The distributor of chemical ingredients for multiple industries has built out a collection of ecommerce sites and digital tools to be more focused on customers. As a result, it has doubled its number of online customers and ecommerce orders. Steve Martinez, vice president, digital solutions, will speak on digital commerce strategies at EnvisionB2B this week.

At Univar Solutions Inc., the chemicals distributor has put a fresh emphasis on digital solutions for serving customers.

We had to exercise our digital muscle more with COVID, but fortunately we had our digital technology integration far enough along.
Steve Martinez, vice president, digital solutions
Univar Solutions

In the past two years, Univar Solutions launched three ecommerce sites and went on to introduce new online tools to improve how it connects digitally with customers. The company stocks more than17,000 chemicals and ingredients. “It’s all about making it easier to do business,” says Steve Martinez, vice president of digital solutions.

Gains from digital transformation

In an industry that has made inroads into ecommerce in recent years, Univar Solutions is taking steps to stand out with digital technology and services. The effort is paying off, the company says.  As the company reported through its first quarter 2022 earnings, the number of customers purchasing online has increased by 101% while online orders have risen by 106% year over year. More than 47% of the company’s U.S. customers are registered on its ecommerce channels.

Univar Solutions’ efforts show that an effective digital strategy can help an established industrial supplies company build new rewarding connections with customers and grow sales – and especially so amid the COVID-19 market disruption, Martinez says. “We had to exercise our digital muscle more with COVID, but fortunately we had our digital technology integration far enough along.”

The company’s digital technology and strategy, he notes, made it smoother and faster for the distributor to shift to chemicals and materials that buyers need for COVID-related safety and cleaning products, including hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol. “Our online tools played a critical role to help us fight the pandemic, and we wanted to get out the gate first with products spiking in demand,” Martinez says.

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The key role of Univar Solutions’ digital commerce strategy was underscored earlier this year by top management as part of the company’s overall digital transformation. “During 2021, we put this transformation on display as our digital tool investments helped us attract new customers, retain our existing customers, and streamline our processes,” David Jukes, president and CEO, says in a note to shareholders in Univar Solutions’ latest annual report. “We’ve transformed the business, putting the customer at the center of all we do while working to take full advantage of every opportunity to drive growth.”

That customer-first strategy, Martinez says, is the key to Univar Solutions’ growth and one that differs with long-held strategies in B2B commerce, he says. Many B2B businesses, he notes, withhold detailed product and pricing information, following a policy of “Before you see anything, I need to know you’re my customer.”

That approach to customer service is flawed, he says.

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The more effective  B2B strategy, he notes, is similar to retail commerce, where sellers “show their value first before engaging with a customer.”

“The new way is to say to the customer: ‘Let me understand what you want, and I’ll get it to you,’” Martinez says.

Univar Solutions is pushing that business strategy with a stable of ecommerce and thought leadership sites as well as a digital supply chain that offers customers various ways to access product information, make purchases, engage with sales reps, check order status, review invoices and make payments.

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Removing the bouncer from the sales door

The core strategic move is increasing and improving digital visibility and access to more online products, pricing and service. While many B2B ecommerce sites require new customers to establish an account and log into it to view pricing and full product catalogs, Univar Solutions takes the opposite approach in some of its online venues: “Remove the bouncer from the door and do not make customers sign in,” Martinez says.

The chemicals distributor also limits the requirements to process a request-for-quote to get to product pricing. By compiling and analyzing data on what customers purchase and what they don’t, Univar Solutions learns the true demand curve in its market and gains the ability to set and modify pricing for maximum sales and margins, Martinez says.

In addition, by using digital connections with suppliers throughout the supply chain, the company gains real-time information to share with customers on order status and shipments.

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Univar Solutions’ digital commerce footprint now includes:

  • ChemCentral.com, a no-frills self-service commerce feature that lets customers view pricing without logging in. ChemCentral caters to small and mid-sized businesses that may need to place occasional or one-time orders.
  • BeautyIngredients.com, a specialty site that displays pricing openly and caters to businesses and entrepreneurs involved in developing and selling personal care and “beauty” products. The site also provides Univar Solutions with additional market demand information on which chemicals companies are using in new products.
  • UnivarSolutions.com, a comprehensive ecommerce site where customers can purchase from more than 17,000-products and also access regulatory documents, and view invoicing and order status. Customers can view all web pricing or request a quote after logging in. New customers without an account can also view some pricing, or request a quote by inserting their contact information.
  • ChemPoint.com, a portal designed to foster connections between suppliers and buyers. For suppliers, ChemPoint is designed to help them find, engage and retain customers on a large scale through demand-creation programs. For buyers, ChemPoint organizes content on available specialty products and related technical and safety information to assist in formulating end products.
  • Thought Leadership sites. These are market-driven sites offering technical content, trend information and product details at scale available throughout the company’s global network, including Innovation & Solutions Centers, Food Ingredients, Homecare & Industrial Cleaning Ingredients.

Going forward, Univar Solutions will continue building digital commerce tools and gathering and analyzing digital data to improve how it services customers, Martinez says. “It’s an ongoing digital evolution.”

EnvisionB2B and special report

Steve Martinez will speak at EnvisionB2B on the panel, “Products, Data, Pricing – Getting It All Right,” Friday, June 10, 2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

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This article is included in a special report, “B2B Customer Conversion Secrets,” published by Digital Commerce 360.

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