For a distributor with a 70-year history of selling industrial products and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supplies, Global Industrial has come a long as the flagship brand of a company with nearly $1 billion in sales, with more than half of its customer orders placed online.
It’s now building on a proactive approach to improving the customer experience both online and offline, using a mix of home-grown and commercial digital technology to better identify and meet customer needs. With a new branding tagline—“We Can Supply That”—Global Industrial, the flagship brand of Systemax Inc., is positioning itself to build on a surge in third-quarter sales as it adjusts to recent and expected market changes driven by the pandemic, executives say.
“Customers’ momentum is increasing the percentage of sales through ecommerce, so we’re continuing to evolve the business based on what the customer wants,” Systemax CEO Barry Litwin says, adding, “We’re making the online buying experience more welcoming to customers, with more of a consumer feel to it. We’re finding that more and more customers, once they get enough information online, take their purchase all the way through the online process” instead of placing a final order with a sales agent.
An answer to ‘Where’s my order?’
Among its expanded developments designed to improve the online buying experience: using analytics software to monitor online customer activity from purchase through fulfillment and delivery and deploying frequent voice-of-customer online surveys to elicit customer feedback.
These efforts have helped Global Industrial to identify where it needed to improve service—for example, leading to an improved shipment-tracking system designed to provide multiple order-status alerts via the website and mobile text messages, Litwin says.
At the same time, the distributor is improving its network of distribution centers, including the addition of its DeSoto, Texas, facility in 2019. Global Industrial also operates distribution centers in Buford, Georgia; Las Vegas; Robbinsville, New Jersey; Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and two in Canada.
“The new Global Industrial brand reflects our unwavering commitment to provide an exceptional end-to-end purchase, service and delivery experience to customers,” says Klaus Werner, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Systemax.
Modifying product lines for COVID
Gathering customer feedback and a sharpened focus on pandemic-related needs have also helped Global Industrial improve its product offerings. For example, the distributor introduced an improved version of an industrial floor scrubber machine, a popular Global Industrial branded product that has been refitted to meet pandemic cleaning standards.
It has also been developing new products that it figures customers will want to have on hand now and in the future to be ready for the next virus pandemic, such as protective, portable shields businesses can use for office cubicles and desks; hands-free water bottle fillers, and new metal storage cabinets for storing hand sanitizers and related items.
Making it easier for customers to find and order such products online is crucial, says Litwin, who has also served as a retail as well as B2B ecommerce executive for such companies as Office Depot and Sears.
Although he declines to go into details on the company’s ecommerce technology, Litwin says it operates on an in-house “headless commerce type model” that provides extensive options in how it can modify the customer-facing front-end interfaces, including mobile apps and websites. It also uses Google technology for digital marketing relies on commercial software for customer relationship management.
For its most recently reported financial period, the third quarter ended Sept. 30, 2020, the company’s net sales increased by 17.1% year over year to $285.7 million, as gross profit increased by 21.2% to $102.3 million and net income nearly doubled to $24.6 million. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, net sales increased by 4.2% to $755.1 million. In 2019, the company reported net sales of $946.9 million, up 5.6% from the prior year.
Now, with its stepped-up focus on online customer experience and its flexible ecommerce platform, Litwin says, it’s ready to adjust its digital commerce strategy to any new direction its market takes.
“COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the overall penetration of ecommerce,” he says. “We knew years ago this transition would happen, but it was slow. Now that the pandemic hit and we’re still in it, we find that using the online channel is very effective. So we want to push forward to where the puck is heading.”
Contact editor Paul Demery at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pdemery.
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