Technology Special: Telling it straight

OPI asked some of the prominent OP software providers what constitute the most important technology issues facing independent dealers today. Their replies pulled no punches.

The independent dealer community (IDC) faces many digital commerce challenges and the pace of change is rapid. Those that refuse to plan and invest in the necessary technology are in danger of becoming an irrelevance, according to some of the independent software vendors (ISVs) that supply the OP industry. They are issuing some stark warnings that they hope will serve as a wake-up call for any dealers that believe they are immune to the new e-commerce realities.

Amy Brown, Director of Strategic Services, ECi Software Solutions

The issues

The most concerning issue is the lack of security awareness. Today’s threats are real and we have seen many dealers badly affected by malware viruses that have shut down their business for long periods of time or forced them to pay a ransom fee. Hackers will only get more creative and if your dealership is not already protected with the highest-level of security you must make yourself more knowledgeable or find a Cloud service which can assist with security management. 

We’ve spent a good portion of the past year trying to educate the IDC about the technology options available, so they can focus their time on running their businesses. Security, digital services, mobile commerce, data analytics and JumpTrack are just a few of the areas we’ve been trying to encourage dealers to take advantage of. But still too many just don’t recognise, or simply choose not to use, these powerful tools.   

Digital commerce

The IDC has been slow to adapt to digital commerce in the past, but has definitely made strides to improve recently. However, it is still not adapting to the shift to m-commerce. Less than 0.5% of our dealers have adopted our mobile app – Office Shopper – yet two large competitors to the IDC report that 44-58% of their volume is being done through a smartphone app.  

These statistics demonstrate the struggle our channel is having with m-commerce. Dealers need to find a way of communicating their m-commerce capabilities through their marketing and sales force. Getting your app onto an end-consumer’s mobile device will massively assist sales. 

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Amazon is definitely a threat. However, the IDC has seen many threats over the years and continues to win business. You’re not going to outsmart Amazon so independent dealers have to focus on what they do best and not allow Amazon’s advantages to outweigh their offering. 

Dealers need to understand their new buyers and adapt to their ways of wanting to do business. I so often hear, “our customers don’t want to order online, mobile, etc”. I would challenge that thought process and ask dealers to talk to their top customers and make sure they understand their changing needs. They might be different to what they think. 

Highlight your USP

Your web and e-commerce presence is an extension of your sales representation. If you’re not investing in keeping this fresh, you are missing the opportunity to differentiate yourself. Potential customers will usually check you out online before ever taking your calls, accepting an appointment or placing an order. If your website and e-commerce site is not telling your story, people will not do business with you. First impressions do count.

Jennifer Schulman, President, Fortune Web Marketing

The issues

I give dealers a lot of credit for working with the tools they currently have and creating front-facing sites that are raising search engine presence, lead generation and brand awareness. However, they still need to be adopting a more robust, inbound marketing strategy that encompasses SEO, content marketing, social media, email and web analytics. 

Another imminent issue centres on ‘big data’ and this is an area that OP vendors must act on now. Some wholesalers are moving in the right direction, collecting data on buying habits and the effectiveness of website merchandising, and using it to personalise their customers’ experience. According to a recent report from Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognises them by name, recommends options based on past purchases or knows their purchase history. It’s crucial that the OP industry moves towards this model.

We are one of the few companies that looks at our clients’ Google Analytics data. There is so much data available from this free tool and inside customer relationship management (CRM) systems, email software and social media channels. All these pieces of the puzzle let you see what is working, what can be adjusted and how many leads or sales you have accomplished from your marketing efforts.

Digital commerce

We have been talking about the need for mobile-friendliness for some time now, but most ISVs are still not there. The need for responsive online ordering is crucial and if dealers don’t have a mobile-friendly e-commerce site they really can’t hope to compete at all. It’s time that all ISVs got on board with this – it’s a priority and should not be taking this long.

Threats

We’ve been talking about this for years, but Amazon is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If you want to counter the threat you have to have a good message, good content, get it out there and convince people that they should buy from you. But marketing is only one piece of the puzzle – ease of ordering is critical, and sensible pricing and delivery options are all part of it too. 

Highlight your USP

Portraying your brand in social media is very important. It’s not all about the ‘sale’; you have to win the relationship before you win the customer. 

