Posted by Owen Fayle, Ecommerce Vertical Market Expert, NetSuite
B2B ecommerce companies that don’t quickly adapt to the new reality of rapidly evolving expectations of B2B customers will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage and miss out on a huge opportunity.
B2B customers today want the same, advanced level of functionality that they see on their favorite B2C sites. This includes features like an interactive marketplace with real-time product inventory, up-to-date pricing, mobile support, online support forums, live customer service reps, and a database that contains their corporate purchasing history, shipping preferences and payment data.
Unfortunately, few B2B websites today offer the rich features their B2C counterparts provide. That's poor planning. Research suggests B2B ecommerce is poised to leapfrog B2C online sales. In fact, Forrester Research estimates that just last year B2B ecommerce sales doubled B2C online sales, topping $559 billion in U.S. domestic sales alone.
To take advantage of this opportunity, B2B companies must provide stronger ecommerce functionality. That includes:
- Faceted search -- in which each product is defined by various categories, such as size, color and style. This saves buyers from having to browse through hundreds, or thousands, of SKUs looking for the one that meets their specifications. Faceted search is particularly important in B2B sites where products may have many more descriptors and attributes than in B2C. A shirt or a purse may have three or four characteristics, but imagine the differences that exist between screws. They can come in different lengths, thicknesses, thread patterns, materials, etc. Without faceted search, locating the right screw might require hours of combing through different suppliers catalogues. A faceted search capability might well become a major competitive edge for the ecommerce company that provides it.
- Configurator. Another invaluable feature in B2B ecommerce is the configurator. Configurators may be developed to solve all sorts of problems, such as the pricing for a custom project, or the specifications for a part that must be able to bear a certain weight or temperature. For example, NetSuite customer CMP Corp., a manufacturer of compressors for refrigeration and HVAC systems, provides an online configurator that enables customers to input requirements, such as voltage, bore size, horsepower and allows them to order a customized compressor based on those requirements within minutes. Configurators help customers make purchases quickly and can help vendors reduce the cost of human sales support while simultaneously boosting sales.
- Mobile support. Buyers everywhere are using mobile devices to conduct business, and that includes making B2B purchases. They may want to complete a purchase on their way to a client visit, or perhaps calculate a bill of materials for a client at a job site.
- Online, real-time inventory. If a customer is in a rush to get an order, they need to know how much stock is available and ready for immediate shipment. They don't have the patience to receive an email 24 hours later that states that half of the order is back ordered.
- Customer-defined nomenclature. B2B sites should support each customer's unique product names and numbers, so that someone ordering a part doesn't have to hunt for a cross reference.
- Continuity orders (a.k.a. subscription or repeat orders). Often a customer places the same order each month, much like a consumer may have a weekly grocery list. They can save a lot of time with a recurring order that automatically reorders items at a set interval. With online self-service, customers can also adjust those orders if something changes.
Keep in mind that not every ecommerce platform supports these B2B capabilities. Many are focused on B2C ecommerce only. A very few, such as NetSuite's SuiteCommerce, support both B2C and B2B. That is good news for firms that sell through B2B and B2C channels as it's more efficient to operate both sites off of the same inventory, financial, and customer systems.
Successful B2B companies are listening to their customers' demand for a more user-friendly and feature-rich ecommerce experience and are improving their websites to meet this demand. Investing in a flexible ecommerce platform, whether it be to upgrade an existing site or get a first site off the ground, will help maintain a competitive edge in the near future.