A revolution is underway at Lincoln-based manufacturer, Lincat. With the culmination of a 16-month project to design and implement an e-commerce site for dealers, the specification and ordering process for the British brand’s products should now be almost seamless.
The new site is the brainchild of marketing manager, Helen Applewhite, who made this one of her top priorities when Chris Jones asked for her requests, after he stepped into the MD role in 2017. She said: “We have now got an industry-leading website that puts Lincat head and shoulders above the competition.
“Now our dealers can check stock, purchase products, define complex drop ship arrangements, build projects and more, all on the site. Previously they’d have to manually send a purchase order attached to an email and then our sales desk would manually input it into our Uniplan business software.”
The site is designed to be easy to navigate, categorising information by product type and brand, as well as usage requirements. “It’s optimised so that the user has fewer clicks to take them to the information they want,” said Applewhite. “We tried to make the product tiles easier for them, specifying the key features of the particular unit. The old website was full of text, so everything has been re-written in bullet point format.”
Users can then utilise filters down the side of the page to specify exactly the options and accessories required for each appliance. They can also auto generate and download the product spec sheets and technical drawings.
When dealers login, they can see live stock levels and the site even tells them if a piece of equipment is in production, and if so, when it is due to be commercially available. Furthermore, each distributor’s personalised price is automatically calculated and displayed, but this can only be viewed when logged in – operators would not be able to access these figures.
One tool available is product comparison – site users can select the equipment they want to compare and view key details such as dimensions, power supply connections or fuel. According to Applewhite: “It’s not something that has really been done before in this industry by a manufacturer. We are giving the website users all the information they need to make a purchase, and making it easy.”
Another unusual aspect is an online product configurator tool which then dovetails straight into a purchase. Dealers or end users can choose from various options and the final specification generates a code. Distributors can purchase the configured product straightaway, while end users can send the code to their dealer, who can input it into the site and buy the appliance for them.
Plus distributors can save a collection of chosen products as a project which is then costed and remains on their profile until they want to finally purchase everything. Or they have the ability to mark products as favourites or reorder previous orders if an end user requires a steady stream of the same equipment.
Dealers can also take advantage of a fast order process, where they can simply search product codes, add them to their basket and checkout. Different delivery options are also available on the site, with the ability to choose to dispatch packages at the same time, or split the order into two or more deliveries.
Furthermore, distributors can view their order history, invoices, credit notes and statements, with the option to download any of them. Plus a ‘knowledge base’ section contains CSV files depicting each dealer’s pricing levels, and these can be downloaded too.
Spares provision is another key element. Site users can input a product’s serial number in the online spares store, and the results will display every component within it. Or they can search using filters for the required part. This is the only section of the website where both end users and dealers are able to see whether a part is in stock and make a purchase.
Again, this process was previously manual and required end users, engineers or dealers to call into Lincat and describe the required part over the phone. “Anyone can now choose from over 3,000 spares to purchase online just by using a serial number,” said Applewhite. “That is immense and a real game-changer.”
The work it took to create a site of this magnitude was colossal, with Lincat hiring a web development company called Verse, recommended by a dealer customer, as well as utilising the company’s own IT team. “We took inspiration from other e-commerce sites and the agency gave us a lot of guidance,” said Applewhite. “They also asked our staff and our dealer customers what they wanted, interviewing a lot of dealers over the phone.”
She revealed the scope of the task: “The old website didn’t talk to our SAP system at all, so to drive all of the filters needed for the new site we had to input all of the individual product information into a spreadsheet. We ended up with 71,000 cells.
“We also didn’t have digital associations for options, accessories and spares, so we had to create 28,000 of those for the 713 products going online.”
More back end work included updating the brand’s BIM model database with a further 500 entries, and assigning 200 products with GTIN globally recognised barcode numbers.
Her main design drivers on the front end were to focus more on the food angle of the equipment and the context and sectors in which appliances are used, so the manufacturer hired a photographer to visit sites with Lincat equipment to generate more lifestyle images, as well as co-opting a corner of the factory for a few days to take another 100 product and accessory photos and 3,000 spare parts images.
The front end design is aimed at being cleaner and features a brand carousel banner. The site also summarises what is called the ‘Lincat Edge’, which comprised eight points the company considers gives it the leading edge. Case studies and a company timeline complete the sections.
The next step Applewhite is aiming for is switching on the online chat function to support website users, with a suggested 7am-7pm manning period. Future developments could even result in the capability to auto generate price lists.
The new sales channel will alter the functions within the company, with Applewhite clarifying: “We won’t have fewer heads, we will just redeploy some staff to support the website. Roles are changing, for instance, previously every time a spec changed I had to manually input it into the content management system, whereas now the R&D department will do that directly and the next time a customer wants that spec sheet they will be able to access the most up to date version.”
She concluded: “We are open for business 24/7 now. The idea is to automate the business more and the volume of sales is going to upscale. I’m hopeful that we can get 75% of our dealers ordering from us online. In the future, for some of our bigger customers we could just have our systems talk to theirs without any human intervention.
“It’s the best site in the Middleby Group in terms of product information and functionality. We’ve future-proofed the sales desk to cope with the increased traffic and orders to meet our ambitious growth targets. The site has been well received – we have got some very excited customers out there waiting to get their hands on it.”