Despite the digital revolution, distributors still have the advantage of having a “human touch” in sales transactions, which is a huge advantage over the retail giants, such as Amazon and Google.

In 2009, BizReport, a digital trade publication for the e-commerce industry, reported that 52 percent of online buyers made the decision not to purchase a product “at least sometimes” because of the inability to get help “from another human being.”

In addition to face-to-face value, distributors have the benefit of product knowledge, and cleaning expertise. As building owners increasingly place value on providing a healthy workplace for employees and visitors, they view distributors not only as product salesman, but also as facility maintenance partners. And that’s a huge difference from decades past.

“They can never offer localize services. They don’t know our business,” Cadell says of Amazon. “They are faceless corporations.”

Though they may be faceless, they are still a threat. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal found that Amazon is quietly on the move once again: this time directly into manufacturer’s warehouses. It’s another step to slash prices and logistic costs, much to the chagrin of independent distributors who sell the manufacturer’s products.

“There’s a tremendous amount of transparency occurring, which is forcing distributors to be much sharper about their pricing,” Blissett says. “Increasingly, you have to offer value-added services in order to win a customer’s business and keep it.”

The reality is people will continue to buy from these powerhouses, but distributors can compete as long as they are in the same ballpark — leveraging the technology that is revolutionizing the e-commerce industry. The best way to fight back, distributors say, may be to meet customers in the middle.

“We’ve always been boutique and service driven, and that’s great, but there’s a segment of the market that doesn’t care, Cadell says. “If we move into the middle than we’ve provided the best of both worlds.”

“The B2B business isn’t ready to die.”

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