Thanks to Amazon Business and other leading online B2B sellers, distributors face intense pressure to offer ecommerce experiences that please their customers and keep them loyal. There are many things distributors can do, but here are six crucial ones to compete in ecommerce, Lori McDonald of Brilliance Business Solutions writes.


Lori McDonald

As a distributor, you are experiencing intense disruption. Your business has existed for many years without the need for ecommerce. Times are changing. Consumer behavior has shifted expectations. At the very least, buyers want to get answers and place orders without having to talk on the phone. Not only has Amazon changed everyone’s expectation of how to purchase products, whether at home or at work, but Amazon and other digital leaders are also actively selling B2B products and eliminating the need for traditional distribution networks.

Distributors that want to survive—and thrive—need to offer commerce experiences that meet expectations for convenience and build value with buyers. But some companies pick platforms that meet some, but not all, of their needs and fail to set them up for long-term success. Here are six requirements we hear most often from distributors as they work to optimize their digital commerce.

1. Faceted Search

It’s more common than not for distributors to have tens of thousands of SKUs, creating a findability conundrum. For their digital commerce to be effective for their users, distributors need to provide faceted search to allow users to easily narrow the products they are looking for. Providing effective product search is critical to convert a visit into an order. The 2019 Reimagining Commerce report from Episerver found 43% of global online shoppers expect easy-to-use product search functions.

2. Customer-Level Pricing

Distributor ecommerce typically requires customer-level pricing. Pricing models can be rather complex. You may have custom pricing levels for certain customers, certain products that are only available to certain customers, or products that are only available in certain markets or can only be shipped to certain states. Pricing may also be dependent on the quantity of an item that is being purchased.


When looking for the right technology to support your digital commerce efforts, make sure there is a way to update pricing from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to enable start and end times for pricing as well as the ability to tailor pricing to the user based on their history with your company.

3. Account-Level Controls

When selling into a business, there are likely multiple buyers, departments and even locations that you are serving. Multiple people from the same business need to log in, and they may all need visibility to one another’s orders. Purchasing scenarios become even more complex when there are different payment types by account. One of your clients may purchase via Net 30 invoice terms with a credit limit of $10,000, while another client account may have to order via credit card. These account-level controls for users and for payment terms are an important requirement that you will need to address in your digital commerce platform.

4. Content – Tech Specs and Strategic Resources

Your buyers need quick access to spec sheets and technical product literature. You likely have many PDFs and specification data you need to be able to keep up-to-date and share in an easy way. Beyond specifications, you need to provide strategic online resources that explain how to evaluate your products and how to best use them after they buy. This content adds value and helps you stand out from your competition.

B2B distributors need more than a shopping cart to compete with Amazon; they need to drive experiences that make the customer want to come back. Accomplishing that requires an experience-centered digital platform that provides buyers what they need throughout their buying lifecycle.

5. Personalized Product Recommendations

I have seen distributors who are able to sell 40% more products to customers who move from buying offline to buying online because the buyers become aware of products they didn’t even know the distributor offered. Using machine learning to automatically drive smart product recommendations to customers is a path to growing your revenue with proven ROI.


Website experiences that you personalize with the right platform can:

  • Show related products on a product page;
  • Personalize featured products on the homepage;
  • Show additional products to consider when products are added into their shopping cart;
  • Individualize search results that are shown to users; and
  • Customize the products that are shown in marketing emails based on the shopper’s behavior.

While personalization can become a resource burden to small teams accustomed to manually creating rules for content delivery, platforms that use machine learning to make recommendations based on a person’s history and behavior can cut time and add value to the customer’s experience and the company’s financial bottom line. According to the previously mentioned report of 4,500-plus global online shoppers, 20% of respondents indicate they expect product recommendations based on their purchase/browse history. As we know, consumers bring those expectations to their business buying as well.

6. A Foundation for Transformation

If you are like many other distributors, you know the pain of being on a legacy system. It grows expensive to maintain over time and it makes it difficult to innovate and add new functionality. You need to pick an ecommerce platform that doesn’t become a legacy solution after five years. The reality is that basic shopping cart functionality has already started to become table stakes. It isn’t enough to simply sell products online; you also need to innovate around how to create digital experiences that meet the needs of your customers better than anyone else. Find a software platform that will enable you to do just that.

Your Long-Term Success

As you plan to improve your digital commerce experience, consider if the features above are important for your business. If so, short-list platforms that can address them. Ask questions around not only on the cost to deploy your solution, but also on the cost to keep your site current as new updates are released to the software. Your ability to scale and change as customer preferences change are dependent on the agility of your commerce platform. Your long-term success ultimately hinges on providing features that are expected today and your ability to innovate and invest in new features instead of spending time (and capital) to simply maintain the status quo.

Lori McDonald is president and CEO of Brilliance Business Solutions, a web design and development firm, and has more than 20 years of computer engineering and software development experience. Lori will speak during the B2B ecommerce track, June 28, at IRCE @ RetailX, where she will critique B2B ecommerce sites. Follow her on Twitter @lorimcd.