The lines between B2B and B2C commerce are getting blurrier, and it's becoming more and more difficult for B2B companies to argue the benefits of investing in their digital experience. Even just a few short years ago there was still a clear distinction between B2C and B2B eCommerce, but today's manufacturers and wholesalers have recognized the important role customer experience plays on their bottom line -- and ultimately the long-term success of their company. According to Forrester, wholesalers and manufacturers will top retailers in eCommerce technology investments in just three years, and will account for 30 percent of total spending.
This new reality extends to electrical distributors and wholesalers who are struggling to meet the fast-changing demands of their buyers. According to Forrester Research, just under half of B2B buyers indicated they want a B2C-style shopping experience, but a recent survey of electrical contractors conducted by the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) indicated only 64% of electrical distributors offer online shopping on their websites. This represents a significant gap that distributors cannot afford to ignore.
We've highlighted some key areas where distributors are failing to meet their customers' expectations. Here are some of the most important things that electrical distributors need to consider when examining their customer experience:
Go mobile (or go home)
It's no secret that the future of eCommerce is mobile, both in the B2C and B2B landscape. According to Gartner, by 2017, U.S. Customers' Mobile Engagement Behavior Will Drive Mobile Commerce Revenue to 50 percent of U.S. Digital Commerce Revenue. Mobile commerce currently generates 22% of all digital commerce revenue.
91% of electrical contractors use a smartphone at work, yet only 61% of distributors have mobile-friendly sites.
More than half of B2B buyers research products from their smartphones, representing a 91% increase in mobile usage throughout the path to purchase. More importantly, 91% of electrical contractors use a smartphone at work (vs. only 57% of whom use a laptop or 61% who use a desktop), yet only 61% of electrical distributors have a mobile-friendly website. Contractors need access to all information when they're out in the field, including access to current and accurate stock levels, pictures of products, product spec sheets and technical drawings. Once they find the products they need, customers should to be able to complete their purchase from anywhere, at anytime including weekends and holidays – all without picking up the phone.
Stop losing customers to Google
You might not think you're in competition with Google, but contractors are increasingly turning to the convenience of Google over searching the sites of distributors and manufacturers. The days of customer loyalty are diminishing quickly, and buyers are eager to compare products based on price, shipping time, reviews and stock levels – which Google makes it easy to do.
Buyers say searching Google for products is easier, faster and offers more choice than searching within a distributor's site.
Busy contractors are frustrated with out of date and inaccurate online inventory and insufficient pricing information. They no longer have time to pick up the phone and call distributors to inquire about stock levels and pricing. By delivering a better digital customer experience, distributors can keep their customers on their sites.
Improve your on-site search
The on-site search feature is critical to how your customers interact with your site, and it's where most customers begin their journey. One of the biggest frustrations for many buyers however, is the lack of an intuitive search function on most distributors' sites. Buyers want to be able to search by a variety of facets, including traditional methods like product number, partial product number, category and brand name, but also by broader terms like description, application (ie. peripherals for Raspberry Pi) and common name.
If contractors aren't able to quickly find what they're looking for, they will move on to your competitors. Brand loyalty simply isn't what it was 10 or even five years ago. Today's B2B buyers are keen to compare on price, stock level and shipping costs/turnaround.
Make it easier for your customers to buy from you
This seems like a no-brainer, yet many B2B eCommerce sites are falling short when it comes to making the buying experience easier and enjoyable.
Your customers should be able to create and manage their own accounts, assigning rights to employees, setting up purchasing limits and maintaining individual budgets within their organization.
Additionally, giving customers the option to schedule repeatable and replenishing orders gives busy contractors one less thing to think about.
Get to know your customers
Nearly half of all B2B researchers are millennials, so it's important that distributors seriously consider the buying habits of this group. These are buyers who are accustomed to regularly ordering everything from clothing to groceries online, and are looking to replicate that experience in their professional lives. According to a recent study by IBM, millennial B2B buyers "prize a hassle-free, omni-channel client experience personalized to their specific needs". They prioritize ease of doing business above all else, so offering simple solutions like support over Facebook Messenger is critical.
Integrating your customer data with your eCommere platform lets brands connect with their customers in an entirely new way. Companies can use personalization to create contextual marketing experiences that communicate the right content at the right time. That can include everything from product recommendations to automatic ordering – even before the customer realizes they need it.
More and more companies are recognizing the importance of developing a better customer experience. In fact, Forrester predicts that by 2020 B2B eCommerce will top $1.1 trillion, and account for 12.1% of all B2B sales in the US.
By taking steps to develop a customer experience-centric eCommerce strategy, B2B companies are securing their position in this fast-moving industry.
Learn more about how Thinkwrap's eCommerce tools for the electrical industry
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.