Just as the pandemic accelerated the HVAC industry’s digital transformation, wholesalers’ dependency on eCommerce as a sales channel has skyrocketed over the past few years. Of course, HVAC wholesalers and their customers had been doing business online long before Covid-19 closed storefronts and put a halt to in-person sales meetings. But it’s fair to say that the extent to which they now rely on eCommerce has soared — and it shows no signs of slowing.
In fact, a recent study conducted by my firm, Billtrust, found that 85% of HVAC wholesale suppliers have now deployed an eCommerce solution. Even more importantly, 99% say they’ve seen an increase in profits from using eCommerce, with the vast majority experiencing growth from anywhere between 25% to 75%.
Indeed, eCommerce has grown into a major revenue booster for businesses. Let’s take a look at some of the ways HVAC is using this sales channel to drive loyalty and maximize profits.
1. Modernizing the B2B Customer Experience
The term “customer experience” has been a buzzword in the consumer space for some time. But truthfully, it took a while for the B2B world to realize its importance as a brand differentiator. That’s why it’s unsurprising that pre-Covid studies from research firms like McKinsey found a huge gap in the quality of buyers’ experiences in their consumer lives and their professional lives.
In the HVAC space, a major contributor to a lagging CX was its hesitancy to abandon outdated, frustrating, and highly manual processes in favor of digitization and automation. But now that the industry is catching up with the consumer world in this regard, they’re also realizing just how valuable the customer experience is and the substantial bottom line benefits it can bring.
The emergence of eCommerce, in particular, has opened up new doors for wholesale suppliers to deliver the types of experiences their customers now expect. In fact, the benefits that eCommerce offers is exactly what today’s buyers are looking for. For example, Billtrust found that service providers now rank shipping speed, availability, and price as the most important factors when choosing a supplier — features which, of course, are also embedded within any great eCommerce experience.
In other words, eCommerce is not only helping HVAC wholesalers to reach larger audiences and fulfill more orders. It’s enabling them to deliver those consumer-like buying experiences that their customers have come to crave. These are experiences which today’s B2B buyers are increasingly leveraging to decide which supplier to do business with, and consequently, proving to be a primary driver of revenue for wholesalers across the HVAC industry.
2. Meeting the Expectations of the Next Generation of HVAC Buyers
A primary reason why the bar for customer experience has risen so much in recent years is the emergence of the next generation of B2B buyers. According to Amazon Business research, nearly three-quarters of business buyers today are millennials, who as digital natives are bringing with them traditionally B2C expectations for things like speed and convenience to industries like HVAC.
Clearly, wholesalers stand to benefit from meeting the demands of this highly influential cohort. In knowing this, most are turning to eCommerce to revolutionize the supplier-buyer relationships they have with them. In fact — perhaps uncoincidentally — 60% of today’s B2B buyers say that their suppliers’ eCommerce experience is “very important” to their relationship with their supplier.
But this isn’t to say the days of in-person sales meetings are gone. Instead, the emergence of eCommerce is ensuring that HVAC suppliers can cover all the bases when it comes to meeting the evolving needs of their tech-savvy buyers. For example, a customer might prefer to place an order in-person if they need it urgently. Or, they may opt to source supplies in-person at the beginning of a relationship before turning to eCommerce for reorders.
Whatever the case may be, the bottom line benefits of these digital customer relationships are growing increasingly obvious. And as the makeup of the modern HVAC buyer evolves, eCommerce will be crucial for boosting loyalty and profitability.
3. Overcoming Supply Chain Issues
HVAC wholesalers have been operating against a backdrop where high demand for their products has been complicated by pervasive inventory and supply chain challenges. Because of this, the emergence of eCommerce and the evolution of sales in general couldn’t have come at a better time.
Indeed, it’s growing increasingly clear that eCommerce not only holds the key to keeping up with the explosion of demand that suppliers have seen these last few years, but it’s crucial in helping manage inventory as orders continue to skyrocket. This is something that is especially impacting the HVAC industry, where a materials and semiconductor chips shortage is making it much more difficult for wholesalers and distributors to meet their customers’ needs.
The fact that HVAC eCommerce sales are growing at the rate at which they are, however, shows how wholesalers have been able to leverage it to manage inventory, fulfill a record number of orders, and ultimately drive growth despite supply chain disruptions. The robust ERP integrations most eCommerce platforms offer enable wholesalers to shorten the order fulfillment cycle by providing real-time visibility into stock, which today’s B2B buyers greatly appreciate. In fact, when Billtrust asked buyers what eCommerce features are most important to them, inventory transparency ranked at the top alongside fast delivery, clear pricing, and simple search capabilities.
Clearly, a host of challenges have made growth difficult for HVAC wholesalers. But using eCommerce, they’ve found new ways to meet the evolving needs of their customers and as a result, boost customer loyalty and maximize profits. It’s a lesson for all industries going forward, who face pressure to differentiate themselves from competition in order to win the business of the next generation of buyers.