Bundling, Replatforming and Engaging: How Wolseley Canada Moved into the Ecommerce World

Replatforming a traditional business to thrive in the world of eCommerce

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If there is one industry that you might not expect to be leading the way in the world of eCommerce, it would probably be plumbing. And, for the most part, you would be right, but for one notable exception.

Wolseley Canada is a leading wholesale distributor of plumbing, HVAC/R, and waterworks products, and in the last few years, the company has built one of the industry-leading B2B eCommerce sites. Gail Kaufman, Vice-President of Marketing & eBusiness at Wolseley Canada, has been leading the charge in pushing the business forward in the digital world, and as she explained recently on Up Next in Commerce, it’s been a long journey that started back in 2009.

“The world had started to change,” Kaufman said. “Certainly in our channel, eCommerce was not prevalent. But sitting in marketing, [I knew] we need to do something here. So when I was given the opportunity, it was a nice development for me, and I felt like we could really do something important with it.”

In order to move forward with building up Wolseley’s eCommerce offerings, the most important thing Kaufman and the rest of her team had to do was re-educate the customers. Up until 2009, Wolseley customers were almost exclusively working with a sales representative to order the goods they needed. Whether they were going to a branch or calling in, there was almost no digital activity in the transaction process. But to change consumer behavior, Kaufman first needed to change the associates’ behavior and train Wolseley employees on the online systems so that they could distill that information to the customers they were already working with.

So Kaufman set out to train associates to use and understand Wolseley Express, the eCommerce site that Wolseley customers now use. Because success would only come if the associates were able to teach customers successfully.

“We recently did a survey with our customers and they indicated that the number one reason they tried the platform was because their salesperson recommended it,” Kaufman said. “So that’s a very influential relationship [and] it’s about making sure that [the associates] really understand the value proposition, that they are comfortable, that they are proactive in talking about Wolseley Express, really understanding how it impacts the customer from a convenience and efficiency standpoint.”

Once customers were using the online system, Kaufman said that everyone at Wolseley then needed to make sure that they always had a pulse on the customer experience. If issues arose, whether it was discrepancies in pricing or orders going unfulfilled, they needed to be addressed to avoid the deterioration of trust with the consumer.

“That’s a key tenant of shopping online,” Kaufman said. “ In the early days when shopping online wasn’t that prevalent, there was a lot of, I would say, trepidation. It was kind of easy for customers to talk themselves out of it and just think, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. It sounds interesting, but I think I’ll just call my guy that way I know I’ll get what I need.’ Trust and reliability is still really important, but I think through all of the efforts and through really focusing on not only the online experience but the fulfillment piece, it’s not really an issue anymore.”

Along with trust, ease of use is one of the other most important components of creating a successful eCommerce experience. That is one area that Kaufman said the Wolseley team worked hard on when they redesigned the Wolseley Express site.

“When we re-platformed, we actually changed up the whole user experience,” she said. “We really spent a lot of time and we engaged some experts in that field to really help us make sure that it became much easier to navigate. When customers hit a site, they don’t want to have to try to figure it out. They want it to be easy to navigate. They want it to be intuitive.”

Customers also want to save time because, as the saying goes, time is money. Kaufman beats this drum at Wolseley and she encourages everyone who works on the eCommerce site to remember that their job is always to save the customer time. As she explains it, Wolseley Express should be constantly solving problems and removing friction in how people are currently working.

“We need to really be thinking about how do we build closer partnerships with our customers, really understand our challenges, really understand their pain points and work to resolve those?” she explained. “We are actively doing that. To force customers to continue to work in a mode that is not serving them anymore is not fruitful.”

So far, Wolseley’s move to the digital world is bearing fruit, and the adoption of the eBusiness experience is only continuing to grow. To hear more about it, tune in to the full interview here.

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