Can Your B2B E-Commerce Site Compete?
There are some B2B e-commerce web-stores that seem to make the cut on everyone’s list: Grainger, McMaster-Carr, Quill, and about a half dozen others. They are world class, and the investment in resources given to these sites match their world-class status.
Is it necessary to match these sites to compete? It depends on your industry. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who are in the same industry as Grainger or Quill or any of the others, then yes, it’s probably a necessity to try and match it. But for the rest of the B2B world that doesn’t have unlimited resources to commit to a B2B e-commerce channel, sticking to the basics might just be what it takes to be the best in your niche and win out over competitors.
So what are the “basics of B2B E-Commerce?” Well, it really depends on what year it is. E-Commerce does not stand still, and it’s even fiercer in B2C retail e-commerce. But here are 5 basics that haven’t changed. These are the basic best practices that world class sites have always followed, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to implement these on your e-commerce site.
It’s the UX, Silly
The importance of user experience cannot be stressed enough. This is a broad category. It’s also the category that keeps evolving at a rapid pace. The most important aspect of your B2B site is going to be its intuitiveness – are the users going to be able to log in and intuitively know how to navigate it, find what they need, and create an order, all within minutes, the very first time they log into your site?
The basics of intuitiveness start with these innovations, some of them very recent:
- Predictive Search – are products easily found?
- Content – Once the products are found, is all the necessary content there in an easily understood format for the buyer to make a decision without having to research it on another site, quite possibly a site where they can buy that product easier?
- Sharing – Can the content be easily shared? A customer may want to pass around your product with colleagues before making a decision, not uncommon in the business world.
- Checkout process – can it be done in 4 steps or less? Can Credit cards or ACH accounts be added easily? Is shipping easy to choose with the option for drop shipments? Can a guest user check out easily enough, but with enough information for you to add to the customer list and do sufficient follow-up? Can a receipt be easily printed, emails sent with the full order invoice?
Design needs to go under this category as well. It’s part of the user’s overall impression of you and the experience you provide. Everything about the design should lend to the site’s ease of use. Clean and simple is best. Flashy and cluttered went out with the Dot-com bust.
This is a close partner to User Experience. The strategy for your content needs to be cohesive with your user experience and design. Everything must be very readable, searchable and well organized. This engages your customer and keeps them coming back. Also, if you build it, they won’t just come. You need to be found. SEO strategies need to be optimized and the technology of the site needs to support it.
Finally, the site and the products need to be sharable. The latest in B2B e-commerce is Social Media sharing. It would be great if your customers tweeted to the world about the great price and quality they found on your site, and just in case that happens, there are some easy to use plugins for the customer to make that happen. As great as that would be, what’s more likely to happen is your customer sharing your content about a product with colleagues. Rarely does a business buyer make the decision alone about what to buy.
Also known as Mobility. Is your site usable on any device? Do images and content cleanly fit onto any size screen? Responsive Design, an innovation to hit the scene just in the past 2 years, has replaced the mobile app. Apps are dead. They just don’t know it yet. If your customer can place an order on your e-commerce site using the browser of any device, from smart phone to tablet to 25 inch monitor, then why would you invest in developing a mobile app for your site? Responsive design is now a necessity for any e-commerce platform rolling out today.
All of e-commerce could be considered technology, but here, we’re talking about back-end technology. You can have a great looking site, but if it’s actually making the backend processes less efficient, or worse, if your site is slow, then it doesn’t matter how nice it looks. Having your e-commerce platform integrated to the back-end ERP will be crucial for delivering real-time pricing, availability and order creation so the item can be picked and shipped immediately if not sooner.
Having the back-end loosely connected in B2B e-commerce is risky business. Real-time order creation might not seem necessary at first, but if shipping is delayed because orders aren’t real-time, and the order can get there a day earlier from your competitor, you could lose that business. Availability is also crucial. If an order is confirmed on the site (read “promised”) yet it’s not in stock, or not enough is in stock when the order is created, taking a half a day or more to let the customer know with a “so-sorry” email or phone call that their order will be delayed will not incentivize that customer to come back, ever.
The past couple of years have made many in e-commerce hyper aware of security, especially with catastrophic data breaches headlining almost every month. PCI Compliance, once the realm of techno-security geeks, is now the responsibility of everyone in e-commerce, even sales and marketing –especially sales and marketing! If your site is monetized, in other words, takes credit cards, then you might want to move this one up a few notches in priority and make it the 2nd or 3rd most important item on your list.
The Bottom Line: If you can put these 5 basics together, your B2B e-commerce site will compete with the best in your industry with a reasonable amount of investment and resources. If you already have an e-commerce site but are missing one or more of these basic elements, then it’s time to upgrade, or be left behind like a 90’s Dot-com bust. Remember LifeJacketStore.com? I didn’t think so.
To learn more about how we have helped build successful e-commerce sites for manufacturers, distributors and other B2B organizations, contact us here >>
How does your business make your e-commerce site successful? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @CDI_Tech.
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.