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Ferguson Enterprises reconstructs its e-commerce site for building supplies

September 30, 2015 04:36 PM
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Ferguson Enterprises Inc. is no slouch when it comes to business-to-business e-commerce. The distributor of plumbing supplies, HVAC products and building supplies has been selling online for seven years to its registered business customers—mostly professional contractors—on its home-grown B2B e-commerce site, FergusonOnline.com. The company has enhanced the functionality of that site over the years, including adding mobile optimization and other advancements aimed at allowing customers to more easily get information about products and make purchases online without the help of a sales rep.

Ferguson’s parent company, Wolseley plc, also owns two large web-only merchants ranked in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, Build.com Inc.and Power Equipment Direct, which have each been selling online to professional contractors and consumers alike for more than a decade. The Top 500 Guide ranks companies by their annual web sales.

But Ferguson Enterprises, whose sales totaled about $11.6 billion last year, is now in the throes of a major B2B e-commerce upgrade designed to better serve existing customers while also attracting new ones.

In March, the company in what it calls a “soft launch” rolled out a new home page at Ferguson.com. The site has e-commerce functionality thanks to Oracle e-commerce platform technology, so existing customers can sign onto the site and purchase products. Noncustomers also can purchase products on the site without signing up for an account, and check out using a credit card.

Ferguson.com has about 50,000 SKUs for sale, and that will grow to around 700,000 once the majority of the products listed on FergusonOnline.com are brought over to the new site. At that point the company will shut down the old site, says Mike Brooks, Ferguson’s vice president of e-business.

The new site, which took Ferguson close to 18 months to build, has two primary goals. One is to better serve existing, loyal customers with personalized offers and features that more closely link its websites, mobile apps and physical branches.

For example, when phase two of the company’s redesign is implemented in the first or second quarter of 2016 and FergusonOnline.com customers are migrated to the new site, customers who are logged in will see personalized product recommendations, how-to information and articles tailored to their business specialty. For example, HVAC installers will see pipes and fitting products at the top of their pages, while tiling professionals will see grout, tiles and related products.

Ferguson also is linking the back-end inventory management system of its e-commerce properties with its 1,300 branches, so customers will soon be able to buy products online and pick them up at a local branch. Or they can return an online order to a bricks-and-mortar location.

Mobile apps are in the works too and set to launch early next year. That will enable an existing customer to begin an order on his tablet, add more items to his cart on his desktop at work, and complete that order inside a branch. “Mobile is a big deal for us,” Brooks says. “We see that shift to mobile happening faster than the shift from offline to online shopping. Both at Ferguson and Build.com, we’re building toward that, too. Our core customer is in the field, in customer homes, so we want to give them as much information as we can to help them do their jobs.”

The new B2B e-commerce site’s other key goal is to attract new customers. “We really see this as a customer acquisition tool,” Brooks says. “Ferguson.com used to be a marketing and branding site for us. We’ve never really presented product at the outset. So now we are leading with products, and we can go after different customer segments and provide them a personalized experience with the hope that we win them as customer.”

Ferguson plans to use Oracle’s behavioral analytics tools  to track how visitors behave on the site—which products they look at, which articles they read and what they do or don’t add to their cart. The company plans to use that data to present site visitors with personalized offers and products they may be interested in.

“These types of tools will allow us to better tell people who we are and what we have to offer,” he says. “It will allow us to work closer with our existing customers and better meet the needs of the smaller contractors, the ones that for us have been difficult to serve in the past. The new site will make it easier for us to find those customers and make them loyal to us.”

Ferguson.com attracts about 500,000 monthly unique visitors, Brooks says. He expects that will surge once FergusonOnline.com’s 100,000 users are migrated to the new site and the company increases its investments in paid search advertisements, search engine optimization and product listing ads on Google.

Sign up for a free subscription to B2BecNews, a twice-weekly newsletter that covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industry. B2BecNews is published by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes the monthly business magazine Internet Retailer.

 

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