The barriers to entry for creating a distributor e-commerce site are dropping rapidly. But according to a recent Real Results Marketing survey, many sites are still not getting the revenue traction they expected.

Increasingly, distributors say their e-commerce site is not getting the revenue traction they expected. The distributor went into the initiative thinking, “Build it and they will come.” But, what really happened was, “We built it and they didn’t come.” As part of a Real Results Marketing study of more than 2,000 distributor end-users, researchers posed an open-ended question to survey participants about why they leave an e-commerce site without buying.  The findings are shown in Figure 1 below.

Getting revenue traction with your e-commerce site involves both driving traffic to the site and converting traffic once on the site. The reasons shown for leaving the site only have to do with conversion.

Not enough product information

When users are frustrated by the lack of product information, this refers to product specifications, technical specifications, application specifications, photos, and drawings.  It can also include substitution and cross product suggestions. 

One survey respondent said, “When there is no technical data on the website or it doesn’t answer the question I need it to,  I won’t necessarily go to another company, but I will have to go to the inside sales support.” 

Another respondent said: “As an engineer, I am designing equipment and typically wouldn’t place an order until all details are worked out. I look to the website for part dimensions and specifications to determine required parts.”

Here are two moves to improve data quality on your e-commerce site.

Pareto principle: Often 90% or more of your revenue comes from 10% of your SKU’s. Make sure the data on those SKU’s is really good. You can worry about the long tail product later.

Third party data cleansing: Cleansing product data is arduous. We have seen a number of companies try to do it internally. However, we have yet to witness a success for an internal project with small or mid-market distributors. The projects take forever and never quite get over the goal line. Working with a skilled third party will get the data cleansed very quickly even if the cost per SKU is higher.

Can’t find what I need

Nearly one-sixth of the respondents said they would leave a website if they can’t find what they need. This includes searches by manufacturer’s part number, keyword search, and distributor part number searches as well as parametric or hierarchical search. When they can’t find what they need, they assume, often incorrectly, that it is unavailable from that distributor and look elsewhere.

One respondent said: “I would leave a site by not finding all the parts I need to complete a task. If I’m assembling something, multiple BOM’s for different vendors cost about $200 each to process internally.”

It is tempting to think that you only lose that order because they are unable to find what they need. The problem is actually deeper: research shows that you may lose future orders and even the customer relationship if they are unable to find what they need and have to work harder as a result.

When customers are unable to find products on a website, there are two interacting causes: not enough product information (already discussed) and bad search capability.  Here are two ways to think about getting the right search engine.

• Find out how your customers search and how they want to search.  Your web analytics tools will provide the information for how they search. A survey of customers, such as the one that Real Results Marketing is conducting on shopping and buying, will tell you how they want to search. It is not difficult to administer the survey or interpret the data from such a survey.

• Use a business case to justify the right search engine. A few experiments on your site and a related competitor with good search will tell you how much is missing when you do a search. An improvement in the search engine could increase conversion by several percentage points. That is typically enough to justify procuring and integrating a better search engine.

Site is hard to use or slow

Nearly 20% of the survey participants listed this as the top reason they will leave a site. This is related more to the difficulty in navigating the site and the site being not intuitive to use.  Most people today are under a time crunch, and if it isn’t apparent how a website navigates, many people will move on.  They just want it to be easy – not necessarily with a lot of bells and whistles – when they are shopping.  The objective is to reduce the number of mouse clicks necessary to accomplish a task whether it is finding or buying a product.

Here are two approaches to optimize the user experience on your site:

• Emulate good sites. In contrast to ten years ago, today there are many good sites with tried and proven navigation schemes. It might be the leader in your sector or perhaps you need to look at a different sector. Either way, you don’t have to invent it all from scratch.

• Hire an expert. Only a few of the largest distributors have expertise in improving the user experience on your site. For all others, they need to hire a skilled consultant to guide them. A little bit from an expert goes a long way.

Product unavailable

If you have resolved the issues discussed so far, but the product is unavailable, you will not get the business. Said one B2B e-commerce buyer: “We search for quickest availability when we go to the website. We would leave without placing an order when we find faster availability from another distributor.”

There are three variations on unavailable products:

1. The product is not in stock today.

2. The lead time doesn’t meet their requirement.

3. The information about availability or lead time is unclear or missing altogether.

The first two variations reflect an e-commerce operations problem. We have seen many distributors who have treated e-commerce inventory and fulfillment strategy as an afterthought because they are so focused on getting the e-commerce platform deployed. If you are primarily an MRO distributor, much of the strategy can revolve around the SKUs that constitute 90% of your sales volume. For OEM, you can leverage planned buying by your customers to drive the strategy.

When the information about availability is unclear or missing, it could be an operations issue or an IT issue.


Part of the promise of e-commerce in B2B is that there is less negotiating on price, if any at all. This results in higher margins. However, one fifth of the respondents said they would leave if the price is too high or they couldn’t see pricing at all. Beyond doing price optimization, which we recommend to all of our clients, there are two key moves that will remove this obstacle on your website:

• Show list and contract price. If the shopper has an account, make sure that the contract prices are accurately reflected when they do a search or drill into product detail. If the shopper does not have an account or is not logged in, it is imperative to show your list price. Many distributors are afraid to show price. However, in our experience, that merely communicates to your customers that your prices may be exorbitant. It is similar to when you peruse a menu outside a fancy restaurant where prices are not listed.

• Get competitive pricing intelligence. It is easier today to gather competitive price intelligence. We strongly recommend some combination of periodic mystery shopping at your competitors store or site as well as automated gathering of price data through screen scraping or third party aggregators.

Just researching

Many site visits are really about research and shopping rather than buying a product. In this case the visitor has no intention of buying at the time. Perhaps they just need product specs or pricing with an intention to purchase in their normal process.  But for the visitor who will ultimately purchase online, you want to make sure they come back to your site. Our Shopping and Buying survey shows that the three primary ways of shopping are:

1. going directly to a manufacturer website

2. using a search engine

3. going to a distributor web site

Notice that going to a manufacturer website is first on the list. Your objective should be to make your distributor web site the primary place they shop. Applying the techniques described previously will make you top of mind.