The B2B ecommerce industry is enormous. And it’s growing rapidly. That’s a pretty good combination for wholesale distributors.
It’s not a stretch to say that, in the not too distant future, most B2B commerce will be transacted digitally. That means that, right now, embracing B2B ecommerce is the opportunity of a lifetime.
That’s a pretty bold statement, though. So let’s parse it out. It makes sense to wonder what the benefits of B2B ecommerce are. And, more specifically, what ecommerce best practices you should adopt to take advantage of this new reality.
So, assuming you know what B2B ecommerce is, let’s first look into B2B ecommerce benefits in general. Then let’s go over some common fears of implementing a B2B ecommerce platform. And, finally, we’ll cover some B2B ecommerce marketing and website basics to make sure that, when you deploy your ecommerce solution, you’re setting yourself up for success.
B2B Ecommerce Benefits
There are a litany of benefits to using the best B2B ecommerce platforms. There is also a fair amount of hesitation. And, like anything else, the deployment of an ecommerce solution must be carefully weighed. Let’s first look into what the pros of B2B ecommerce platforms are. Then let’s address some common refrains we hear from businesses hesitant to implement one.
B2B eCommerce Pros
Higher Conversion Rates
Most buyers make their initial purchasing decision based on quality and price. And whether or not they ultimately complete the transaction is heavily dependent on convenience. According to one report, 52% of buyers say that half or more of their purchases are influenced by convenience. While 97% say they’ve abandoned a transaction because it was too inconvenient.
The easy product discovery and smooth transactions of B2B ecommerce platforms delivers that convenience and improves your checkout or conversion rates. Even better, most buyers are willing to pay a premium for the convenience.
We commonly hear from first-time purchasers of B2B ecommerce platforms that they’re unwilling or unable to pay the additional cost of the software. This is an unfortunately short-sighted view, because it’s an investment that ultimately lowers costs across the board.
By streamlining operations, a B2B ecommerce platform lowers the costs of managing a standalone website or digital storefront and using a catalog builder to create and manage a digital product catalog. It also lowers lost revenue or customer churn due to order or delivery errors, personnel expenses of order taking, fulfillment, and customer service, and even the cost of managing inventory.
Better Customer Experience
The customer experience involves every single stage of the customer journey. From the research they do before making a purchase, to the transaction itself, to ensuring on-time delivery with a built-in route planning app, to post-purchase confirmation and follow-ups. (Here's a great resource about route optimization software, if you're interested. The benefits of route planning software are remarkable.) As you go from a B2C to a B2B environment, the process becomes more complex—but exponentially more valuable.
A B2B ecommerce platform makes your business easily discoverable through Google and your own digital presence. And it makes it effortless for someone to create a buyer account with you, browse your digital product catalog, add products to their cart, complete the transaction, and make a payment online. It all happens in one ecommerce storefront.
That makes communicating with a prospect or customer throughout the entire process easy. Engage with them using live chat functionality on the website, or message them via a mobile app without requiring a sales rep or customer support rep to hop on a phone. Chat-based support faster because it allows your team to multi-task and satisfy customers quickly, and it’s easier to personalize because you can leverage any data and insights you have from the built-in CRM of your B2B ecommerce system.
Reduced Human Error
Traditional ordering processes in B2B ecommerce include multiple points where the customer’s order is received and entered into the system. And often these orders are transposed multiple times throughout the ordering to fulfillment process
A well-thought-out B2B ecommerce platform minimizes two things. First, the steps necessary for an order to be received and handed off to fulfillment. Second, the amount of work required for a customer to select products, order quantities and provide any special requirements. The ability for clients to enter the order directly and have that order automatically move from step to step in the fulfillment process reduces errors on the customer and provider ends.
Eliminating several steps that are normally prone to human error allows your business to save time, reduce expenses, and avoid the reputation-costing embarrassment of having to re-fulfill an incorrect order.
Improved Customer Relationships
As your customers place orders within your B2B eCommerce system, data is collected. If utilized properly it can provide you and your customer with valuable insights. By leveraging the specific customer’s order data, you can provide them with information like historical, seasonal order volumes, par levels, and order frequency by product/sku.
And that allows your team to take a consultative approach with each customer. B2B relationships are longer term and not as baldly transactional as B2C. B2B ecommerce platforms enable your sales reps to become so much more than just order takers. They unlock your sales reps’ ability to serve as advisors and consultants, building and deepening relationships with customers, ultimately leading to more frequent orders and larger order sizes.
B2B ecommerce is a monumental opportunity right now. Even with the numbers we’re about to throw out there, it’s still in its early stages. Forrester predicts that B2B ecommerce in the U.S. will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023. That will be 17% of all B2B sales. The U.S. B2B ecommerce space will experience a compound annual growth rate of 10% over the coming 5 years. If you’re not positioning your business to leverage this, you’ll be missing out on one of the most compelling business opportunities in decades.
Common B2B Ecommerce Hesitations
If you position your business online, it follows that potential customers will be price shopping your products and services against others. That’s the reality of doing business online. The fact that this type of behavior is easy for customers is part of why ecommerce is so popular.
The right B2B ecommerce platform, designed with your industry in mind, protects you from your customers price-shopping the products they're buying from you. All while enabling those buyers to explore suppliers in verticals you don't serve.
