In What Customers Want: A Distributor’s Guide to Customer Buying & Shopping Preferences, we reported on research with 3500 customers of distributors and we saw two clear trends:

  • When shopping (finding, researching, and evaluating products), three methods are most frequently used including performing online search, going to a manufacturer website, and going to a distributor website.  These electronic shopping methods were preferred over shopping by talking to people (sales reps, CSR’s, colleagues) or using print.
  • When it came to buying products, three methods were significantly more popular than the other seven that were surveyed.  Those methods include sending an order by email, purchasing from a website, and calling a CSR to place the order.

OK, that’s great, but how does it apply to you?  Perhaps – it tells you where to look, but it doesn’t tell you what the answer is for YOUR customer base.  Aggregate data contains averages from multiple distributors. However, there is likely no distributor who is average in every regard when it comes to how its customers want to shop and buy. It is a little like knowing that the average family has 2.2 children.  Did you ever meet a family with 2.2 children?

As you will see, the shopping and buying preferences of customers vary significantly from one customer base to the next.


Shown above in Figure 1 (above) are five of the most preferred shopping methods for customers of two different distributors.  Respondents from the Silicon Valley distributor’s customers (colored red) customer base have a marked preference for using electronic methods of shopping (search, manufacturer website, and distributor website) over speaking to a sales rep or CSR.  By contrast, the customers from the Traditional Distributor are relatively less interested in electronic shopping and more interested in talking to people whether it is the CSR or sales rep.

The customers from the Traditional Distributor also had very different preferences for buying than the customers of the Silicon Valley distributor. As shown in Figure 2, the Silicon Valley distributor’s customers are pretty much what you would expect from a high tech area:  significant focus on electronic purchasing whether it is by website or sending an order through email.  There is minimal preference among those customers for meeting with the rep or visiting a branch.  Customers from the Traditional Distributor are much less electronically oriented and far more involved with supplier personnel, be it over the phone or face to face (in the branch or job site.)


It is clear from these examples how much shopping and buying preferences vary from one customer base to the next. There is no Average Joe customer base and no two customer bases look alike.

The cost of not knowing how your customers want to shop and buy from you is very high: either you have unhappy clients or a significant waste of capex dollars.  Make sure you understand what YOUR customers want before:

  • Spending a ton on an e-commerce system because your customers might not require it or too little because they require more.
  • Hiring a bunch of field sales people or CSR’s.  They may prefer talking to a dedicated inside sales person rather than taking an hour to meet with a field sales rep.