E-commerce sales grow for online catalogs customer MSC Industrial Supply

Recently, MSC Industrial Supply announced strong Q2 results highlighted by increases in net sales (2.9% year-over-year), operating income (7.6%) and diluted earnings per share of $0.93, which exceeded expectations. A majority of this revenue, 57.8% of it, was accounted for by e-commerce operations.

This is a growing trend for MSC, whose e-commerce has been a significant chunk of its revenue for a few years now (it was 55.4% in the year-earlier quarter). According to Digital Commerce 360, mscdirect.com, the company’s e-commerce site, is No. 97 in the B2B E-Commerce 300, a list that ranks companies on their annual Internet sales.

The same article points out that CEO Erik Gershwind said that MSC will continue to invest in its e-commerce, by adding about 150,000 product SKUs in the current fiscal year and expanding above 1 million SKUs available online.

Dirxion is proudly involved in buffering MSC’s e-commerce performance through the creation, linking and customization of the company’s online catalogs. The primary project that Dirxion and MSC build together is its Virtual Big Book, a full collection of MSC’s product SKUs organized and displayed through over 4,000 print catalog pages.

Each product number in the catalogs are linked directly to MSC’s e-commerce pages, with an iFrame of the product page displaying the corresponding information directly in the online catalogs interfaces. The image below shows the iFrame view opened on a desktop computer.

MSC Industrial Supply Online Catalog


Uniquely displayed on their website pages, the Virtual Big Book is embedded in a tab pull-out that can be found on the left-hand side. This custom presentation is enabled by custom coding created and shared among Dirxion and MSC’s website developers. The embed is made easier via HTML5 rather than Adobe Flash technology, which Dirxion successfully moved away from four years ago.

MSC does a great job of maintaining fast-loading e-commerce pages, in spite of such a large database from which to pull information. The same standards of speed and loading efficiency are applied to its online catalogs.

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B2B Online convention teaches us more about what online catalogs need

This week, B2B Online is taking place in Chicago, where leading manufacturers and distributors are meeting to learn digital strategies. Dirxion’s Mark Thomas, sales, is attending the convention to meet with prospects and customers while learning more about what online catalogs might need.

Thomas says that, overall, there is a lot of talk about using data to understand how buyers are interacting with your website. Specifically, B2B websites are tracking visitors using their analytics software and then combining that with CRM data. In turn, for example, Caterpillar can assign unique website experiences based on user types. Rather than leading with products, Caterpillar determines whether the user is in road construction, farming or, perhaps, building construction, and depending on their selection, serves up a more-specific set of products.

He also noted that B2B Online recognizes a fundamental shift in the way people buy. Both retail and B2B customers are doing their own research much earlier in the process. They want to figure out what features they want to buy, why they are good for them and will engage with chat or reach out to sales if the information they find is compelling.

Ryan Jenkins touched on similar points during his presentation, which addressed the different approaches generations tend to take when making a purchase. The following picture shows a chart that he displayed during his session:


Jenkins points out that each generation evaluates a pitch differently. Whereas Builders value recommendations, Millenials value co-creation; whereas Boomers consider credibility, Gen X’ers consider value (from a financial perspective) to be most important.

Ultimately, B2B Online places emphasis on high quality website content — videos, eBooks, white papers, blog posts, customer feedback — so that buyers can continue to do research themselves. Without this information, buyers are beginning to look elsewhere first before considering a sales call from your company.

As a distribution platform, Dirxion’s online catalogs can be a one-stop page for a lot of research to help inform buyers before making a purchase. Most of Dirxion’s clients are Boomers or Gen X’ers, and they do appreciate a consistent product that performs steadily as well as a platform that provides good ROI. Because of this, most customers require Dirxion to integrate e-commerce product pages directly into the online catalogs through iFrames, Quick Views or custom dialogues.

Overall, B2B Online affirmed some of the recent developments Dirxion has pursued, like MSC’s tab pull-out that provides instant access to the Big Book on every page of MSC’s website. The convention has also provided a few new ideas, like user-based content distribution, that could take online catalogs to the next generation.

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