As a growing number of business-to-business companies embrace ecommerce, they tend to replicate the business-to-consumer experience that shoppers have come to expect, and that’s a great place to start. But building a best-in-class B2B web store is more than just recreating a B2C experience — you must also find a way to solve the unique challenges that come with B2B online stores.
Here are six features that can transform your B2B web store and enhance your customers' buying experience:
No. 1 - Access-Restricted Site
While it may be important for parts of your B2B site to show up near the top of search engine results, you may not want to make your product catalog available to everyone.
Restricted sites require a user to register before they can view your catalog. In some cases, registering for an account does not automatically grant access but instead prompts a rep to make contact so you can start building a relationship with each of your potential buyers before approving their registration.
Limiting who can view your products may also offer a competitive advantage. If a competitor can see your full inventory, it can identify your limitations and develop new or expand existing product lines to exploit those weaknesses. When only a select group of people can see your catalog, those vulnerabilities are not visible.
Any information that companies provide through registration should be automatically stored in your CRM for future reference. This gives you the ability to check in with them periodically and earn their business down the road if they don’t make a purchase right away.
No. 2 - Customer-Specific Pricing
An alternative to total site restriction is to not display the prices of your products unless a buyer is logged in and approved. This is a logical approach if you offer customer-specific pricing, where customers receive varying levels of discounts depending on how often they order from you or the total amount of money they spend every year.
Another option is to show the MSRP of items, then reveal discounted prices upon login to highlight the savings. This model may make sense for your business if anonymous users can be a driver of business, but you don't want full pricing information visible to competitors or indexed by search engines.
You may also want to offer customers per-unit price reductions for higher volume orders. Automatically applying quantity discounts to online orders and quotes rather than having a sales rep negotiate them speeds up the process, which can increase conversions.
No. 3 - Self-Service Quotes
One of the primary reasons for the tremendous success of ecommerce is convenience. Shoppers can browse and place orders at any time without interacting with anyone. Modern B2B organizations need to offer not just online ordering, but online quoting as well.
Here are a couple things to consider related to “self-quoting”:
- Can the buyer add items to their cart via standard product detail pages and “quick add” forms specifying UPCs or barcodes?
- Can clients track the status of their quotes?
- Can the quote be converted into an online order once it’s approved?
There’s still a time and place for the human touch that sales reps provide, but it makes a lot of everyday transactions slow and inefficient.
No. 4 - Account Self-Management
Beyond quotes, what are other processes that you can automate to help your buyers self-serve? Here are a few additional features that will help B2B customers address issues without assistance:
- View outstanding and available balances, deposits and credit memos
- View and pay invoices via bank accounts (ACH) or credit cards
- Create and check on the status of support cases
For merchants, all invoices should be reflected in your global ledger in real-time so the accounts receivable team is aware of all incoming payments.
No. 5 - Multiple Shipping Addresses
This functionality is often called multiple ship-to and allows an order to be split up so that items can be ordered at once but shipped to different places. This makes sense if a buyer wants two items to go to its corporate office and five others sent to its warehouse, for example.
Using multiple ship-to helps eliminate barriers that may prevent a client from placing an order. If an entire order can only be sent to one place, then the buyer either has to complete two or more separate orders or have everything delivered to one place and distribute it themselves. But that’s never a concern with multiple ship-to.
No. 6 - Drop Shipping
Customers have become accustomed to a wide selection of products, and the seller often does not keep all of those items in its own warehouse. Drop shipping has become extremely popular because you can expand your product catalog with items that are actually fulfilled and shipped by a supplier. Your online store should have the ability to pull these SKUs from suppliers along with accurate pricing and product descriptions.
This is a great way to offer products that fit your buyers’ needs but may not be big enough sellers to stock on you own. It will help drive sales and keep your customers from looking elsewhere for the complementary products they need.
The only way for B2B companies to succeed online is to meet buyers’ complex requirements and rising expectations. These expectations and the features that enable you to meet them are ever-evolving, so you must pay close attention. If you can solve those problems, you will differentiate yourself in the marketplace and see results.
Steve Goldberg is a developer advocate for Oracle NetSuite.