The Rise of Amazon and Alibaba: 3 Ways B-to-B E-Commerce Can Prepare
Online marketplaces Amazon.com and Alibaba have set their sights on the B-to-B commerce market. Just as they've done with B-to-C commerce, they're transforming the customer experience — an area which some in the B-to-B market have long struggled with — to be more responsive to preferences and habits. Merchants are already feeling the impact of their influence in the B-to-B domain, and the depth and breadth of their efforts will only continue to grow in the years to come.
For B-to-B site managers, this presents an opportunity to either get ahead or fall behind. If these consumer-facing e-commerce giants are poised to take control of the market, veteran B-to-B retailers need to adapt their strategy to proactively raise the online experience they provide for the products they sell in a way that mass merchants can't, or won't choose to, match. That all depends on a strong foundation for B-to-B e-commerce, which consists of the following three principles:
Great Site Search
Search can make or break your site, and it's usually the first step in building exceptional customer experiences. B-to-B companies managing large product catalogs are in particular need of effective search functionality. For a specific search (e.g., a part number) one click or two clicks are optimal. For a broad search, two clicks or three clicks are good.
A good rule of thumb is a visitor should be no more than five clicks away from the product they first search for. Any more than that and the shopper gets frustrated. Search functionality can make the difference in attracting and retaining customers. Using search filters in moderation, understanding what phrases or jargon your customers are likely to search for, and partnering with solution providers that can help build your search system are all effective ways to streamline and enhance its functionality.
Rich Product Content
Quality product content has become more of a priority for B-to-B buyers. Where once pricing and availability was enough to build loyalty, great product content now makes for a better buying experience. There are three types of content to consider: base content, which includes product descriptions and technical specifications; advanced content, which features high-resolution product images and 360-degree product views; and user-generated content, the most notable of which is customer reviews. It's important for site managers to ensure all three are continuously working and growing in harmony.
Transparent Checkout Process
Shopping cart abandonment continues to stall the B-to-B commerce landscape because many players in the space overlook the fundamentals of the checkout process that customers today have come to expect. B-to-B companies are now being asked to provide transparency on shipping, sales tax, order tracking and expected delivery dates — conditions that dominate B-to-C commerce and are the bread and butter of online marketplaces like Amazon. Failing to provide transparency is unacceptable in today's e-commerce environment and will continue to influence the growth of online B-to-B shopping in the future.
These three fundamentals of e-commerce are simple but effective means to providing your customers with an online shopping experience that can rival those found in the consumer industry, yet they're often the most missed attributes in the B-to-B market. Mass merchants are already bringing these pillars to their customers, but specialized merchants that should be the experts in what they sell and what their customers’ needs are must make sure this expertise translates into a richer online experience.
Mass merchants can't match the level of authenticity specialty merchants can provide their B-to-B customers. This must come through in all aspects of the e-commerce experience. Honing in on these three pieces will prove critical to those who wish to compete against, keep up with and eventually surpass online marketplaces like Alibaba and Amazon, which have set their sights on the industry for 2015 and beyond.
Matt Clark is the head of e-commerce and digital marketing for Newark element14, a global electronics distributor and online community of more than 280,000 design engineers and tech hobbyists.