In the research we performed with over 3500 customers of distributors, it turns out that shopping (finding, researching and selecting but not buying a product) on a distributor website was the 3rd out of 10 most frequently used shopping methods. This means that going to a distributor website to find what to buy is more popular than talking to a sales rep, customer service rep, or looking at print material. In fact, shopping at a distributor website is significantly more popular than these other approaches. OK, that’s the good news.

However, using a search engine (38%) or going to a manufacturer website (31%) to shop are more frequently the first choice than going to a distributor website (30%). The problem for distributors is that there is no guarantee a potential customer will come to the distributor after visiting a manufacturer website or using a search engine. Our research was corroborated in a study by NAED that found the exact same preferences in how shopping is performed: search, manufacturer site, distributor site. Right now, the manufacturer has the customer’s attention. Unless your e-commerce site is rich with content, good search, prices, and easy to use, you may not get the business. If you are a distributor, that’s the bad news.

The trend over the next couple of years looks more favorable for distributor websites than manufacturer websites with 45% percent of respondents indicating somewhat or much more frequent use of distributor website for shopping versus 38% for manufacturer web­site. It is understandable given the proliferation and improvement of distributor e-commerce sites over the last few years.  Three or four years ago, it was sufficient for a distributor to have an e-commerce site.  Today, your customers’ expectations are informed by their experience on consumer sites as well as improved distributor sites.

Even more respondents (48%) indicated that they would make somewhat or much more frequent use of search engines for shopping over the next couple of years.  The imperatives for distributors are clear:

  • Your e-commerce site needs to be a destination that helps shoppers efficiently and effectively find and evaluate what they want to purchase, otherwise shoppers won’t return for a next visit.
  • Your search marketing needs to put you at the top of the search results, otherwise you will be passed-by.

MDM Shopping-Buying Report

To learn more about the full research, see What Customers Want: A Distributor’s Guide to Customer Buying & Shopping Preferences.