Weathering the 'Perfect Storm': Major E-Commerce Competitors in Industrial Distribution Market Just Ahead

March 13, 2013
Industrial distribution is at its biggest crossroads in history, and they need to be prepared for the storm that is brewing.

How do you prepare for a storm? When I know a winter storm is coming, I bulk up on food essentials, put on my warmest clothes and heat up some tea to fight off the chill.

Right now, industrial distributors need to know about and prepare for a new storm brewing.

Industrial distribution is at its biggest crossroads in history, and the “perfect storm” for transformation is looming. Maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) customer expectations are at the center, with demands for increased customization, sophisticated e-commerce platforms, an “endless shopping aisle,” and faster delivery speeds.

Adding to this storm, the need for better online purchasing capabilities for MRO distributors are also higher than ever—just look at W. W. Grainger as an example. Since 2011, the company’s web traffic has grown from 3,000 to almost 11,000 hits per month. Due to gross margins that produce a hefty profit, plus the growing expectation for online sales, companies like Amazon are diving into the B2B MRO market with their own e-commerce sites, like AmazonSupply.

Recently, Google followed suit with its own MRO e-commerce space called Google Shopping for Suppliers. Google’s site connects buyers with global suppliers, while Amazon sells products directly to buyers. Which makes the most sense? So far, Amazon’s been the leader to watch, but we’ll see how quickly Google’s new capability captures the attention of suppliers. Take a look at’s article on Google Shopping for Suppliers to learn more.

And to gain deeper insight into how to adapt and weather this storm, check out Tompkins’ latest paper, Industrial Distribution at a Crossroads.

Ask yourself what you can do to move with change and serve customers under their own terms. This is the key to what I call Multichannel Operations Excellence (MOE). MOE means reaching out to customers in new engaging ways, studying how to broaden your selection and availability, and integrating online/branch events with social media. It demands every aspect of the customer experience to be interactive, educational, engaging, and personalized—all through a variety of channels.

Don’t be a casualty to change by thinking that the Amazon Effect does not apply in industrial distribution. Be aware of your customers’ preferences, stay proactive, and be ready to expand what you offer and how you deliver it to make sure you’re not left out in the cold of this storm.


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