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Climate Center’s Andy McEwan describes the industry’s embracing of online activity and how the wholesaler is meeting the demand

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could picture their lives without the web – whether it be eBay or Asos, Twitter or Times Online, internet banking or internet dating. According to the Centre for Retail Research, about 15 per cent of all UK spending is now transacted online – a figure set to reach £52bn by the end of next year.

The explosion in online activity and huge increase in networked devices such as smartphones and tablets has led to a complete change in behaviour and has given us the opportunity to transform the services wholesalers like us can offer to our customers.

Imagine a world where branches open 24/7, where unlimited ranges of product are stocked and where customers have the ability to check their order details, prices, terms and information whenever they like, however they like.

Well, that’s our world today and it’s what e-commerce has done for us – it has transformed the brick walls in our branches into rubber ones, saving the customer time, money and making their lives easier in the process.

Trade customers use the web every day – and not just for buying, but for selling, training, researching, even complaining. Customers are familiar with the web because it’s ingrained in their day-to-day activities. So it’s important that we can meet their needs by providing a channel that they want to work in. 

I believe Climate Center’s new transactional site meets this need: it enables our customers to interact with us via the web, something they are already doing elsewhere.

The site gives customers an enormous amount of additional services – not just the ability to place orders at any time, but to check live stock availability and prices in their branch of choice and access a wealth of product information at the touch of a button. More than 15,000 products, together with product information and expertise is now online. And there’s more to come.

What the web doesn’t do is replace the branch network – it is designed to work alongside it and makes it even better.  As an industry, it goes without saying we deal with complex technical products, for which there are often a huge number of variants.

But that is nothing compared with the complexities of gases and cylinders.

Online enhancement

While more and more of this knowledge and information is moving online, clicks won’t replace bricks. The immediate need for product and expertise has meant that stock held locally in branches staffed by technically knowledgeable people remains at the heart of the wholesale business.

Instead, the web enhances the existing service offer – it offers another way of ordering, of researching and interacting, and another way to get information about our products and services. Online transactions represent a new way to have richer conversations with customers. As a result, we now provide technical information online alongside technical support in branch or on the phone.

For delivery, customers now have a choice of five different options – you can have the product delivered or you can come into branch and collect it, and all these options are of varying degrees of speed, convenience and cost.

Online orders can now be express delivered for arrival next day, if a customer can’t make it into a branch – that is something we haven’t been able to offer before.

While the web extends the service we can offer customers, the branch is still very much the hub. Our multichannel approach is designed to save the customer
time, money and hassle, enabling them to interact with us however they’d like to. This we believe will help us achieve our goal of being the easiest merchant to do business with.

Andy McEwan is commercial director of Climate Center and Pipe Center.

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