A year ago, consumer electronics distributor Petra Industries set out to rebuild how it connects with its customers—the retailers that purchase its products ranging from car speakers and air compressors to home theater and home security systems—and give them the online purchasing experience they were demanding.
“We survey our customers regularly, so we had a good idea of what they wanted and how we could improve,” says Joshua Williams, director of digital and ecommerce marketing. “We had to go to the next level, and we planned to set a digital technology foundation for the next decade.”
The new ways it now serves its client retailers with a new ecommerce platform include: a faster way to onboard new customer accounts with approved credit, a more flexible and useful shopping cart, and a faster and more efficient order management and fulfillment system.
Petra is also working with an email marketing program more tightly integrated with customer records for personalized emails; it’s moving toward a site search application that filters results to customers’ interests; and it’s using a product information management system that provides more effective cross-selling with personalized product recommendations.
Goal: migrating nearly all customers to the web
For Petra, the new platform marks its first major overhaul of ecommerce technology it first deployed in 2009. After reviewing its digital commerce technology options, Petra in January 2019 deployed the OroCommerce platform, Commerce Cloud version, from Oro Inc.; the new website went live in September.
One of Petra’s overall goals is to get nearly 100% of its customers to place orders through its ecommerce site, up from about 60% today. Getting closer to 100% will take some work, Williams says, but he notes that the new platform provides a good base for migrating customers to the web.
“We’ve been focused on making improvements and fixing a few issues before we start to really push it out to our customers who are not buying online yet,” Williams says. He says he figures there will always be some customers who prefer to place orders directly with a sales rep, but Petra is also making digital applications, including mobile tools for checking customer order status and available inventory, to reps as well as customers.
“Oro is a good foundation to build out whatever we need on our ecommerce site,” Williams says. With the Commerce Cloud version, Oro hosts and maintains the website infrastructure.
The OroCommerce platform complements other technology developments Petra has made in the past year or so. In 2018, for example, it deployed a new web-based product information management system, or PIM, from Akeneo. The PIM is providing more detailed and accurate information, such as dimensions and color options, that its client retailers demand for making purchase decisions among Petra’s more than 15,000 SKUs, Williams says. Petra sources products from about 800 brands across 10 merchandise categories.
The OroCommerce platform integrates well with the Akeneo PIM as well as with other applications, Williams says. “Oro has an extensive suite of APIs that we use quite a bit to integrate with different applications,” he adds. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are sets of software instructions designed to provide an automatic exchange of data between disparate software applications.
A smoother way to register customers
But Petra also developed in-house its own data integration middleware that works with the Oro APIs to help the distributor build out a comprehensive commerce system.
For example, Petra is using its integration technology to connect its commerce platform to a Bectran customer credit management system from Bectran Inc. that it uses to register new online customers with approved credit. “Once our credit manager approves a customer, the system creates a customer account in our enterprise resource planning system and website login” application, Williams says.
Although it’s too soon to comment on any effect the Bectran integration is having on orders and sales, the system is providing a more consistent level of new customer sign-ups, he adds.
Other website improvements include a more flexible shopping cart, in which customers can create and save lists of commonly ordered products, then click the list to reorder the same products when needed.
Blending commerce and CRM
The new order management system is “extremely customizable,” Williams says, enabling Petra to set up such account services as automatically applying each customer’s preferred shipping method to each order. Petra is also set up to drop-ship orders on behalf of its client retailers.
Additionally, Petra is integrating its commerce platform with its Mailchimp email marketing system, which it uses to engage existing and prospective customers with order-tracking information and promotional campaigns.
Going forward, Petra is planning additional upgrades. One will replace its legacy site search with Oro’s built-in search tool, which provides for stronger integration with product data for more relevant search results, Williams says.
Petra’s also planning to deploy Oro’s CRM software, which is tightly integrated with OroCommerce, he adds. One advantage of using the CRM system, he says, will be knowing that a customer typically places an order, say, every 25 days.
“We’ll set up a task in Oro to, say, on Day 20, let our sales rep know this customer’s order is coming soon.” The rep could then email the customer with relevant information on related products and promotions.
Williams didn’t comment on the cost of deploying its OroCommerce platform.
Motti Danino, chief operating officer of Oro, says the annual licensing fee for Oro Enterprise starts at $45,000 per year for an on-premise version or $55,000 for the cloud-based version. An average implementation cost runs about $300,000, with annual maintenance costs starting at about “a few thousand per month,” he adds.
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