Technology Solutions Special: Maximising the digital experience

Independent dealers need help with providing a good digital experience, there's no doubt. But if they use all the tools on offer and analyse, personalise and customise, they should be on the right track.


Forward-thinking e-commerce solutions and the effective use of data analytics are critical to the future of dealers. And while the independent software vendors (ISVs) offer the most appropriate software programs, the onus is also on the wholesalers to ‘enable’ the independent dealer community (IDC) to play in the digital commerce arena as best they can. 

OPI’s Heike Dieckmann spoke to Paul Gatens, VP of E-commerce and Marketing Services at SP Richards (SPR), about what the wholesaler brings to the table and how dealers must use the tools available to them to remain competitive in the digital era.

OPI: Paul, we talked about this before and I know you’ve invested across the channel to enhance e-commerce and bring greater analytics-based insights to the IDC. What’s the latest? 

Paul Gatens: One of our biggest initiatives in this space is infusing analytics and personalisation into our digital marketing program CampaignAdvantage. With the new program CampaignAdvantageOne, dealers will be able to gain analytical insights from their website and their customers and be able to act on those insights through personalised, one-to-one email campaigns. We’re not quite ready to fully let the cat out of the bag on the details, but we’re confident that it will be a game changer for dealers to succeed in the digital space. 

These investments are made solely for the benefit of the IDC. SPR continues to invest tens of millions of dollars annually in the production of print and digital marketing materials for our IDC reseller partners. Many of the newer enhancements are there to help them compete against the likes of Amazon and to stay relevant in their marketplaces.

OPI: So what are the key points you’ve been focusing on over the past year in terms of digital marketing and content? Tell me more about the personalisation you’re referring to.

PG: Well, we’ve all heard the saying ‘content is king’ and that is more true now than ever. But it’s not just about creating more content, it’s about relevant, engaging and aligned content. We have spent a lot of time over the past year on this. 

One of the main things we’ve focused on is developing a monthly set of themes. We reviewed our sales analytics, for example, so we could establish exactly what to promote to consumers and when to do it. We then paired this with national events and holidays, and other relevant themes. Finally, we combined it all into a set of solution-oriented and engaging content focuses for every month of the year. 

This monthly-themed marketing calendar now drives the content for all our marketing deliverables. And with that coordinated effort, we have been able to further align our print and digital marketing, giving customers an all-round better experience. 

For example, the imagery, content, SKUs and promotional offers a customer sees in the printed WorkLife flyer are the same that they’ll see through their digital marketing with CampaignAdvantage. 

Additionally, we have significantly expanded our MarketingOnDemand portal, giving dealers streamlined access to a lot of curated content, from SPR promotions and manufacturer rebates to individual email campaigns and web banners.

OPI: Do you feel dealers are embracing what you’re offering? If not, what are the main obstacles?

PG: The progressive dealers definitely are. All of our customers are challenged with finding the time to allocate to marketing. It always falls behind sales and operational issues on the list of daily firefights. The true challenge is scheduling the time for strategy and marketing development work that will drive future sales and operational performance. 

With all of our new initiatives, we always try to find a way to make the program as automated as possible. We provide customisation abilities for the dealers that have the time and resources, but for those dealers that need the support from SPR, we want to help them succeed through automation wherever possible.

We are definitely underpenetrated in IDC use of CampaignAdvantage and MyAnalyst. These capabilities would cost thousands of dollars for dealers if they were forced to pursue them on their own. We leverage our size and make these things available at a very low cost. Collaboration would suggest we can all be better aligned.

Also, we are constantly hearing about the need for the endless aisle, yet most of our dealers don’t load all of the 70,000 SKUs currently available to them. We are working with the buying groups to expand the content offering even further, but we need the dealer community to start leveraging the investments being made on their behalf if we are going to be able to continue the focus.    

OPI: You mention MyAnalyst. What specifically does that program do? 

PG: MyAnalyst is a world-class suite of business analytics tools that is made up of three components: BidPro, MarketLink and MyReports.  

The first component, BidPro, is the cross referencing tool that helps our dealers with their bids using 375,000+ industry product codes.  

The second component, MarketLink, is a patent-pending process that aggregates billions of consumer sales transactions annually. This enables our dealers to use market-based pricing to support their pricing strategies.  

