With all the excitement over the World Wide Web, you’d think security products distribution would be moving squarely in that corner.
It’s great to be able to hop on a computer to see what’s available and in stock. Security products distributors have upped their online presence in response to those computer-connected installers who know what they want and like to shop via a virtual cart. But there’s still a lot to be said about the value of a little one-on-one at your branch.
Web-based distribution is the future, but for now it’s a combination of online, in-house and telephone sales that gets the job done and a definite synergy between the different methods. SD&I recently posed these questions to several national distributors:
Is distribution moving to more Web-based sales?
“We feel that customers want to leverage their online purchases with traditional brick-and-mortar transactions,” said James Rothstein, senior vice president, Tri-Ed Distribution, Woodbury, N.Y. “While they can check out products, prices and descriptions online to save a lot of legwork, they will still visit the retail location to view and test the product.”
Randy Teague, vice president of Marketing, ADI, Melville, N.Y., concurs. “We are seeing an upward trend in Web-based sales driven by convenience, but dealers still value the local relationships. We’ve noticed more dealers taking advantage of the Web-based tools available for account management and product information.”
Flexibility in approaching the needs of the security integrator is equally important. “We are committed to servicing our customers the way they want to be serviced and certainly a percentage of our business comes through our secure Web ordering system,” said Tony Sorrentino, vice president of Merchandising, ScanSource Security, Greenville, S.C. “As people become more comfortable with the Web, a higher percentage of sales will likely come through that way. That being said, the majority of our sales are over the phone. We value the opportunity to work closely with our customers and through that personal touch, our customers have access to our knowledgeable sales people, who can ensure they have everything they need, can talk about their applications, etc. We like that level of personalization.”
How has your visibility increased as a Web distributor?
“We offer many value-added services online with the availability of product images and descriptions,” continued Rothstein. “We also use Webinar and e-mail distribution to educate dealers online. The Web is great for education.”
“ADI provides dealers with access to information beyond placing orders,” said Teague. “ADI’s site supplies customers with account information tools, sales history, part search, training and product documentation.”
“We have done a lot in terms of creating online training and education tools, such as our IP Center and ID Center, as well as our Solution City vertical market sales tool,” said Sorrentino. “We also have a great deal of product information online. These all ensure dealers can access the information they need whenever they need to.”
What’s the future of this type of distribution?
“E-commerce simply complements Tri-Ed’s brick-and-mortar locations,” said Rothstein. “Our advantage lies in the power of both operations. We feel online purchases will by no means replace in-person distribution. Our customers rely on the ability to choose between purchasing products online or visiting our retail locations in person to touch, feel and demo our products. Pure e-commerce just doesn’t add enough value in the channel. It’s the combination that’s powerful,” he said.
“There will be an increase of online sales for products that require limited support and training, while dealers will continue to rely on distributors and manufacturers for guidance on more complex solutions,” said Teague. “Web-based sales will not replace the local relationships, but will complement them to help dealers succeed.”
Sorrentino said while Web-based ordering certainly fills a need, “it won’t take the place of the knowledgeable sales person on the other end of the phone.”