B2B eCommerce is evolving fast, to the benefit of both brand and consumer. B2B eCommerce companies must adapt their user experience to meet changing buyer demands, and can look to B2C brands who have already paved the way. Here are five ways B2B brands can adapt their user experience.
1. Intuitive Search
Intuitive on-site search capabilities have been standard on most retailers' sites for years. Over the past decade, Google has made it so easy and intuitive for web users to perform searches, that retailers adapted their on-site search function to match this experience. B2C shoppers can search by product name, brand name, SKU, attribute, category and more. But what about B2B? With hundreds of products you might think intuitive on-site search would be a basic function; but the truth is that most B2B commerce sites lack the robust on-site search that buyers have become accustomed to, and this leads to a disconnected and frustrating experience.
B2B companies typically have complex online catalogs featuring hundreds (sometimes thousands) of product SKUs across many different categories. Busy B2B buyers simply don't have the time to adapt their search habits to accommodate rigid or unforgiving search functionalities. In fact, according to the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED.org) 2016 Electrical Contractors' Technology Benchmarking Survey, 60% of B2B buyers use a search engine like Google or Bing to research products on a daily basis, versus only 23% of whom visit the manufacturer's site. When asked why, reasons included ease of use and lack of common names in search criteria. Compounded with the reality that buyers spend ample time searching online catalogs for products by description, category, brand name and/or partial part number, gives a compelling reason why B2B businesses need to get smarter with their online search function.
"What information do they have in front of them? Do they have a brand, product name, part number, competitor part number, or just generic attributes? You just don't know." - Justin King, eCommerceandB2B.com
Since you don't know what information B2B searchers have at their disposal, your search must be flexible and intuitive enough to adapt to your customers' habits. B2B companies should allow buyers to search by partial part number, brand or manufacturer name, product category or even by application. Make it fast and easy for procurement managers to order in bulk by uploading a spreadsheet of part numbers.
2. Improved Checkout
B2B checkouts are often clunky compared to their retail counterparts, but it doesn't have to be so. Successful retailers offer opportunities to upsell and cross-sell beneficial products throughout the checkout funnel, while reducing friction and minimizing steps. Shoppers may be presented with product suggestions based on interests or dollar value (ie. "door crashers"). Useful tools like "potential promotions" let customers know they can get free shipping if they reach a certain cart total. Things like enhanced shipping options such as next-day delivery, order online and pickup in store, or letting customers specify an hourly delivery window give customers more reasons to buy from you.
Threadless does a great job of minimizing friction in their checkout funnel, while suggesting similar product add-ons.
When applied to a B2B checkout process, convenience features like these guide busy buyers through their purchase. While B2C style promotions may not always be relevant in a B2B setting, the same functionality can be used to provide buyers with any applicable contract terms, SLAs, fluctuating pricing, stock level information, past purchase history and more. The entire purchasing process becomes faster and simpler when this information is made available to buyers when and where they need it.
We know that personalization is a key element of B2C commerce, but according to Justin King, founder of ecommerceandB2B.com and senior partner with B2X Partners, "50% of B2B buyers surveyed identified improved personalization as being a key feature for suppliers they would want to work with".1
That's pretty significant. Although personalization might seem like a "nice to have" for B2B companies still trying to nail down their eCommerce presence, it plays just important of a role as it does for B2C – it's arguably an even bigger opportunity because B2B customers tend to be logged in, giving greater insight into who they are. The advantage here though, is that companies can bake personalization in from day one, ensuring a seamless and enriching experience for customers.
Personalization is more than just acknowledging your customers by their first name when they log into your site. It goes beyond showing products or categories that customers have indicated an interest in, and further than geographic targeting. Savvy B2C and B2B companies can enhance the customer experience by creating an engaging experience that caters to each customer's unique preferences, needs, and shopping habits. In a B2B context, this can be leveraged to improve the relationship between buyers and customer service agents. Giving agents access to all information related to order history, purchasing behaviour, and more improves the customer experience and increases sales. Custom catalogs can be created for each buyer or company based on individual contract terms. Tailored pricing can be established for different buyers, companies, roles or user groups. Customized content like product recommendations and helpful articles can be displayed throughout the eCommerce site based on a number of rules including industry or vertical, location and order history. The possibilities for customization are truly endless.
Fashion retailer Stitch Fix has mastered high-tech personalization in order to provide the ultimate personalized shopping experience. (click image to enlarge)
B2B companies that offer a more personalized shopping experience benefit from increased conversions. According to DemandGen, B2B leads who are nurtured with targeted content result in a 20% increase in sales on average.2 Even so, Forrester reported that 33% of B2B marketers say that "targeted delivery of content", or delivering contextual messaging at the right time, as their biggest lead nurturing challenge.3
4. Digitize the entire experience
One of the most important elements of B2B commerce is the printed catalog. It's the backbone of your customer-facing operations and it's what facilitates sales. By transforming the traditional printed catalog into an interactive online experience, B2B companies can support multiple branded catalogs that are tailored to individual customers. The catalogs are searchable through an intuitive search function and allow customers to purchase directly. Additionally by reducing the reliance on a traditional print catalog, B2B companies save on costs of printing and distribution.
In turn, this reduces the number of fax, phone and in-person orders, allowing for scaled-down support operations. The frequency of data input errors is also reduced.
Giving customers access to 24/7 support by way of online FAQ sections, up-to-date service manuals and even communities for professionals to engage with each other, is another way B2B companies can reduce the burden put on customer support staff.
5. Stay "open" 24/7
Like B2C eCommerce sites, B2B companies need to be accessible 24/7/365. This isn't a trend and it especially impacts the growing number of millennial buyers who want it now and are willing to pay more for expedited service. Google Research suggests that "nearly half of all B2B researchers are millennials".4 Couple that with the knowledge that 54% of this demographic buys products online regularly (weekly or monthly) and 34% buy via their mobile device as their main purchasing tool.5 B2B companies simply cannot dismiss these important facts as being relevant only to B2C. Research shows that millennials expect a higher level of service when shopping online, and this applies whether they're shopping for something in their personal lives or for work.
B2B companies should offer rich self-service options like account management, automatic order replenishment and repeatable orders. B2B customers must be able to place complex orders at any time of the day or night, on weekends and on holidays without the need for time consuming back and forth conversations or clunky phone or fax order forms.
Of course, these examples are only scratching the surface of how B2B organizations can benefit from adopting elements of the B2C eCommerce experience. The reality is that B2B companies must adapt to the changing needs of their customers in order to survive in the new digital era of B2B commerce.
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1. How to use Personalization in B2B E-Commerce http://ecommerceandb2b.com/use-personalization-b2b-e-commerce/
2. Calculating The Real ROI From Lead Nurturing http://www.demandgenreport.com/industry-resources/white-papers/204-calculating-the-real-roi-from-lead-nurturing-.html
4. The Changing Face of B2B Marketing https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/the-changing-face-b2b-marketing.html
5. PWC Global – Total Retail Survey 2016 http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/retail-consumer/global-total-retail.html
Alyssa is part of Thinkwrap's Digital Marketing team and has more than 10 years' experience developing integrated campaigns for leading brands. She's passionate about eCommerce, tech, design, and video games.