What does your B2B e-commerce website look like today? Is it unnavigable to all but the heartiest of your customers? Does integration to your order creation system involve spreadsheet dumps? Is it columns and rows of eye-straining part numbers with no pictures and little to no product description? Is it something your IT team duct-taped together with B2C e-commerce apps, hacking, tacking, cutting and customizing until now no one can manage it except the ones who built the Franken-site monster?
Here’s the big question: Would you shop there? Honestly?
Some big B2C e-commerce players are moving into B2B E-commerce, and they are well aware of the missteps of their B2B cousins. Do the names of Amazon and Ali-baba sound familiar? If you’re a wholesaler in a largely commoditized industry, those names should strike fear into your heart.
It’s no secret that consumers today love to shop online; global B2C e-commerce sales are set to top $1.5 trillion this year, and that figure promises to continue to grow until it reaches $2.3 trillion in 2017. Here’s a newsflash: those same customers tired of faxing an order to you also shop for retail products online. They wish they could do the same with you, in fact, almost 90% of your customers do.
To little fanfare, B2B e-commerce has been a steady climber. In 2013, B2B saw online sales increase to $559 Billion. Why has it been so slow to rise compared to B2C when the potential payoff of B2B e-commerce is triple that of B2C? Why do many businesses still buy and sell using paper invoices, faxes, phones and checks?
- Complexity has been one reason: It’s not easy to put together a B2B site with B2C-like personalization down to the user level – not when there are multiple ship-to’s, contracted prices, earned discounts, dozens of catalogs for different lines of business, and multiple customer types. Go ask the developers who put together your current Franken-site.
- Business Processes have to change if the e-commerce initiative is to succeed. Too often businesses are not willing to make changes about the way they create orders, the very fundamentals of their business, until they feel the heat; only a very few innovators make the change because they see the light.
- Integration to back-end ERP Order Creation systems sounds easier than it really is – for all the reasons listed in the first bullet point and because it has to be in real-time.
- CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) of configurable products, a common thing in B2B, adds a whole extra layer of complexity to e-commerce because of the need for customer-specific, real-time pricing and validation of configurations
But if you’re serious about B2B e-commerce, and you don’t wish to face extinction because of the turf invasion of B2C predators who know how to deliver a great customer experience to your bread-and-butter customers, then here are some trends you should pay attention to:
- Mobile devices
Over 67 percent of the global population uses mobile devices, and growing. The customer base is mobile, for B2C and B2B, and that makes a big difference in how you need to sell to your customers.A good mobile strategy starts with Responsive Design. E-commerce websites must render well on mobile devices. One bad experience on a mobile device guarantees a customer won’t return. E-commerce companies must create a seamless omni-channel experience that allows customers to browse and make purchases the exact same way, no matter what kind of device they’re using.
In the wake of recent high-profile data breaches, the need for security is clear. Customers want to know their sensitive data is being protected, and PCI-DSS standards are evolving as the e-commerce demands grow more complex. The consequences of a public data breach or a regulatory penalty can be huge, both in the form of monetary losses and the loss of customer trust; customer trust is something that takes years to establish and minutes to break. That’s why even a single data breach is one too many.
- Big data and analytics
The B2C e-commerce industry has been using big data and analytics to drive better results for years. Across B2B industries, organizations are re-discovering the years of business data available to them from backend systems; this discovery represents a tremendous opportunity to understand and serve customers better. The mere fact that big data exists doesn’t necessarily mean you will gain value from it; in fact, big data is just as likely to overwhelm with useless data as it is to provide data you can actually use. Investing in analytics is the only way to separate out the valuable from the irrelevant.
- Software solutions from a vendor of B2B e-commerce solutions
Software has always been an important part of the e-commerce equation, and a lot of B2C solutions are available. None of them have the architecture to take on the complexities of the B2B world. Because of this, there are far fewer B2B offerings, and fewer still who take the time to build out-of-the-box integration between the e-commerce storefront and the back-end system. You wouldn’t go to a car-dealer to purchase a truck for your shipping fleet. For the same reasons, you don’t look at B2C solutions to solve B2B e-commerce problems. Yes, the truck is more expensive – but no matter what modifications you make to the car, it will never deliver your products to market, and neither will a B2B Franken-site patched together from B2C solutions.
About the Author:
Steve Sassi, SAP E-Commerce Specialist at CDI Technology, the leading provider of B2B and B2B online payment solutions for the e-commerce industry. With over 10 years of experience in the software industry, Steve has expertise in web store solutions, payment solutions and mobile solutions.