Grainger Moves Fast on Mobile

At this year's big customer show in Orlando, Grainger CEO Jim Ryan introduced a new mobile website to make online ordering from the company's catalog of 900,000 products even easier and faster.

In W.W. Grainger Inc.'s latest year-end report, the company attributed about 25 percent, or roughly $2 billion, of its $8 billion in sales in 2011 to e-commerce. In another sign of the importance of that sales channel, CEO Jim Ryan unveiled a new mobile website at this year's annual Grainger Show in Orlando. The site is geared to make online ordering easier and faster for the company's 2 million customers.

"E-commerce is our fastest-growing channel," said Geoff Robertson, Grainger's vice president of e-commerce strategy and planning. "In the past 12 months, use of our mobile site has grown by 400 percent."

The company serves its customers through three business channels. The Grainger Catalog, launched 80 years ago, offers more than 307,000 facility maintenance products. The Branch Network provides customer service assistance and allows customers to pick up products at one of the company's 600 branch locations around the world. features an online catalog of more than 900,000 products and a menu of services, including the Online SafetyManager and inventory management.

Grainger's newest business channel is the mobile platform, which allows customers to access all of the features of the website via Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry mobile device. Launched in December 2011, the mobile website is geared to increase efficiency. "Mobile will augment the growth of e-commerce," Robertson said. "It's literally changing the way we go about doing work -— it's a massively influential channel.

"For example, we have customers who maintain buildings in the field. They told us they were having problems because they were spending a lot of time going from site to site, figuring out what products they needed to order. A building technician would typically write down if he needs to order something like a light bulb or sign. Then he'd have to make a list and enter it in."

With the mobile site, a customer can look up a product and order it on the spot in real time.

Customers were also having problems with procurement, Robertson said. "If a manager who approves orders is out of the office, a technician making an order would have to wait for the manager to come back to office to approve the order," he explained. The mobile site allows technicians to make an order and then send it to the approval manager’s mobile device. The manager can then make the approval, even if he or she is out of the office.

"This immediately eliminates time wasted," Robertson said. "With e-commerce, we're looking to build things that are impactful in order to make life easier, faster, and more personal. That is the critical triad of a convenient channel."

Another mobile feature is real-time product availability, which provides an estimated ship arrival time for an item and pickup availability from a nearby branch location. The personal list feature allows customers to store lists of products purchased frequently for faster reordering.

"All of the mobile features are integrated with our full network, so users have the same accounts on and the mobile website," Robertson said. "If you set up personal lists from a PC on your account, you can look it up on the mobile site. We wanted to create a fast, easy, personal experience that eliminates complexity.

"We see e-commerce as a window into the entire capabilities of the whole company," he said. "We want to take the core capabilities of the company and expose them online. The company's great customer service provided in the branches and over the phone are now provided to online customers through 'Click the Call' and 'Click the Chat.'"

Adding B2C Features, Including Product Reviews
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest E-Stats, which measures e-commerce activity of various economic sectors, B2B activity in 2009 accounted for 91 percent of e-commerce revenues in the United States.

"Customers are changing the way they do business, so we're changing what we do to meet customers' demands," Robertson said. "The migration to online and to mobile saves time and money."

In particular, Grainger's safety customers are utilizing e-commerce as a way to order PPE, signage, uniforms, and more, he said, adding, "The safety index is higher than 25 percent in e-commerce sales. Customers are migrating to this being a channel."

Grainger is rolling out new features based on B2C websites for its online and mobile sites. "Some people like purchasing on websites, and some like buying through apps. We're building specific apps for the iPhone and Android. We're also adding product reviews with star ratings and developing multi-select search capabilities for the online catalog. This will allow customers to narrow down their searches based on particular features they are looking for. We're trying to integrate B2C [e-commerce] features to the B2B space," Robertson said.

The iPhone and Android apps and online product reviews are set to be available this month.

Robertson said that adoption of the mobile website has been even across all of the company's business sectors, which include government, health care, heavy manufacturing, retail/wholesale, and commercial. "We're seeing the adoption rate for mobile technology increase around the world," he said. "Japan is leading the whole online movement. It's also increasing in China, Mexico, and Canada.

"We're going to continue to make significant investments in e-commerce," Robertson said.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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