The industrial gases business is still very traditional in how it operates, based upon strong cultural and organisational paradigms. It’s still 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.

This has been a thought process in the US market in the last few years, for example, as distributors grappled with rapidly changing sales and marketing platforms in hardgoods channels – and for some time considered Amazon a threat to their business. However, these thought processes recently accelerated in the height of the pandemic with various lockdowns and traditional customer facing business no longer being so simple.

Such transformation to a digital world, and particularly ecommerce platforms, were recently discussed on a ES Tech Group’s inaugural “Distributor Pubcast” webinar, featuring Matt Christensen, President of Distributor Data Solutions (DDS). Within a one-hour discussion, multiple topics related to B2B e-commerce and how certain aspects can help to both build and business and support it stand the test of time were explored.

The way e-commerce can transfer a business was further highlighted greatly by Christensen. Speaking from experience, he said, “We [DDS] were always kind of early adopters in technology, and it’s amazing to look now at how many distributors we are still collectively trying to get online.”

Speaking on the evolution of DDS, Christensen explained, “We knew we wanted to do more, and we knew what the expectations were, an Amazon style content experience. We really tailored to the distributors and as we had more success working with some of the biggest distributors in North America, the manufacturers started showing interest.”

He continued, “We now sit in the middle of the manufacturers and distributors, but the main focus is the syndication side. Getting the content from the manufacturers and then helping their channel, helping their distributors and helping their retailers use the content.”

Whilst the industrial gases market is a focus for the company, Christensen explained that every market is pretty much asking for the same solutions and offerings in terms of e-commerce. “Plumbing, HPC, welding, industrial gases, industrial tools, the problems and the needs are all the same,” he said. 

As for many well established and popular e-commerce sites, a good website means good results – and in DDS’ case a wide customer base. “We’re now working with well over 1,000 brands, manufacturers and sub brand lines [enhancing e-commerce],” Christensen told the webinar. “We’re over six million stock keeping units (skus), in fact, probably well over that now with some of the new verticals.”

Clearly passionate about e-commerce and how it can boost a business, Dave Bent, President of ES Tech Group, strongly believes that it is only beneficial if used effectively. “There’s no point in putting up a website if you don’t have awesome content,” he said.

“Further to that, it [the website] is really not going to be effective and your customers will get frustrated. And once customer uses a website and don’t find what they’re looking for or struggle, it’s really hard to get to them to come back. So, it’s absolutely critical to offer a good customer experience overall,” he added.

As well as pleasing a customer on a one-off basis, Christensen explained that a smooth customer journey is key for returning business. “I think the goal that we are hearing more and more, is not just a one-time purchase, but customers wanting to build up trust and credibility so that the return to a site repeatedly.”

“And when the content isn’t good… people have abandoned the search, abandoned the site, abandoned the experience.”