As a manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor, you are well aware of the seismic shifts in the retail industry. Consumer demand for greater convenience and value, startup companies with disruptive business models, and the “Amazon effect” are drastically changing the retail landscape. How do you equip your B2B business to face the new world order?
One survival tactic is to add business-to-consumer (B2C) capabilities into your business-to-business (B2B) business. Business buyers are expecting from their vendors the same ease, convenience, and personalization offered by B2C sites. As a result, many B2B companies are using retail e-commerce platforms to serve their business customers with B2B e-commerce accounting for double the amount of online retail sales in the US last year at $829 billion.
How can your company profit from these trends? To help you get started, here is a checklist to improve your B2B e-commerce sites:
1. Improve the Buying Experience
Your e-commerce site is the face of your business. In addition to providing compelling product information, the usability of the site is critical. Whether you have one or multiple websites, you must ensure all of them support:
- Personalization: Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, the shopper or buyer expects targeted messaging and content that are relevant to them. From personalized product recommendations to targeted search results, you need to make the buying experience fast and easy.
- Multi-Platform: Your e-commerce site must be optimized for mobile and PC environments. Mobile devices are increasingly used for online purchases so you need to make it easy to buy your product—whether it is from a mobile device, tablet, laptop, or desktop.
- Navigation and Search: Shoppers should quickly and easily find products. Products should be indexed by keywords that customers would use to look for a product. With more complex products, it becomes even more critical to have an accurate and powerful search engine.
- Reviews: Nothing sells better than peer recommendations. If many alternatives are available for your product, or if you offer services or capabilities that differentiate you from competitors, customer testimonials and reviews should be prominently featured on your site.
2. Automate Processes
Automating operational processes is key to operating your e-commerce sites efficiently and seamlessly. As order volumes and site traffic increase, manual processes can be quite costly in terms of time and money—and can negatively impact customer experience. Here are the key processes that should be automated:
- Order-to-Fulfillment: As soon as your customer checks out from your site, the order should be queued into your fulfillment systems. This will ensure timely fulfillment and minimize errors as a result of manual data entry. You should load test the system to make sure spikes in orders can be handled without overtaxing the site.
- Inventory Levels: You will most likely sell across multiple sales channels – such as your own e-commerce site and one or more online marketplaces. As a result, inventory tracking should be automated across all your channels to prevent under- or over-selling of products.
- Product Catalog: To make sure your customers see the latest and most accurate product information, any changes made to your product catalog should automatically be pushed out across all your sales channels.
- Customer Communications: Timely, accurate order status information helps maximize customer satisfaction and minimize inbound calls. As a result, you should integrate fulfillment and e-commerce systems so that real-time notifications of order, delivery, and refund statuses are automatically sent to customers.
3. Meet Unique Customer Needs
Technology has helped B2C merchants become adept at meeting the unique needs of their customers and it can do the same for B2B merchants. Digital tools can also help streamline the tasks of sales teams, enabling them to better serve clients. Here are unique B2B needs easily addressed online:
- Complex Pricing: Whether you have multiple price lists or customer-specific prices, your site must have the flexibility to accommodate complex pricing and discounting models. If you have contracted rates for customers, your site needs to be able to store and use rates based on the customer contract.
- Payment Methods: If you offer terms to your business customers, your site needs to accommodate invoicing. You may also want on-demand credit checks to be available for first-time buyers. In addition to invoicing, the site needs to accommodate partial and full payments along with interest calculation, if applicable.
- Account vs User: Multiple people are typically involved in business purchases. Your site needs to accommodate your customer at the account level with one or more users associated with the account. Additionally, customers may want the ability to assign different access rights and roles for their users.
- Repeat Purchases: Most business purchases are repeat purchases. As a result, it is important to make repeat purchases easy and seamless for your customers. Build customer loyalty and do not miss out on any sales by setting up one-click purchases.
4. Expand to Third-Party Channels
In addition to building out your e-commerce sites, you need to drive traffic to your sites. This can be a challenge especially if you are just creating an online presence. Along with search engine optimization, online ads, social media, and other marketing activities, you can sell across multiple online channels, including:
- Online Marketplaces: You should look at participating in high traffic sites such as Amazon and eBay. Based on your target market, you may want to consider lesser known marketplaces such as Jet or Rakuten.
- E-Procurement: Depending on your products and target industries, you should participate in procurement and/or supply chain portals. Not only is it easier for your customers to purchase from you since multiple vendors are aggregated, but it can be an excellent opportunity to acquire new customers.
- Channel Partners: If you sell through affiliates, agents, and other partners, it is important to ensure your e-commerce sites can handle sales and commissioning for your partners.
Whether you are building brand new e-commerce sites or enhancing existing ones, a key to establishing a robust online presence is the continuous optimization in these four areas. To ensure you keep up with changes in customer needs and technologies, you should create a process in which your sites are continuously monitored and updated.