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What B2B Retailers Can Learn From B2C Online Success To Thrive In The New Normal

B2B eCommerce has much to learn from frictionless B2C sites as B2B buyers start placing orders from home

Every retailer, B2B or B2C, will agree this year has been a litmus test for how well prepared they were to pivot their digital commerce offering.

The challenges of serving people working from home has hit the B2B sector the hardest. In our experience, they have always been a number of years behind their B2C counterparts. This was made clear as remote working also became the norm for business buyers who were expecting to deal with suppliers during office hours as seamlessly as the sites they use for personal shopping in the evening.

Most people take it for granted they can shop in-store, on mobile, over the phone, through a catalogue or online, and still get the same joined-up experience. When B2B sites were put to the test, though, many were unable to cover the basics. They were still too reliant on call centres, account managers, and catalogues to offer a seamless service across all devices.

It meant customers found they were not instantly recognised, offered apt recommendations, helped to make repeat orders nor given real-time updates on stock availability and delivery timescales. Clicking on the basket to buy became a chore of re-entering details, instead of simply pressing a button to complete the transaction.

Transform via the cloud

These are some of the many best practices B2B has to learn from B2C but perhaps the most fundamental is taking the initial step of committing to digital transformation. The journey never ends but data-driven, customer-focussed and truly omnichannel B2B retailers will reap the benefits by attracting and retaining new customers. Those who don’t start this journey will seriously struggle in the modern climate.

To become a digital-first B2B retailer, several barriers have to be overcome, and the best answer is to move away from in-house, expensive servers running bespoke legacy software that can no longer be updated. Leading B2C sites have already realised that moving to the cloud gives flexibility to dial investment up or down and replace old systems with newer packages that are purpose-build for modern ecommerce. Unlike ageing systems which can hold business retailer back, these platforms can be adapted and updated as the user needs.

The switch is not always as costly as one might expect and does not involve a huge up-front capital expenditure to replace in-house servers and systems because moving to the cloud offers a flexible monthly or quarterly manageable bill.

Listen to the customer’s voice

A B2B site will not want to copy a consumer business directly but there is a very clear call that needs to be heard and adopted. B2B retailers need to be customer-centric. Just think how easy it is to buy products from Amazon. It knows so much about its customers that it can make very good additional ‘recommended purchases’ and suggest what previous customers have bought to compliment a product.

It is worth bearing in mind because this is what B2B buyers are now expecting as standard and Amazon is growing its own B2B business. If you are not committed to transform to be able to compete with this eCommerce leader, you may struggle to survive.

Customer-centric retailing will involve different features on a B2B site than a B2C site, of course. With B2B it will require a site to recognise a customer and to offer them updated real-time prices, in the currency of their choice, that apply to the contracts they have previously set up. That needs to apply to both bulk orders as well as individual purchases.

Just as a B2C site makes it easy to select the same items again, B2B retailers need to make it simple for customers to order quickly and then re-order, perhaps linked to an auto replenishment schedule. Buyers want a site that recognises them and so doesn’t expect details to be added with every purchase. They expect to be able to ‘buy again’ at the press of a button, just as they can on any decent B2C site.

Be simple, be seamless

For business retailers, this focus on the customer needs to be extended to self-service administration, allowing buyers from each customer to make and amend orders with the minimum of fuss and with no need to speak to a sales team, unless they choose to.

A consumer retailer would never, or at least should never, let a shopper buy a product they no longer have in the warehouse, unless it is made clear when the item will be available for delivery again. Hence, a good B2B site will also have good visibility on real-time stock levels. If it cannot forewarn an item will not be available until a specific date, provide an option to purchase it then or receive an alert, customers will simply go to a business which has more helpful digital commerce features.

Learning from successful B2C online retailers’ laser- focus on the customer experience will point leading B2B sites to a couple of extra features which address the additional requirements for making business ordering as seamless as possible.

Going above and beyond for businesses

One area where they need to take a step further than B2C online commerce is allowing orders to be put together but not processed until a user’s line manager has given approval. This empowers customers to keep a close eye on stock levels and budgets while ensuring they can set spending limits on employees to protect cash flow.

There is also a need for improved billing for B2B customers. Whereas an order acknowledgement might suffice with a consumer sale, in business a customer will need order acknowledgements and receipts in a format they can process automatically within their procurement, stock management and accounting systems.

The final set of features a B2B site will need to offer will involve some extra business-friendly options. However, the general thrust of learning from B2C’s unbridled digital transformation ambitions remains. Purchasing through any channel needs to be seamless and joined-up.

Buyers need to be understood and helped, not left searching for reference codes and telephone numbers to complete a task that should be as simple as clicking on an item or, the ultimate dream, hitting ‘buy again’ option. If there is one lesson to learn from B2C it is to listen to the customer’s voice and become dedicated to making their customer’s online shopping experience as easy as possible.

You can download our whitepaper on the Top 10 B2B Online Capabilities for Success for more insights into developing a successful B2B eCommerce platform for you.

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