

Matt Osborn, senior marketing manager at Apruve, says the study of electrical distributors shows a “huge disconnect” between large and small distributors in their e-commerce capabilities, as compared with other groups of distributors. In addition to electrical products, Apruve has also produced surveys and rankings of distributors in the fields of IT hardware, office supplies, industrial products, medical supplies and janitorial/sanitation products. Among the results of its other rankings, Amazon.com ranked highest among office supplies distributors and Grainger topped the industrial products list.

As an example of how it scored distributors, Apruve gave Global Industrial, which carries more than 1 million industrial, material handling and business products, high marks for its product and price transparency. “Global Industrial actively showcases information that many websites hide from the general user,” Apruve says. “They present a site visitor with standard and volume pricing along with product availability.”

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