The third component, MyReports, helps manage dealers’ sales data and organise it into meaningful reports to better enable their sales and profit improvement strategies.  

A couple of years ago, two of the industry’s most powerful analytical software tools – MyReports and ECi’s Acsellerate – were combined to help dealers have additional access to more capabilities to maximise profitability. Together, MyReports and Acsellerate now offer a comprehensive suite of reporting functionality, ‘what-if’ analysis, CRM and business reviews. This has been very well received as our dealers can now log into one website and have access to the “best of both worlds”.

OPI: Are dealers seeing results using MyAnalyst?  

PG: Yes. The dealers that use our margin enhancement programs have measurably greater margin improvement than those that don’t. The most exciting enhancement that we’ve incorporated has been ‘Push’ reporting. 

We hear quite often from dealers that their time is limited and they don’t have the resources available to learn a new system or pull reports on an ad hoc basis. Now dealers are receiving automated reports in their inbox on a daily, weekly and/or quarterly basis without ever opening up the software. 

This allows them to spend more time learning about their business, taking care of the concerns and finding ways to improve their profitability.   

OPI: Broadly speaking, do you think dealers’ sales teams are really on board now with digital marketing and e-content? And do you think this is a generational thing at all?

PG: I don’t see it as a generational issue anymore. If dealers are struggling with their sales team in this arena, it is typically a motivational issue. If reps are motivated to keep orders close to their chest to maintain account “ownership”, they are less inclined to convert customers to online ordering. 

On the other hand, dealers that make online ordering percentage a part of their corporate goals and those that require all new customers be set up to order online don’t experience the same level of issues, regardless of sales rep age or technical expertise.

OPI: What about mobile commerce – is that on dealer’s radar yet (sufficiently)? Are the ISVs and indeed the wholesalers doing enough to bring dealers up to the necessary level?

PG: This particular development arena is not really the wholesalers’ responsibility as it is strictly about user interface development. However, we fully support the ISVs in their development efforts. If dealers’ ISVs are behind the curve, the IDC has to push for this development. The software vendors have to formalise the technology in order for the dealer community to be able to compete in a mobile economy. And then, of course, dealers have to adopt it. 

Several ISVs have responsive design sites today. A couple have mobile apps. To date, adoption of these apps has been less than nominal. The superstores constantly promote their mobile capabilities. The IDC must adapt and do the same.

OPI: You can’t talk about digital commerce and technology without bringing in Amazon and Amazon Business. What’s your view? 

PG: We believe the channel as a whole – not just the IDC – loses lines to Amazon, not entire orders. What we need to do is collaborate on a consistent message of how to overcome the Amazon perception. Some dealers do this very well. In fact, they never even think about Amazon as a threat. Others focus too much on Amazon instead of focusing on their value proposition; a value proposition that this channel – including all buying groups and both wholesalers – make possible. 

For example, if you are forced to match one item from Amazon on a five-line order then why not ask if you can also match the other four items? We have to assume Amazon was higher in price on those given the question. Also, take a screenshot of that one item today; and five more times today; and every day for the next week. Then show the customer how often that price changes. Sell your consistency and your value proposition. Overcome the threat.

OPI: How does an ever-expanding product portfolio that dealers need to offer sit with the further requirement to have more and more content? 

PG: We will never be Amazon nor will the dealer. We need to specialise in the areas where we are really good operationally, while adding adjacent categories that make sense for dealers to sell. That’s our goal. 

That said, as stated earlier, we have over 70,000 SKUs in content currently and that offering is constantly expanding to help dealers compete.

OPI: All these SKUs mean huge amounts of data. Are the manufacturers making headway in providing better content? 

PG: There are more and less progressive manufacturers, just like with the dealers. The more progressive ones are definitely focused on providing more and better content for their products. 

I’ll give a shout out to Avery on this. This manufacturer has product videos for about 40% of its SKUs and A+ product pages for more than a third. It also has an average of over three images per product. This extra-rich content drives increased conversion rates for them.

OPI: To finish up, how in your opinion does good/bad digital performance impact the bottom line? 

PG: Bad digital performance threatens the existence of the business. Relationships matter and they always will, but not providing a digital experience that is acceptable to the consumer – regardless of age – is a death sentence. Dealers must collaborate with the investments being made by the wholesalers and ISVs to maximise their digital experience.