End User Demands Drive Distributor Sites
Pressed by end users, a predominate portion of jan/san distributors have been approaching their online presence rather aggressively over the last couple of years.
Nowadays end users are presented with a plethora of fundamentally sound and feature-laden distribution Web sites that offer e-commerce capabilities, extensive product catalogs and educational tools.
With more and more building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers (ISPs) pressed for time and looking for quick answers, feature-driven Web sites tailored to the customer’s needs are considered a must in today’s jan/san industry. But what features are BSCs and ISPs truly seeking from a distributor’s Web site?
The most notable feature end users look for in a distributor’s Web site is that it is easily navigable, says Alan Bigger, director of facilities at Earlham College, Richmond, Ind. Simply put, the more complex the site is, the more challenging it is for a customer to navigate.
“The ease of finding what you’re looking for is critical because otherwise you get frustrated and you go to somebody else’s site,” says Bigger. “If you can’t find the item, it’s very hard to procure the item.”
Currently, when a customer locates an item they are searching for, they expect a distributor’s site to provide up-to-date inventory numbers that reveal if the item is in stock.
“Some of the Web sites are very good at telling you if the item is in stock or if it isn’t in stock,” says Bigger. “That’s very important because more and more people want to order and receive the item and they don’t want things to be backordered.”
End users also expect distributor sites to simplify the online ordering process. Distributors have largely responded to that request by implementing password-protected profiles for customers. So, once a customer has established a profile, they can log onto a distributor’s Web site and place orders without having to re-enter their account and billing information every time they place a new order. Depending on if the distributor offers an e-procurement platform, the customer is also able to set budget parameters on purchases.
However, even though the ordering process has been simplified through customer profiles, some end users argue that a distributor’s Web site should be non-committal. For instance, some sites require visitors to sign up for a user name and password to access their site. End users say they should be allowed full access to a distributor’s site, including it’s online product catalog and pricing without having to sign up for a password.
“When I come to a Web site that says you need to sign up for a password, I usually just skip over it and go to the next one that doesn’t,” says Dennis Dusenberry, senior project manager for Woodley Building Maintenance, Kansas City, Mo.
Without question, the most traffic coming into a distributor Web site is for researching and purchasing products. Bigger says end users are more apt to visit distributor Web sites that provide detailed product information, organized and well written material, information about new products, as well as latest price lists and special promotions.
But with increasing turnover problems and the constant introduction of new product offerings and procedures, BSCs and ISPs also look to distributors’ Web sites for up-to-date educational resources that assist in training incoming and existing employees.
“We’re using the Web sites for training purposes more than anything else,” says Phil Shealy, assistant director of custodial services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). “We find them to be very helpful in that we can find articles on the latest procedures and equipment as well as green cleaning and team cleaning.”
Shealy estimates that UNLV’s custodial department faces a 25 percent to 30 percent turnover rate yearly. With similar turnover rates echoing across the country, education and training resources are in high demand for end user companies.
“We’re constantly training new employees,” Shealy says. “We’re almost always training someone on a weekly basis and we rely heavily on information on distributors’ Web sites for that.”
Out Of Site
Most gripes from end users when evaluating their suppliers’ Web sites are that distributors don’t offer enough detailed
information on product offerings. End users say they count on distributors to provide specific and comprehensive product specifications to help make informed online purchasing decisions.
“Most of the Web sites are not real good at describing the products because they don’t necessarily list problems and what you use the product for,”says Dusenberry.
Essentially, online ordering eliminates the middleman — the salesperson — but end users often have questions when there’s not enough information provided on a Web site. Some end users complain that distributors are making it hard to reach the correct personnel because their sites lack proper contact information.
“One of the things that they don’t get real specific on is contact information,” says Paul Condie, director of operations for KBM Building Services, San Diego. “They list their address and main phone number, but they don’t really nail down who you can contact in sales, or if you need to contact service, or even if you have a question — a general response kind of thing.”
Providing end user customers with vague information can essentially hamper a distributor’s online sales. End users say distributors can never provide too much information.
“The more detailed information, the better,” Bigger says.
But when sites are lacking in rich and up-to-date content, end users tend to visit another distributor’s site or often go straight to a manufacturer’s site.
“When you go to a manufacturer’s Web site, you get a lot more detail than what you get from a distributor’s Web site,” says Bigger. “However, a good distributor’s Web site may have links to their partner companies. The more that the distributor provides, the more it would drive us to go to the distributor’s Web page. If we’re not driven to go to the distributor’s Web page, we’ll find alternative sources to go to.”
In the end, taking an end user’s needs and wants into consideration will go a long way in both establishing and maintaining a solid distribution Web site.
Paradigm Group Launches Education Program
Paradigm Group, a Syosset, N.Y.-based full service master supplier, facilities products manufacturer, warehouse packaging and marketing consulting company, has introduced Paradigm University, an online education program that provides the distribution channels with more training flexibility and education options.
Paradigm University, which complements the company’s classroom program, is a virtual university that consists of both Webinar forums and e-mail lessons. University topics range from selling green, addressing MRSA and other cleaning-related challenges. For more information visit www.paradigm-grp.com.
New Look For Crown Mats
Crown Mats and Matting, Fremont, Ohio, has redesigned its Web site to better help end users and jan/san distributors.
The site, www.crown-mats.com, now offers visitors a more user-friendly experience. Its Mat Finder tool uses a question and answer format that allows visitors to quickly find matting designed for specific applications. In addition, the site’s Mat Placement Guide offers suggestions as to which mats to use and the best places to position them.
New Kaivac Introduces Online Community
Hamilton, Ohio-based Kaivac Inc.,recently launched KaiScience, www.kaiscience.com, an online community and portal whose mission is to foster cleaner, healthier indoor environments through science.
With an advisory board consisting of scientists, medical experts and industry consultants, KaiScience strives to be a catalyst for discussion about the public health benefits of science-based cleaning processes, and a repository of scientific content related to cleaning and the built environment.
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