If you're like most B2B sellers, you've seen the features and functions available in the consumer e-commerce marketplace and realized that your company's website is woefully inadequate for delivering similar online experiences.

The bigger problem is that your customers have visited the same consumer sites. Every B2B procurer is also a consumer who routinely surfs Amazon and other first-rate B2C sites. So when consumers visit your site, they're comparing your e-commerce platform not only to your competitors' but also to the convenience and functionality they enjoy on their favorite consumer e-commerce websites.

Although everyone knows that most B2B e-commerce sites are behind consumer e-commerce in features and functionality, the stakes for B2B sellers are at an all-time high.

As more and more B2B buyers clamor for enhanced customer experiences, the brands that respond with robust online commerce capabilities will gain revenue and global market share, while those that ignore the e-commerce imperative will gradually become irrelevant to large sections of the marketplace.

When What's Good for B2C Is Good for B2B

As you begin to consider how to improve your B2B e-commerce site, the good news is that nearly all the best features of B2C commerce have applications in B2B commerce.

By carefully identifying and integrating targeted B2C features into your e-commerce platform, you can dramatically enhance customer experiences and achieve bottom line gains by leveraging your buyers' familiarity with common site functions.

Some B2C functions apply to entire marketplace and should be considered by B2B brands across all industries and sectors:

  • Personalized content. Consumer retailers excel at using dynamic, personalized content to meet specific customer needs. Now a hallmark of the online consumer experience, personalization features, such as customized product recommendations, best-seller lists, and wish-listing, save time for buyers and give B2B brands the opportunity to create personal connections with procurers.
  • Better search capabilities. Expansive product catalogs make robust search capabilities an e-commerce essential. In the consumer market, online retailers give consumers the ability to perform accurate searches across a range of product dimensions. B2B e-commerce platforms need to provide the same level of convenience, allowing customers to go beyond basic SKU-based searches and locate items according to product details, price, and availability.
  • Meaningful buying/browsing experiences. Digital commerce has come a long way since the early days, when B2B e-commerce sites were little more than glorified order-entry systems. To remain competitive, your site needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of both browsers (visitors who want to spend hours researching and viewing products) and buyers (customers who know exactly what they want to purchase).
  • Strong content management. B2C e-commerce platforms have evolved to enable retailers to seamlessly manage large volumes of information for consumers. The need for strong content management is even more acute in the B2B sector, where product catalogs are often characterized by mind-numbing quantities of items sorted by precise product specifications.
  • Seller analytics. B2B brands have done a decent job equipping their sites with buyer analytics. With a few clicks, most B2B buyers can view order histories, invoices, and other information that is important to their operations. As for seller analytics, however, many B2B sites lag behind online retailers. To improve online performance, consider incorporating seller analytics into your e-commerce platform as a way to improve visibility to key customer behaviors.

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Bob Barr is senior vice-president of technology services at Acquity Group.