The 'Game Changer'

CEF’s new website - www.cef.co.uk - is a vast database of almost 27,000 electrical products, providing full order tracking, end-to-end fulfilment & next day delivery service. With a multimillion pound investment in cutting edge technology, the firm has well and truly joined the e-commerce revolution

WHEN launching a new website it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an electrical distributor to take its cues from competitors.

But City Electrical Factors is no everyday, run-of-the-mill wholesaler: before bringing www.cef.co.uk to market, they embarked on a three-year design and implementation project and took inspiration from all the leading customer friendly websites.

And as of January 12th this year, the new portal has boasted an easily searchable category list of almost 27,000 stock items, from all the major manufactures within the UK electrical industry, which have all been individually and painstakingly photographed to the exact same size and dimensions, to give the site a look and feel that would sit comfortably alongside any household e-commerce giants.

Dave Milne, one of six UK-wide general managers, invites CABLEtalk to his office to explain how the multi-million pound in- house development came to life.

“The decision was made that if we were going to do something it would be done properly and investigated properly, rather than just launching something that wasn’t up to scratch.

“All the fine detail on the website was gathered from the feedback we had from customers and attention to detail has been our main criteria. We’ve tried to emulate the best websites we could find around the internet: Amazon, John Lewis, people like that.

And we also wanted to keep the clicks to an absolute minimum to allow people to easily navigate through the site.”

Dave is reluctant to say the site has surpassed any of the competition, but it’s clear that its sheer size and reach is impressive.

“We believe that we have gone into this project in great detail and, therefore, there are few companies with which we can be compared,” he adds.

Unusually, perhaps, for a company whose core business is based on an extensive knowledge of the electrical industry and its products, CEF has built its vast database and website internally, relying on an expert IT team, from developers to designers who are all CEF employees.

It has methodically sourced the people with skills in the right areas to develop a customised website that allows customers to search products for next day delivery and to have the same experience whether they use a smart phone, tablet or laptop.

Customers can also track orders by email or text so they have instant delivery information at their fingertips.

Dave explains how the company even employs its own photographers to cope with taking thousands upon thousands of individual frames.

“We set up and designed a brand new studio for the photographers to work in; even that was done in-house,” says Dave.

He adds: “It has been a huge multi- million pound investment. The decision was made that if we’re going to do this it wasn’t going to be piecemeal, it was going to have to be industry-leading, and we believe it is.

“There have been challenges along the way but at every juncture we’ve stepped up to those challenges and surpassed them. So from that point of view, hopefully we’ve left no stone unturned.”

Founded in 1951, CEF now has almost 400 branches throughout the UK, 36 of which are in Scotland. The company has just spent the last three years upgrading its signage and branding to get uniformity, which it has right across its global operations, which includes the US, Canada, Ireland, Spain and Australia. It also has its own in-house manufacturing operations which boasts some 14 factories producing a vast range of electrical products all of which are also available from www.cef. co.uk as well as the branch network.

Web data is distributed regularly by one of Dave’s general manager colleagues – who is responsible for the website and regularly circulates its statistics, including sales and the performance of the carriers: Parcelforce, FedEx and PalletWays.

“We’re delighted with the performance of the website since its launch,” Dave adds, but is cautious about releasing commercially sensitive sales information. “However, the early results are extremely encouraging and every week it is gathering momentum,” he adds.

As evidence of how well it is working he turns to some feedback, which landed on his desk only the day before about a remote customer based in the Highlands.

Dave explains how the customer felt the service he was receiving from another supplier wasn’t up to standard so the CEF website came at the right time. The note highlights how the new customer was pleased to be able to see the pictures and availability of the stock items and know they were getting what they needed. He also understood delivery can be a couple of days because of their remote location, however, the bulk of the order arrived within the promised delivery period. The icing on the cake was when the order was placed and he received a phone call couple of minutes later to explain that the complete order wasn’t available at the moment but the customer was told when they would get it.

The balance duly arrived two days later: the service was a “gamechanger”, the customer felt.

In terms of where CEF goes next, Dave predicts growth in its Click and Collect service, which allows customers to order online and pick up in any branch. If the stock is available from a branch then the customers can also interrogate and reserve any of this stock from the branch.

“There’s an awful lot of customers out there using smart devices so I think with more people using them to do business our Click and Collect function is going to grow massively”.

In addition, customers can select to have the material delivered direct to any designated address within the UK.

He said also that CEF has a “dynamic team” in place and are “foresighted about the way the industry is evolving”. He said: “They understand how customers are changing in how they do their purchasing, and how their habits have changed.”

And in terms of marketing all the data is collected by the company allowing it to refine its customer service approach according to their wants and needs.

“We’ve tried to make sure the website is customer-friendly and ticks all the right boxes”. The website is being marketed through branches via the branch and account managers, but Dave explains “this is just the beginning” as the website – and CEF’s other offerings – will be showcased at the company’s “Live Event” trade show, which takes place in Hall 9 of the NEC, Birmingham on Friday, June 19.

Dave insists all customers are “very welcome” to attend, and can register via www.ceflive. co.uk to see the vast range of exhibitors, or contact a local CEF branch.

The benefits of the website over the first three months have been very evident for CEF, with Dave explaining that the whole thing has taken off “above and beyond all our expectations”. He said: “From the point of view of the range of equipment we’ve been supplying, new customers who have been attracted to the company, the whole thing has been mesmerising.”

FACTFILE

  • Founded in 1951 by Tom Mackie

  • Still family-owned and run

  • One of the largest UK electrical wholesalers with almost 400 branches

  • Operations in UK, US,Canada, Ireland, Spain and Australia

  • www.cef.co.uk launched on 12th January 2015

  • 26,800 product lines on www.cef.co.uk from 180 leading suppliers

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