The world we live in today is arguably more connected than ever. It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) really changed how businesses and consumers operate, as the shift to the digital world became very apparent. This desire for digital, however, still remains very strong, despite the re-opening of stores, warehouses and other businesses.

Prior to the pandemic, the industrial gases business was very traditional in how it operated, based upon strong cultural and organisational paradigms; it’s very customer-facing and local in nature. As a result, e-commerce essentially changes that business model, that culture, within our industry. It’s essentially a paradigm shift, something which can in turn create confusion and even a sense of fear.

To support these traditional businesses shift to an online world, pioneers in the e-commerce, content and software space have joined forces to create the ultimate customer experience. Distributor Data Solutions (DDS) and ESTech Group are just two players in this market that have established such relationship in the industrial gases space as it looks to shift into the digital age.

In the latest showcase webinar for gasworld TV, the two firms emphasised the importance of knowing your audience and knowing exactly what they want in a website. In such a niche market, and one that has not long been in the digital world, this may seem like a tough task, however, it is one that has been grasped by two hands by the duo and gratefully received. 

The four C’s

When it comes to business-to-business e-commerce, it’s a different ball game to business-to-consumer e-commerce, as David Bent, President of ESTech Group and Matt Christensen, co-founder and President of DDS said. Highlighting the difference, the duo focused on the four c’s of commerce, content, connectivity and communication.

“Business to business commerce is completely different from business to consumer. Selling t-shirts on the web is completely different to working with distributors. It’s a very different customer relationship you’re try to enhance by having an online capability, and so the features and functions are different,” Bent explained.

One the topic of business-to-business e-commerce, however, Bent did explain that there is now a level of expectation that has come from sites such as Amazon. These large online shopping platforms have led to those browsing on a site expect images, a full description and even video to allow them to better understand a product before making that all important purchase.

Speaking on the content that supports the product, Christensen explained, “Content means so many different things to different types of distributors and manufacturers, but it’s basically all of the rich product information for manufacturers.”

“The end-user customer is coming to the website not only to purchase and procure, but also research and find. The website is used for a tool. Commonly, the perception is its [a website] buy only, but it’s used also for research. People are still using websites to research products so they can call or email a salesperson before a purchase. Ultimately, we want to see less of that, but we want people to be able to buy the way they want to buy, and so having rich connect on an awesome website is just invaluable for the overall experience.”

Next is connectivity, and when it comes to DDS and ESTech Group, this is where an invaluable collaboration with Computers Unlimited comes in. Bent explained, “What happened in the third block of connectivity is that we got contacted by Computers Unlimited and some of their customers, of which ARC3 is once, to connect the front- and back-end of the e-commerce platform.”

To the partnership, Computers Unlimited brought its TIMS Platform. TIMS is a software solution for gas and welding supply distributors. “The partnership has been running for about two years now and there are now 15 TIMS customers that are either live or on the verge of going life on the platform,” Bent explained.

The fourth c is communication and this relates to the marketing of an e-commerce and making sure customers know that the platform is there.

E-commerce for organic growth

One of those customers that Bent was alluding to is ARC3 Gases. Based in North Carolina, ARC supplies and distributes industrial gases, welding equipment, and welding supplies – and has recently boosted its business by investing in an all-new website and e-commerce platform. To detail exactly how important this move to digital was for the firm, Bent and Christensen were joined by Erica Janis, Director of Marketing at ARC3 Gases.

“ARC3 has worked with DDS, ESTech Group and Computers Unlimited. We know that customer expectations are changing, and we know that in order to stay ahead of the curve in our market, we need to adjust and change to meet those expectations,” Janis told gasworld TV.

Janis explained that unlike many in the industrial gases business ARC3 started with a e-commerce platform, however, decided that they needed to appoint a third party to help grow its website experience even further. After spending six months or so looking for a third party, assessing multiple companies, ARC3 came across ESTech Group.

“Other companies were incapable of meeting the expectations of the gas and welding distribution business, so that led us to ESTech Group. When we looked into ESTech Group, it was the only company that has the flexibility and the wherewithal in the distribution market to understand our expectations, as well as our customers’ expectations.”

“ESTech Group spent weeks and weeks, months and months, talking to us endlessly and identifying the very specifics of our business and the gases and welding business as a whole. This was very important as we all have different ways that we approach business to meet our customer expectations.”

With ARC3 being a distributor of both gas and welding products sold across its 54 branches, the scale of the firm adds some complexity to the development of its e-commerce platform. “We knew that our model was going to require us to have the ability to deliver products to our customers from any one of our branches and for the customer to be able to pick it up from any of those branches,” Janis explained.

“54 branches isn’t small, but we want our customers to have the ultimate experience, and for that we know that is we were going to do something at this large-scale, in a robust way that’s going to meet those expectations, we needed to have the correct partner.”

This is where DDS came into the picture and helped ARC3 with the content aspect of its platform. Together, with ESTech Group and Computers Unlimited, the DDS then looked at how all the right product data could best be showcased on the ARC3 website. Over 100 years of business, brought right up to date in the digital world.

To do this, ARC3 had to define exactly what it was that they wanted. “We wanted something that was robust,” Janice enthused. “By robust we meant that it allowed a customer to pay their invoices on our website, pay and have their services recorded immediately, be able to pull their cylinder count and so much more. The needed to do what they wanted to do, on time, no delay. That’s what robust means to ARC3.”

It almost goes without saying that an e-commerce platform is now almost a necessity for a company, in any market, if they want to stay current, but exactly how does it help customers grow their businesses? This question, and more, will be explored in the second part of this showcase webinar, going live on Wednesday 6thJuly at 5:00pm (BST).