A lot has happened regarding the Amazon Problem in this last couple of months. The e-commerce giant acquired Whole Foods, opened an automated brick-and-mortar store with no cashiers, and has announced plans to build another headquarters somewhere in New York City and northern Virginia.

While these leaps may not affect you directly, they ensure one thing: Amazon is still growing successfully and in areas we might not have thought possible before.

By now, you’re aware that Amazon, and specifically Amazon Business, might be doing some damage to your distribution business, but let’s pinpoint exactly where.

Amazon’s influence can be felt throughout a number of industries. So, whether you’re distributing building supplies, electrical products, HVAC equipment, or automotive parts, you might be experiencing one or all of these difficulties.

1. Dominating the Future of e-commerce

From a B2C perspective, Amazon has a pretty serious grip on the e-commerce world. Many of us go to Amazon for pretty much anything we need before going anywhere else. But has this translated to the B2B world? Have your buyers started to see value in buying online rather than in your dealerships?

While some of the above industries have been slower to adopt the e-commerce trend, some studies suggest that “the number of buyers who make the majority of their B2B purchases online is expected to double within the next three years from 30 percent to 60 percent.”

That could mean trouble for distributors who are slower to invest in their e-commerce solutions.

While you might not be too concerned right now with how much your buyers care about an e-commerce solution, the average B2B buyer is getting younger. A younger buying audience means more tendency to shop online.

We’ve been seeing a lot of debate about the costs vs. benefits of having an e-commerce solution.

Distribution relies on relationship building to establish long-time customers. Chances are your customers won’t be swayed by an e-commerce solution because they like to come into the supply house and physically order their products. On the other hand, many buyers may see a benefit of cross-checking inventory and pricing on a website before they come in and make their purchase.

Where you definitely have the advantage over Amazon for now, however, is in shipping. Amazon’s imprecise shipping capabilities are fast for most products but can’t compare with your on-site shipping.

Whatever side of the e-commerce debate you lie on, though, one thing is for sure. The distributor that ignores the problem will be left behind.

2. Providing Another Avenue for Manufacturers

One common fear of many distributors is being cut out of the channel. Manufacturers are always looking for more efficient ways to sell their products, but we’ve found that the healthiest and most successful sales model for manufacturers is one that includes the whole channel.

Whether manufacturers are trying to cut you out may be another story, but the truth is Amazon is now a very viable avenue for manufacturers to get product out.

As one article states, manufacturers could use Amazon as a search engine or focus on one SKU at a time for certain product pushes and even get to know their customers better.

Luckily, there are a few things distributors can do to add value before a manufacturer starts relying on Amazon over you.

One value-add, for instance, is a short-term or special promotion. The programs are perfect for pushing certain products and capturing end-user information for a manufacturer.

Outside of incentives, there’s a lot you can do to bring value to a manufacturer over what Amazon brings. To use the above example, there’s always the superior shipping benefits. Additionally, you can help to be a better business partner by providing them with insight into your/their buyers, which more often than not will be one of their main priorities in today’s market.

You can even utilize your sales team to give product feedback. How is a certain product selling, and if you changed anything about it, would it sell better?

Remember that there’s always a human element that you’ll have over the giant of Amazon. Take advantage of it.

3. As Always, Pricing

It’s been a long-sung tale, but pricing is probably the most tangible pain that Amazon Business brings to B2B distributors.

What’s particularly daunting about Amazon undercutting pricing comes straight from an article from last year, saying, “if Amazon Business only commoditizes a handful of small, high-margin items, it can severely impact distributors’ net profit margins even as their overall revenues stay high.”

What this equates to is a serious affect on custom pricing for larger orders, where most margin comes from for distributors.

As we all know, however, price battles are often a fight no one wins. So, the question falls to, “What can I do to compete against pricing?” You need to add value, not only to your own business, but for your customers and business partners as well. You have the ability to improve your business by improving the business that your re-sellers, dealers, and customers do. Become a valued partner to them and you will inspire loyalty that will beat out Amazon every time.


Your own particular sect of value is dependent on what you bring to the table. What differentiates you from not just Amazon, but from your competitors as well?

While Amazon might be disrupting your industry market, its algorithm is not an expert in sheet metal, compressors, or thermostatic expansion valves. Find the gaps that Amazon does not fill: shipping, relationship building, industry expertise, and capitalize. This strategy, coupled with your ability to inspire real loyalty, will be your differentiator.

For more information, visit www.hmiaward.com.

Publication date: 12/15/18