Lack of Personalization
Some businesses hesitate to implement a B2B ecommerce solution because they think the relationship between customers and sales representatives is going to be lost. And that means the level of personalized service will drop.
But it’s actually the opposite. Sales reps will be more equipped with insights from a built-in CRM to better understand every customer and react accordingly. They become partners and consultants in the ordering process—not just order takers. Imagine being alerted when a regular customer hasn’t reordered according to their normal schedule and calling to help out. Imagine understanding historical seasonal purchasing volumes and sales velocity and helping clients purchase strategically. That’s the ticket.
Established SaaS platforms have already taken the efforts to ensure that data is secure and confidential information is not shared nor accessible from other parties. If you should decide to create your own platform, you will need to consider where your customer data is housed and how their data is secured, and be prepared to explain.
The thinking goes, if you’re putting the most sensitive customer touchpoint online, payment processing, wouldn’t you open yourself up to credit card fraud? No, you wouldn’t. There are several very well established tools available to secure the money transactions for both B2C and B2B ecommerce platforms. And those integration and licenses are normally included in an established SaaS B2B ecommerce platform. BlueCart, for example, uses Stripe to securely process transactions. That said, if you decide to build your own platform, you will need to incorporate one of these.
Added Cost to Maintain
Established, reliable B2B ecommerce solutions can be implemented for $50–100 per month. The fear over excessive added cost is really only valid if you build your own platform. Should you do so, you’ll want to consider the expense of having engineering and IT staff assigned to maintain, update and debug your platform as technology evolves.
That maintenance is often a hidden expense that can become greater than the initial cost of building the platform in the first place. But cutting corners on maintenance and updates leads to a platform becoming obsolete and unusable over time. Should you decide to use an SaaS platform rather than build on your own, these expenses are avoided. The SaaS provider is responsible for providing updates and maintenance, and you are insulated from incurring these expenses.
B2B Ecommerce Marketing Strategies
As part of your launch, consider how you’ll attract both current and potential customers to you. There are several B2B ecommerce marketing strategies that can leverage many of your existing lists and channels. Some examples include:
- Email existing clients: Send an email to your current customers introducing to them the additional ability to order via your new B2B eCommerce portal
- Email prospective customers: Show that you’re constantly innovating new methods to make it easier for customers to engage your wholesale catalog(s) of products/services.
- Display customers’ ability to shop and purchase via your new online platform on your existing website. Or do some paid advertising for display ads or on partner sites.
- Promote your new capabilities on existing customer newsletters, announcing your new entry into the ecommerce space. Make sure to include a quote from one of your customers who has been an early adopter of the platform and a quote from your senior leadership.
- You can even publish a press release declaring your company the new owner of a low-touch, easy-to-use portal for purchasing.
- Train existing sales and marketing staff to introduce the online platform to current and prospective customers during their prospecting outreach.
- Post on social media channels about your ecommerce platform. Schedule multiple social media posts leading up to the launch date.
- Reference it on your phone tree—when someone calls your company phone number or customer support line.
- Tell customers they can now order online or via a mobile app on every invoice and receipt.
B2B Ecommerce Website Best Practices
One of the most critical components that goes into creating an effective B2B ecommerce platform is the website. A good website, in this sense, shares a lot of characteristics with B2C ecommerce websites. During the planning stages, when you begin to map out your catalogs and navigation, consider these B2B ecommerce website best practices:
Create Simple Navigation
- You must provide navigation that allows users to search and navigate through your groups of products in as few steps possible. Everyone wants an easy shopping experience, and minimizing clicks on your website to order is crucial to the eCommerce buying experience.
- A crucial B2B eCommerce website best practice is to ensure that your regular customers can quickly and efficiently use your platform to place re-orders. This enables repeat customers to set up a regular, recurring, or standing order once and enables them to place that same order easily with very few clicks.
Streamline Catalog for Easy Search
- Create common names/terms for products that customers in your industry easily recognize. Carefully consider the most simple, industry descriptions of your product descriptions, common quantity and size offerings. Try to avoid acronyms, part numbers or other identifiers unless they are understood as industry standard. For example, a #2 coffee filter or a #4 coffee filter is fine, as it is a nomenclature that is understood by the industry and consumers.
- Present quality images of your products. Images and descriptions that are easy to identify and presented beautifully make a huge difference. Your customers cannot touch, smell, or taste your product online. Maximize what they can experience.
- Make pricing simple to understand. This reduces errors in ordering and reduces time and costs later in the process.
- Make purchasing easy. Reduce the potential for “cart abandonment” by streamlining payment terms, methods, or order minimums and making it obvious for customers how to set up and execute payments.
- Focus on the customer experience. A best practice is to ensure you are providing access to help from a person—sales representative or customer service—particularly during your hours of operation. If you are not providing 24/7 coverage, then at least include the ability for a customer to send a message that’ll be responded to within a 24-hour turnaround time.
Wholesale distributors across the U.S. use BlueCart to boost sales, streamline sales team efficiency, and increase their customer base. If you’re looking for a B2B ecommerce platform that provides all the benefits you just read about, book a demo. We’ll show you exactly how it helps. If you're looking for more information, here's our guide to choosing the B2B ecommerce platform that's right for your business. And here's our entire guide on B2B route optimization.