In our agency we no longer have definitive B2B versus B2C marketing strategies. We go for Person to Person (P2P) or Human to Human (H2H). It’s so important to generate positive and immediate brand recognition for your company and then carry the message over from social media to email and onto your website. 

Take some time to humanise your brand too, make it fun and relatable.

Craig Greitzer VP Sales, Business Management International (BMI)

The issues

We continue to see dealers having problems with e-commerce and being able to deliver an intuitive and modern online shopping experience. We expect that to continue as their websites continue to age. 

Additionally, independents are now looking to other product sectors to augment their supplies business. This means integration and interaction with new distribution partners. To do this, dealers need to operate an open and accessible platform that can easily connect with business partners that are operating on disparate systems. They also need tools that allow them to receive digital content from various different sources. 

Finally, as Cloud computing becomes more prevalent, dealers really need to figure out how they can make this technology work for them.

As an industry, OP needs to do a better job of mining its data. There is a wealth of data in most dealers’ back-office software systems and this is where having an accessible database such as Microsoft SQL can really help them interpret their data to expose sales, purchasing and product trends.

Digital commerce

Frankly, many independents have been slow to respond to the digital commerce challenges and opportunities of this day and age. As a result we are likely to continue to see dealer consolidation and erosion of market share as this shifts to players that have seized this opportunity. The technology tools that would enable dealers to stay competitive are there, but adoption has been slow.

Many dealers don’t see the need for m-commerce and believe their core customers rely on desktop browsers to order through their e-commerce sites. While this may be true today, mobile is playing an increasingly important role as younger people come into the workforce. For similar reasons, it will also become vital for the dealer’s employees to have mobile access to the back office business software.

Threats

In the battle with larger competitors independent dealers have always used their personalised approach to customer service as their most potent weapon. This still needs to be a part of the answer, but they also need to invest in their technology – this is certainly what Amazon is doing. Now more than ever, independents need to embrace and invest in the latest technological developments. If they don’t they will get left behind.

Highlight your USP

All OP industry software providers have a standard e-commerce package that they offer. As a result, their dealers’ sites tend to look similar. Some providers have multiple ‘skins’, but they are still rather generic. 

However, if dealers radically change the look and feel of their site, updates, service packs and periodic vendor-functional enhancements become more time consuming. But as long as dealers are aware of this additional cost of ownership they may decide that it’s the right move for them. 

BMI has the whole spectrum of dealers, from those that stick with our ‘vanilla’ site to others that have done varying degrees of customisation. 

Rick Marlette, co-owner, OPSoftware 

The issues

Having an open, adaptive website that’s fully mobile-compatible is essential. You’re just not going to get far without this in place and I don’t see this changing. ISVs that aren’t up to the pace are the biggest holdback here.

Additionally, many independent resellers still aren’t making effective use of their own data. While the wholesalers and ISVs constantly fight over this, the dealers themselves remain oblivious to its value.

Digital commerce

Independent dealers need to be better placed to compete in the digital commerce age, but this is still not occurring as it should. Many haven’t adjusted to the new e-commerce realities and need to be willing to fire their existing ISV if they are not 100% mobile-adaptive. The main priorities are to stay away from the ‘app-trap’ and adopt a fully mobile website. It’s the only sensible way to go.

But mobile access is not just for customers anymore. We’ve developed a front-to-back system that an independent reseller can run from any mobile device – anywhere, anytime – and now have dealers completely live on the application. Ordering, purchasing, wholesaler fulfilment, invoicing, billing, receivables, payables and general ledger are all 100% cloud-based. This frees the independent from the desktop so they can concentrate on what they do best.

Threats

We’ve been trying to alert dealers about the harm Amazon is doing. Amazon Business is the greatest threat to entire economies. Competing against Amazon is going to require a much better web and customer-service experience from dealers. Both of these are critical and if either one is lacking then you might as well just give up.

Highlight your USP

Localisation – the ability to adapt search results based on location data – is the key to getting found on Google and differentiating a dealer’s site from the competition. But once again this requires a fully-adaptive mobile website. I can’t stress it highly enough, but think mobile, mobile, mobile or turn off the lights and go home.