First it was books. Then it was blankets. Now it’s rods and electrodes.

AmazonSupplyAmazonSupply launched in April 2012 at, with a mission statement “to sell everything needed to rebuild civilization.” Five-hundred thousand industrial products were listed for sale. Today, just two-and-a-half years later, more than 2,250,000 items are listed in 17 vertical distribution segments, including welding supplies. Dedicated customer service facilities, corporate lines of credit and telephone ordering make the sales experience easy for the customer. Product is shipped from 41 fulfillment centers located throughout the United States.

According to an article in Modern Distribution Management, AmazonSupply has been aggressively seeking manufacturer partners, as well as distributors, to supply its customers, and has joined a number of industrial distribution trade associations.

Prentis Wilson

Prentis Wilson is the Vice President and General Manager of Industrial and Scientific Supplies at AmazonSupply. With the company since 2011, he previously worked at Cisco Systems and Honeywell.

Famous for not showing its hand, AmazonSupply is quiet about its plans, so when Prentis Wilson, AmazonSupply’s vice president in charge of industrial supplies, agreed to an interview with WGT Editor Carole Jesiolowski, anticipation was high. One caveat: the questions had to be submitted beforehand. In the end, AmazonSupply canceled the live interview but agreed to provide responses to questions submitted by email.

WGT: How many “industrial” products does AmazonSupply currently sell online? What categories of products?

Prentis Wilson: AmazonSupply launched in April 2012, offering customers a convenient, one-stop shopping experience for all their business, industrial, commercial and scientific purchases. Our goal is to deliver the best selection of products at competitive prices, all in one place. AmazonSupply currently offers more than 2,250,000 items across 17 different product categories, including Welding & Soldering, Power & Hand Tools, Occupational Health & Safety, and Abrasives & Finishing, among others. We work hard to increase our selection, offer low prices every day and make it as easy as possible for customers to find every product or part they need on AmazonSupply.

WGT: How many of those 2.25 million industrial products are welding supplies?

PW: Our growing welding supply selection currently includes more than 10,000 products. The selection ranges from Hobart and ESAB welders to 3M Speedglas welding helmets, to Forney welding jigs and contacts, to welding gloves, rods and electrodes. Additionally, we offer products used in the fabrication process such as 3M and Norton abrasives, carbide burrs, work holding tools and personal protection equipment. We continually seek to bring on new welding brands and expand our selection of industrial welding equipment and consumables.

WGT: How do you choose what will be sold online, especially with welding equipment?

PW: Our goal is to offer the largest selection of supplies and parts. We aspire to have everything available that any one of our business customers might need, and we will work hard to explore different avenues to make sure we can fulfill a product need in a way that meets our customers’ expectations.

WGT: Where do the products come from? Are the suppliers of these products manufacturers, or are they local sellers?

PW: We believe we offer a strong value proposition to the wide range of manufacturers/brands selling their products through AmazonSupply. Specifically, we offer:

  • Exposure to Amazon’s robust customer base
  • A differentiated experience enhanced for business supply products, including rich product content shared in a consistent manner to all customers
  • Amazon’s proven track record in online retail, fulfillment and customer experience
  • Assurance that their customers will have the best possible shopping experience when they purchase their products
  • AmazonSupply is brand agnostic and we will carry a full line of products.

WGT: How does a supplier of products become a seller on AmazonSupply? Do you follow any criteria for choosing your suppliers?

PW: Any company that is interested in having their products available on AmazonSupply can contact us. We have teams that work with sellers and vendors to help assess the best method of engagement.

WGT: Would you provide some statistics: How many people purchase welding equipment online, what they typically buy, etc.?

PW: I can’t provide specifics, but I can tell you that as we continue to ramp up our selection, we find that the categories with the deepest selection grow as customers are interested in the latest items becoming available. Currently, 3D printing products and janitorial supplies are increasingly popular among our customers. AmazonSupply currently offers more than 2,250,000 products and we continue to work with top suppliers on increasing our selection and offering items at low prices.

