Report: B2B eCommerce Trends Transforming Distribution

It’s clear eCommerce is transforming distribution sales, driven by consumers’ desire to buy equipment and parts online the same way they order their favorite products at home. 

The latest report by Industrial Distribution highlights top B2B eCommerce trends, including how customer habits are changing and how distributors of all sizes are adapting.

In addition to shifting where sales happen, they are also redefining the role of sales representatives, emphasizing the critical importance of data, and spotlighting the urgent need to optimize B2B eCommerce websites to meet evolving customer expectations. 

eCommerce in Distribution: Current Landscape and Growth

For most B2B sellers, eCommerce still represents a small but growing part of their overall sales and marketing strategy. 

More than half of distributors (55%) who responded to the survey, sponsored by White Cup and BigCommerce, said eCommerce sales accounted for less than 5% of their company’s total revenue last year. 

However, 70% said they expected eCommerce sales to become a greater part of their total sales this year. At larger organizations, including Grainger, Fastenal and Motion, eCommerce already accounts for more than 30% of revenue. 

And 37% of other B2B companies said they had already seen an increase in eCommerce sales as a percentage of revenue compared to the previous year. 

In addition to providing greater convenience to customers, offering customers the opportunity to buy online via eCommerce allows distributors to expand their geographic reach and sell to a more diverse customer base. Distributors who responded to the Industrial Distribution survey noted eCommerce gives them better business data, helps them save costs, and improves margins by offering more consistent pricing. 

Motion Executive Vice President James Howe said building an eCommerce marketplace would provide them with “a lasting competitive advantage.” 

The company plans to introduce new solutions to simplify product selection and help distributors provide added value beyond offering a large assortment of parts in packages. 

Emerging 2024 eCommerce Trends 

This year, we expect to see more distributors moving beyond introducing eCommerce platforms and focusing on optimizing their teams and technology to support a more holistic eCommerce sales strategy. 

Here are a few of the report’s most interesting findings. 

The Role of Sales Reps is Changing With eCommerce

Emerging B2B eCommerce trends have transformed sales reps’ role. 

Research from Gartner shows 75% of B2B buyers prefer to not talk to a salesperson, but adding eCommerce solutions doesn’t seem to negatively affect most distribution sales teams.

85 percent of respondents to the Industrial Distribution survey said the growth of eCommerce had not resulted in reductions to their sales staff, while only two percent said it had. 

While customers love the convenience of eCommerce, it can also add confusion and even buyer’s remorse, especially for B2B businesses with complex transactions. Sales representatives can ease these concerns by offering a more consultative approach, leaning on skills like empathy, active listening, and problem-solving to enhance customer service. 

This shift toward consultative sales is supported by research showing that buyers engaging with sales reps are more likely to affirm the value of their purchases and complete high-quality deals. 

Companies Are Rethinking eCommerce Pricing Strategy 

About a fourth of responding companies said eCommerce affects their respective pricing strategies. Online sales has the potential to drive down product price and decrease overhead. Offering customers the option to buy via eCommerce makes it easier for them to purchase products, but also opens the door for customers to shop around to find the best price. 

It also makes it more important to maintain consistency between the price listed on the website and the price individual sales reps are quoting. 

“We have to be careful not to be overpriced, but also not to reduce margins too much,” one survey respondent wrote.

Distributors Are Using eCommerce Data To Drive Sales

Customer data from digital channels plays a pivotal role in driving sales and improving the customer experience. 

It’s clear that sales reps who have detailed insights into purchase histories and customer interactions from their CRM software and eCommerce platforms are better equipped to seize every sales opportunity. 

Distributors with sophisticated software can capture more valuable purchasing insights, enabling sales teams to identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, personalize customer interactions, and ultimately drive more revenue. A fully integrated eCommerce, ERP, CRM, and BI ecosystem provides sales reps with real-time insights, allowing them to adapt to information as it becomes available instead of analyzing last quarter’s data and using it to shape next quarter’s strategy. 

This holistic view of customer behavior and preferences is crucial for optimizing both online and offline sales channels, ensuring that each complements and amplifies the other.

Companies Are Focused on Optimizing eCommerce Websites

With the increase in ecommerce sales and the changing approach of sales reps comes a greater urgency to optimize digital channels for sales. 

Distributors expressed concerns about IT setup, driving traffic to eCommerce websites, and integration with existing technologies. 

Bryana Kennedy, senior director of digital success at Affiliated Distributors, noted many companies still approach eCommerce as an “IT project.”

“There is [a] cultural shift that needs to take place to have eCommerce seen as a product-based mindset versus an ROI project within an organization,” she said. “Essentially, a strategy really needs a shared direction and vision within your organization driven by executives.” 

That shared vision should lead to tackling the big questions, including: 

  • What role does our website play in the customer experience?
  • What can we do to drive both new and existing customers to our eCommerce website at the right time?
  • Which pages do customers visit most frequently on our website? 
  • Where are customers clicking? 
  • Where do they seem to be getting stuck?
  • What questions or concerns do our sales reps need to answer to help customers find products, overcome objections, or validate this is the right solution?
  • What eCommerce data are we collecting, and how are we using it across the organization?
  • What insights on online customer behavior can our sales team use to be more successful? 
  • How can our marketing team use similar insights to improve the ROI of their efforts?
  • How can we use eCommerce data to improve customer support? 
  • How are we measuring the success of eCommerce as part of our larger sales strategy?
  • What technology integrations are we missing?


eCommerce Report 2024 CTA

The Need for eCommerce CRM Integration 

The focus on optimizing technology to support the evolving customer experience underscores the need for eCommerce CRM integration

It’s critical to have a seamless flow of data between online purchasing activities typically managed by marketing and the interactions taking place between customers and sales. 

With timely insights about what products customers are exploring or buying online, the sales team can have more informed conversations. 

They can recommend related products based on a customer’s recent online orders and answer questions about a product they added to their cart but ultimately didn’t buy, suggesting they might be exploring other options or shopping around for a better price. 

White Cup CRM and BI integrate with leading eCommerce platforms, including Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. 

This gives sales teams greater insight into customers’ online activities, resulting in better conversations that lead to more offline sales. 

Sales reps can more easily identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities. They can use task reminders, email templates, and even automated workflows to follow up so no opportunity falls through the cracks. 

Marketing team members can use these insights to develop more personalized email campaigns. They can design the website to drive more personalized shopping experiences through their B2B eCommerce platform. 

Operations leaders gain a better understanding of what products are most popular online so they can optimize inventory. 

And executives easily see how online channels are contributing to the overall sales strategy so they can report back to vendors and plan accordingly. 

Learn more about how your team can turn browsing into buying with our eCommerce integration. Watch this short video, and schedule a consultation when you’re ready. 

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