Bulbs.com is growing — and Gregg Walker, vice president of ecommerce, weighs in on the lighting products distributor’s strategy to maintain that momentum. Core to that strategy is how the distributor’s sales reps complement its ecommerce operations.
It all starts with the website but often ends with our team’s lighting expertise.
Gregg Walker, vice president of ecommerce, Bulbs.com
By taking steps to support its sales team, the company plans to continue building its commercial retrofitting initiatives around the United States. For example, Walker says while listening to customer feedback, Bulbs.com proactively adds features like downloadable tech specification materials or capabilities like emailing shopping carts to ensure the customer experience is smooth and fast. In addition, Bulbs is building tools on its website to help sales representatives access inventory records and give customers estimates of project costs and long-term benefits.
In 2021, top-line growth, including website and call center sales, grew 21% over 2020. In addition, the company experienced a 31% growth in 2021 total sales over 2019, as web sales alone grew 13-15%.
The hybrid between the Bulbs.com ecommerce site and the sales team’s lighting expertise brings customers value, Walker says.
“We’ve seen that with larger B2B projects, there is more customer assistance needed from our certified specialists because those projects come with more technical specifications, potential rebate opportunities, and application-specific concerns,” he says. “It all starts with the website but often ends with our team’s lighting expertise.”
Bulbs.com is also balancing its core B2B business with its growing residential customer business, which spiked during the pandemic. Maintaining a healthy balance between the two types of customers has the company rethinking how to meld non-technical and technical information to appeal to both sets of audiences, he says.
But while the residential business is growing, he says, residential orders are still a much lower average order value, even for the most expansive residential homes.
“There is only so much lighting you need to purchase for a residence,” he says.
Walker declines to specify how much of Bulbs.com’s total revenue is from its residential customers.
Commercial retrofitting projects drive business
Meanwhile, Bulbs.com’s B2B business is driving more growth — particularly in the distributor’s specialty of retrofitting lighting systems for its commercial customers. To support that business in recent years, Walker says, the company has focused on expanding its partnerships with utility programs, starting with a dedicated page on Bulbs.com that breaks down rebates on a state-by-state basis. So, if a customer clicks on Illinois, for example, a pop-up window prompts them to enter their ZIP code and then choose their local utility to see rebates available in their area.
In Chicago, where customers can choose among utilities ComEd and North Shore Gas, a rebates pop-up recently displayed 651 eligible products for purchase and savings of up to $25 per light bulb and $50 per lighting fixture. Buyers can get more information by calling a toll-free number or emailing a request for a reply from a lighting specialist.
These utility partnerships place Bulbs.com in a position to offer rebates to commercial customers to convert their current lighting products to more energy-saving options. Indeed, 2022 will be a year of reinforcing utility partnerships to encourage companies to convert their lighting, Walker says.
“Retrofitting our commercial customers has been our biggest area of growth,” he says. An excellent way to sell such contracts, he adds, is by helping customers figure out how energy savings can offset costs, “and in the long-term have that lighting retrofit project pay for itself.
“There are still many commercial applications out there that have been running extremely outdated, inefficient lighting applications. The more Bulbs.com can expand on that and pull together projects for customers that can pay for themselves over time because of energy savings — as well as improve lighting quality with sensors and smart lighting products — remains our biggest B2B opportunity.”
Supporting Bulbs.com’s sales team
To help support its retrofitting efforts, Walker says Bulbs.com has focused on providing tools its sales team can use to provide fast and accurate responses. And while Bulbs.com continuously works on the customer-facing part of its website, Walker says the company understands it needs to equip its sales team with information from Bulbs.com’s back-end business operations software that will help them increase sales, he says.
“We want to keep tools available for our commercial sales representatives to access, so we make the most use of their time and allow them to respond to their customers faster,” Walker says.
A helpful resource reps can access includes return-on-investment estimates, which are particularly useful for large retrofitting projects. These estimates factor in rebates, which entice customers because it helps offset the initial costs of retrofitting their facility’s lighting. Walker says it is also helpful for its commercial sales representatives to have easy-to-navigate online access to inventory information, which lets them “answer customer questions on the spot,” Walker says.
“We also want to show the customer how long it will be before the project pays for itself,” Walker says.
Bulbs.com is also looking at other revenue-generating opportunities. If a customer is looking for something that Bulbs.com can provide through its vendor partnerships, “we’re happy to add that,” he says.
The online distributor is also addressing other customer demands.
“We take the feedback and sort through it and prioritize it,” Walker says.
Customers said they wanted to download technical specifications off the Bulbs.com website as a PDF, for instance, so the company added that feature. Customer feedback also led Bulbs.com to let customers email a shopping cart to a supervisor, making it easier for them to get approval for purchases.
After coordinating with its merchandising team, Bulbs.com often adds features to improve the overall customer experience. For example, the latest addition to its mobile website includes the ability for customers to use Apple Pay at checkout.
“This, too, was based on customer feedback,” Walker says.
Next on the docket is a new direct line between customers and sales representatives. Customers want to contact their sales representative via text messages and receive tracking and other logistical updates related to their orders and projects. But Bulbs is being careful not to slip too far into impersonal communications, Walker says.
“We want to make sure we’re managing that communication channel properly as opposed to simply centralizing that process and automating it like anything else,” he says. “We have to figure out how to keep that line of communication open while ensuring the customer is covered — no matter what kind of salesperson turnover.”
To provide this service, Walker says Bulbs plans to invest in a third-party vendor to help them automate the SMS texting process. It’s is still in the early planning stages, he says.
Walker is set to speak on B2B ecommerce performance at EnvisionB2B in Chicago in June.
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