By: Keith Krach
According to analysis from the global research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, B2B online retailing is set for massive growth over the next few years. By 2020, the sector is expected to generate revenues of $6.7 trillion USD, double the size of its counterpart, the B2C online market.
In the face of such huge growth and change, more and more B2B companies are taking the digital plunge, moving their activities online and fostering new digital customer relationships. However, in order to do this successfully, it’s critical to have the right platform. For a truly effective B2B e-commerce site, the following features are essential in helping companies meet the unique needs of their B2B customers.
Whereas B2C customers, for the most part, are treated equally in terms of pricing, B2B pricing typically varies from customer to customer. A good B2B site will therefore offer multiple ways to structure different pricing arrangements—for example, by providing strict group designations to clearly segment clients, featuring a specific, pre-determined price for each customer and SKU (stock keeping unit) combination, or offering quantity discounts, either for groups of customers or for all customers.
Flexible checkout process
B2B companies need an online checkout process that can be adapted to their specific rules around payment and shipping. Examples of flexible online checkout features include restricting purchase orders to customers who meet particular credit limit and approval criteria, preventing the shipping of certain products to certain states, and allowing shipping to be charged to a customer’s UPS or FedEx account.
While it’s not usually necessary for B2C customers to register with retail e-commerce sites in order to make a purchase, a customer registration process is essential for an effective B2B site. Registration allows the customer, when logged in, to see what custom prices, products, and terms they have with the company, as well as their purchase history, order tracking information, and commonly purchased products. Customer registration could even potentially provide a way for customers to pay for orders made offline.
High-quality site search and navigation tools
B2B customers need to be able to find the products they need quickly, so sophisticated search and navigation tools are a must, particularly for sites that feature a large number of products. Basic navigational tools include lists of recommended products based on a customer’s needs or previous purchases, as well as reductive navigation features. These allow the user to narrow down a selection of products according to certain criteria such as price, customer rating, or color.
In addition to quality search tools, it’s equally important for sites to accommodate those customers who know exactly what they need. A quick order form, where customers can add products to their cart simply by entering an item number rather than by browsing and searching, helps customers save time and consequently improves the customer experience.
B2B customers are just as likely as B2C customers to use their mobile devices for making online purchases, so a mobile-optimized website that displays well and has full functionality on a variety of devices is critical.
Integrating e-mail marketing with an e-commerce site is a useful way for B2B companies to drive repeat sales and forge lasting customer relationships. Many e-mail service providers can be integrated with existing sites, allowing customers to receive personalized and targeted messages based on their previous order history and site activity.
Single account, multiple user capacity
B2B sites are unique in that it’s common for many different people to be placing orders under a single customer account. It’s therefore important for site designers to consider some key questions, like how different users can be added to the account, or whether each individual user should be able to see the orders placed by other users. If this issue is not addressed, B2B companies could find that orders are missed, or that entirely new, unnecessary customer accounts are being created simply to accommodate a single new user.
Sales rep support
Though they might seem to be in competition, B2B e-commerce sites and B2B sales representatives can actually support and help each other if the relationship is handled properly. Sites should be structured in a way that helps reinforce, rather than makes redundant, the relationship between customer and rep. Reps should be able to use the site for tasks like placing orders on behalf of their customers, checking inventory when talking to customers, ordering product samples, and obtaining specifications and other sales materials.
To streamline the purchasing process for products that are too complicated to provide established pricing, a good e-commerce site should include a quote request feature to allow customers to submit their requests quickly and easily.