Editor’s Note: Should Distributors Be Worried?
AmazonSupply has certainly gotten our attention. Google “AmazonSupply” and you will find ongoing commentary about the situation distributors and suppliers are finding themselves in. A recent study by the Acquity Group showed that 90 percent of 18-35 year-old buyers purchase online, and 63 percent of them have ordered from AmazonSupply at least once; 40 percent frequently. As the buying demographic changes in the executive suite, online commerce will become more predominant. On the flip side, traditional distribution models have the value-added advantages: long-time customer relationships, extensive product knowledge and the ability to service and install equipment. As AmazonSupply’s Prentis notes, buyers of industrial products are looking for the same, easy buying experience they have with consumer products and want similar features: product comparisons, customer reviews, search capabilities, buying lists, and more.

In a blog post for Modern Distribution Magazine, Tom Gale gives this advice: “Be concerned if managers in your company are still saying, ‘Our customers aren’t shopping or buying with apps or mobile sites, email or Web; we serve them personally between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.’

These are the companies Amazon is targeting with its brand of customer service.”

If nothing else, all this talk about AmazonSupply is challenging distributors to think about online strategies. Do you need one? Only you can answer that

WGT: Most sellers of industrial welding equipment have a sales staff that is sophisticated in their knowledge about the products and their use. If an AmazonSupply customer has a question about a product, prior to purchase, how do they get an answer?

PW: We are focused on finding ways to offer customers the best possible buying experience. Our dedicated customer service team and comprehensive product information will help us achieve this. We currently offer a wide range of content – everything from technical specifications, CAD drawings and high-resolution images of products to manufacturer’s how-to videos. For manufacturers, this product content and the ability to consistently communicate to every one of their customers about exactly how each product is intended to be used, adds value. We also offer an open playing field because we’re brand agnostic. We want to provide all the tools and helpful information so our customers can choose which product best fits their needs.

WGT: So how do you convince people who typically buy industrial products by phone, or fax, or visit to a brick and mortar store to go online and make a purchase?

PW: We offer the ability to order by phone on AmazonSupply. Some of the feedback we have received from our business customers is that they love the convenience of shopping online, and they want an experience that is similar to how they shop in their personal lives. When they are at work, they want to know how they can have that same level of convenience when buying products for the office. Amazon’s approach is about offering great selection, convenience and value, and businesses absolutely want these same things. AmazonSupply was established to enable us to follow that same approach, but do it on a platform that is tailored for businesses. We take the innovation we’ve built on behalf of our customers and focus that innovation on our business customers.

WGT: What type of marketing do you do for industrial products?

PW: That’s something we don’t disclose.

WGT: How do you compete with a large scale industrial supplier, like Grainger?

PW: As a policy, we don’t comment on other companies. We are focused on providing our customers with a wide selection of supplies and parts and offer it the Amazon way – great prices, easy navigation, robust product information, customer reviews and fast/free shipping offers, as well as the ability to shop from home, work or on-the-go with a mobile device. In addition, AmazonSupply offers a 365-day return policy and a dedicated customer service center.

WGT: Since launching AmazonSupply two years ago, what have you learned about the industrial supply buyer?

PW: We’ve had a really exciting couple of years, and this is only the beginning. What we are hearing is that customers really enjoy having the ability to shop at work the same way they shop at home. They get the speed and delivery experience they have come to know and love with our world class fulfillment.

WGT: Please tell us about one of the challenges you faced and how you overcame it?

PW: We are constantly listening to our customers and will continue to find ways to invent on their behalf. There are a lot of opportunities to help companies streamline purchasing processes and make shopping for supplies easy and convenient. We’re working hard to add the right features, information and selection to meet our customers’ needs.

WGT: How many employees are devoted to AmazonSupply?

PW: As a company policy, we don’t share that information.

WGT: How do you improve on 2.25 million products and counting?

PW: I can’t discuss future plans, but I can tell you that we are working hard to increase our selection, offer low prices every day and make it as easy as possible for customers to find every supply and part they need on AmazonSupply.

Welding & Gases Today Online has a link to Forbes Magazine’s “Amazon’s Wholesale Slaughter: Jeff Bezos’ $8 Trillion B2B Bet” on the home page of the Fall issue at

Gases and Welding Distributors Association