ST. LOUIS, MO - Business to Business (B2B) buyers are shopping online. Right now. In fact, according to Carlos Manalo, co-founder and executive director of The Office of Experience (OX), if you aren't selling your products online now, you need to before you lose even more ground to your competitors.

Manalo recently spoke to food industry leaders at Innovations 2019, Dot Foods' annual trade show, in St. Louis, Missouri. He said that 26 percent of today's B2B buyers complete at least half of their work purchases online. And that number is only going up---to 43 percent by 2021---so sellers should see a significant shift in offline business moving online in the next few years.

"For those of you who are considering it, your customers are placing their orders online now, so if not now, when?" Manalo asked the attendees.

According to a Cleveland Research Company study commissioned by OX and Dot Foods, 45 percent of independent operators are open to ordering completely online, and operators are four times more likely to look for information on a distributor's site than the manufacturer's.

The good news, according to Manalo, is today's B2B buyer is the same as a Business to Consumer (B2C) buyer because they are used to their experience in the B2C world.

His main piece of advice: Just get started.

Businesses with a Small Number of SKUs

Manalo said it is "easy peasy" to get going if your company has a small catalog of products. It could take anywhere from 15 minutes to half a day to get up and running. His steps include:

1. Sign up for an e-commerce store account, such as Shopify or Walmart.com

2. Add your product catalog to the account

3. Customize its look and feel

4. Enable domain and technology settings

5. Pilot, launch, test, and learn

He said that even if your margins shrink, you will know what it takes to set up an e-store. And after you get comfortable, you can figure out how to evolve and grow from there.

Businesses with a Large Number of SKUs

While not insurmountable, Manalo said it would take more time and effort to start from scratch in the e-commerce world. His steps include:

1. Define audience, strategy, and key performance indicators (KPIs)

2. Focus on product data

3. Develop requirements and experiences

4. Platform and infrastructure integration

5. Pilot, launch, test, and learn

"Getting the data right is fundamental when you get to this scale," he said.

For Both Types of Businesses

Distributors interested in hosting a virtual warehouse, one with a larger offering than currently available, can look to Dot.

Called Dot on Demand, distributors can integrate Dot's stocked items and product information into their e-commerce system. This would allow the distributor to display Dot's inventory as their own, all without adding any new warehouse space for the distributor.

The distributor can start small, with one category of items, or as large as Dot's entire 44,000+ catalog.

The customer also benefits by shopping directly on their distributor's website, selecting from new and unique products previously not available, and ordering exactly what they need, when they need it.

"The industry is going to keep moving," he said. "The longer you wait, the longer you are letting opportunity pass you by."

To learn more about Dot on Demand, contact Dot on Demand Manager Tom Street.