Vice President, Ecommerce, Strategy and Planning
Geoff Robertson, vice president of ecommerce, strategy and planning for business-to-business facilities-maintenance supply distributor Grainger is in charge of web strategy, product marketing and new business development. Lately, Robertson has been focused intently on the company’s mobile strategy. He spoke with eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher about how Grainger is embracing mobile devices to deliver time and cost savings to its clients.
eMarketer: What level of interest have you seen in your mobile website and app offerings?
Geoff Robertson: In the last 12 months, we’ve seen a 400% increase in traffic on our mobile website. More people are working away from their desks, so that’s where the mobile site is really starting to resonate, and we’re seeing a big adoption in usage.
Customers use their mobile device to look for locations to pick up a product or to find a Grainger branch. And they’re using it to search for products. They want to look at the full assortment of options and the whole product catalog, which includes more than a million SKUs. They want to know what the product availability is for each of those SKUs at their local store, or whether it can be shipped quickly.
“We’re really trying to look beyond the standard trend of using mobile for information-gathering and using it instead in a way that helps companies manage their workflow.”
eMarketer: Aside from giving customers the functionality to perform these activities, how else have you adapted the mobile experience for your users?
Robertson: We’re really trying to look beyond the standard trend of using mobile for information-gathering and using it instead in a way that helps companies manage their workflow.
We know that many of our customers don’t have purchase-approval rights, even though they are the ones who place the orders. For instance, we might have a customer who oversees several retail facilities and regularly walks the floor and makes note of lights, tiles and other supplies he needs to reorder.
Before, a customer would have to write all of these items down on a piece of paper and then go back to his desk at the end of the day and place a bulk order. But what he can do now via his mobile device is place an order immediately. That order then gets queued up and sent to the purchasing department for approval only seconds later.
Just as the people who place the orders are often out in the field, the person who approves the order sometimes isn’t in the office. They too can approve or reject orders via their mobile phone.
So what we’ve done is create something that caters to two different audiences within a company in a way that streamlines workflow. We’ve seen dramatic reductions in approval times, and our customers are already seeing time and cost savings as a result of not having to refer to a paper catalog or go online.
eMarketer: A good portion of the US population remains hesitant to make purchases on mobile devices. How do your customers compare, and what are you doing to make it easier or more reassuring for them to buy a product via their smartphone or tablet?
Robertson: We’ve got about 50% of our mobile users saying they feel comfortable enough to start placing orders, so we’re taking care to design our mobile website and mobile apps to make the checkout process extremely simple.
We’re trying to get down to a one-page checkout process so we don’t suffer from a smaller form halting smartphone users. Then we can try to achieve the conversion rates we’re seeing on the tablet. We’ve also launched a functionality that allows customers to create personal lists on their smartphones.
“Paid search is going to be just as important—if not more important—in the mobile space as it is in the desktop space.”
eMarketer: We’ve talked a lot about adapting website content for mobile devices, but where does mobile marketing and advertising fit into the mix?
Robertson: Paid search is going to be just as important—if not more important—in the mobile space as it is in the desktop space. Search is such an integral part of the mobile experience, and Google has an entirely separate algorithm for mobile search. Google reported that one in seven searches are now on mobile, and that mobile search has increased four times in 2011, so having a mobile search presence is critical for increasing awareness of our mobile website.
Mobile is a new channel for our website, so we need to spend time creating awareness and pushing mobile adoption to our audience. For example, the individual who walks the floor at several retail facilities might not know he has access to the entire product catalog on his mobile device. Once we get our customers comfortable with the awareness piece, we can then ease them into transitioning from just browsing to shopping.
Once they realize they can actually place an order over their phone and it can easily be approved by someone in purchasing, that dramatically changes the way our customers do their jobs. But we first have to make sure they know these functions exist.
eMarketer: Once you’ve accomplished the awareness and adoption objectives, do you plan to continue to market to these customers via mobile devices?
Robertson: Once they have the app, that’s where we can continue to engage with them via push notifications and make using our app an integral part of their work day.
Push notifications are kind of the B2B killer app—it’s the new email, in a way. You can manage your workflow. For example, you’ll get a notification that you have orders pending approval. Then you can go in, approve those orders and all of a sudden, everyone is able to continue their day—saving money in the process.
Then our mobile app becomes a part of our customers’ daily routine and almost a habit for how they do work. We want to be just as useful as their email and calendar. That’s the full-circle marketing that I can see around mobile devices.
A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer Total Access clients only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Total Access client, click here.
Check out today’s other articles, “Brand Advocates Are Here to Help” and “Challenges and Opportunities in Mexico, a Concentrated Mobile Market.”