Why B2B ecommerce needs to replicate the B2C experience
Just a third of B2B firms have full-fledged ecommerce capabilities, so what steps can B2B retailers take to create an online experience that ticks all the boxes? Brian Green explains
The ecommerce industry is booming in the B2C channel and, as a consequence, B2B buyers expect to receive the same experience and easily order goods online.
However, for many B2B businesses, online purchasing still isn’t possible – research from World Business Review (WBR) found only 34% of the B2B businesses surveyed have fully fledged ecommerce capabilities while the majority of B2B sellers still use their online platforms to merely provide product information and stockists. Those businesses are immediately put on the back foot because, in a situation where price and availability are similar among competing suppliers, the seller with the lowest barrier to entry is set to win the sale.
Simply having an ecommerce website doesn’t guarantee B2B businesses the sale – the marketplace is competitive and can be extremely crowded and, as a consequence, it is harder than ever to retain customer loyalty. As B2B buyers grow increasingly demanding, the ease and availability of the internet means that they are able to carry out extensive research to identify which offering is superior – data from 360 Digital Commerce revealed that 38% B2B buyers will visit at least four websites before making a purchase and 50% will search for a week or more before choosing a suitable provider. It is critical each one of these interactions is as compelling as possible.
A user friendly and transactional website should be seriously considered as a necessary requirement for B2B companies in most industries now. In fact, the European study done by WBR revealed that 40% of B2B manufacturers and distributors who already have a digital presence are planning to start selling to other segments (B2B or B2C) through their digital channels in the next 18-24 months. While there are corporate and practical IT constraints facing many B2B organisations, what steps can B2B retailers take to create an online experience that ticks all the boxes?
Learning through imitation
An industry wide problem to online conversions is a poor user experience. Delivering dynamic content and displaying products in an appealing and sophisticated way is an important part of the ecommerce experience in the B2C channel and needs to be one of the first considerations for B2B retailers when creating or enhancing their online platforms. Simple changes can make a huge difference. For example, instead of text-heavy lists, product pages should be highly visual and filled with valuable content and features that can help buyers make an informed decision. A 360 degree product view is also gaining popularity, and technologies like chatbots and self-service shouldn’t be overlooked as they can increase efficiency and enhance user engagement in order to make the most of website traffic. Only 10% of B2B websites surveyed by WBR display customer reviews, and as few as 8% have implemented a live chat feature, so this is an area that can really set B2B retailers apart from the crowd.
Those B2B retailers who have already implemented these techniques have seen great success. For example, pharmacy and healthcare product retailer Uniphar Group is a leader in its field and needed an engaging website to efficiently serve its 2000 plus customers and streamline high volumes of orders. By implementing a sophisticated, highly customised My Account dashboard, with reordering and online return features, Uniphar Group was able to allow its customers to self-serve and facilitate its B2B purchasing process, increasing its order volume by 30%.
B2-all and B2-I
Traditionally, organisations that sell to businesses as well as individual customers tend to have two separate websites for B2B and B2C trades, as it is common belief that the demands of buyers and consumers are drastically different. However, there are some undeniable benefits of joining the two platforms into one. As revealed by the study conducted by WBR, having a single website simplified operations on a series of levels: 33% of respondents stated that it allowed them to manage a unified product catalogue, 31% felt that it required less technical management, while 19% noted that it reduced complexity and cost of system integrations, such as ERP and CRM. By combining both sales channels into a single digital sales platform, businesses are therefore able to facilitate better brand and experience management as well as providing a more consistent brand and user experience. It’s all about the B2I (business-to-individual) approach.
The same study also shows that 36% of businesses who have a single digital commerce site indicated the simplicity of running omnichannel strategies as the main advantage. If B2B suppliers want to implement the best of B2C tactics, they need to work towards an omnichannel business model. The goal is consistency across the buying journey so that, similarly to the B2C shopper who seamlessly jumps from social media to website and store, the buyer can enjoy a cohesive experience throughout the different touch points of the purchasing process.
While aiming for a consumer-worthy experience, it’s important not to overlook the complex and specific buying requirements that B2B customers have. For example, when replacing its legacy ordering app with a modern and intuitive platform, Uniphar Group had to ensure it could still service its pharmacy and hospital clients with customised pricing, availability and lead times on a per-customer basis. These features cannot be ignored, however the general principles from B2C omnichannel strategies can still be applied to these B2B specific requirements.
Getting c-suite buy-in
Adopting a customer focused strategy can be challenging as it requires support from the key decision makers in the business. This could be the reason why so many B2B brands have not yet transitioned to an ecommerce functioning website. In fact, 26% of B2B professionals have reported difficulties convincing senior staff to take a customer-centric approach.
It is clear a change in mind set needs to take place before B2B suppliers prioritise the customer experience instead of relying on business reputation and an existing client base. Instilling a customer-centric culture is no easy task. A good place to start could be implementing company-wide customer focused KPIs such as Net Promoter Scores, which measure the strength of an organisation’s customer relationships. KPIs are a great tool for driving behaviour, they communicate large quantities of information and enable awareness and decision making – so tangible data on customer loyalty could be the key to persuading the C-suite to switch to a customer centric strategy.
As the B2B market is becoming increasingly competitive, the customer journey plays a role as crucial as the one it holds in B2C. It is imperative that suppliers embrace this transformation and place customer experiences at the centre of their digital strategy in order to remain competitive and win greater market share.