Grainger CEO DG Macpherson told his EnvisionB2B audience that it's essential to use ecommerce technology to reduce the time customers spend looking for products.

At a time when all sales channels are being digitally driven, it’s essential to use ecommerce technology to match customers with the right products and reduce the time customers spend looking for products is essential. That’s the key message W.W. Grainger Inc. Chairman and CEO DG Macpherson told an audience Thursday at the EnvisionB2B conference in Chicago.

When it comes to leveraging technology to create a better buyer experience, and in turn gain a competitive advantage, Macpherson said Grainger looks to create high-touch experiences rooted deeply in product knowledge and customer experience.

For example, when it comes to products pages, Grainger filters products according to the buyer type. A janitor searching for a flashlight will have different needs than a miner or first responder, according to Macpherson. Populating a product page with extraneous content and items irrelevant to the buyer creates a bad buying experience.

Offering the right products that fit their need, whether it is energy-efficiency or a price point, creates a better buyer experience, Macpherson added.

In addition, reducing the amount of time buyers spend scrolling on a page to find a product makes it easier to differentiate brands on the page, find products and understand products.

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“In order to serve customers well, you need to get the product and customer information right,” Macpherson said at EnvisionB2B. “The aim is to make it easy to understand the product, the product assortment and how the products on the page differ from one another.”

By doing so, Grainger ensures buyers have the necessary information they need to make a competent buying decision.

“Our goal is to be better at marketing products to our customers than anyone else,” Macpherson said.

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Results affirm the message

The results of Grainger’s approach to ecommerce technology has been impressive. In 2021, more than 75% of the distributor’s $13 billion in total sales were digital. In addition, Grainger has more than 4.5 million active customers and carries 30 million products on its ecommerce site and 1.5 million products stocked in distribution centers.

“We would not be as successful as we are without leveraging technology,” said Macpherson at EnvisionB2B. He added that he expects the percentage of sales made digitally to exceed 80% in the next year.

A key element of making Grainger’s digital strategy work is that all employees are aligned with the philosophy of creating digital solutions that serve buyers.

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“A better customer experience creates more sales,” said Macpherson.

Leadership approach

At a higher-level, Macpherson said sellers that are successful selling digitally are the ones that employ the right leadership approach when it comes addressing customer pain points. To illustrate his point, he said Grainger recently hired a chief technology officer and a chief product officer.

While the CTO handles the traditional back-end technology issues, he works in close coordination with the chief product officer, who oversees the prioritization of business and technology.

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“It’s important to pair the product team with people that our know business,” Macpherson said at EnvisionB2B.

Grainger also uses its technology and product teams to evaluate how customers use their digital solutions. It can then tweak those solutions to provide a better buyer experience.

The company is also using technology to improve online buying experiences through automation. It is making its distribution centers more efficient, reducing the time spent fulfilling and shipping products to its customers.

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“That’s one way we are solving the problem of aligning technology and operations,” Macpherson said.

Overall, it is important that senior executives take the time to review the company’s technology and how customers use it, he said.

“It’s important for leaders to unlock technology to solve problems because technology is not built in a vacuum. It must align with operations,” he concluded. “We’re not spending more on technology now. We are spending on it in the right places.”

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Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.

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