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.

When What's Good for B2C Is Good for Some B2Bs

Other B2C features have value in some industries, but they may not applicable for all B2B e-commerce sites:

  • Reviews and social integration. Online consumers increasingly rely on customer reviews and social network tie-ins to make purchase decisions. These features can also benefit B2B providers, especially if they enable the brand to monitor customer interactions. The catch is that your brand needs to sell large volumes (more than 1,000 units per year) of commoditized, interchangeable products for rating and social network integration to provide value to customers.
  • Mobile integration. Mobile integration offers important benefits for some B2B brands because it enables customers to place and manage orders from a range of wireless devices. Although mobile integration is generally more useful for commoditized (noncustomized) B2B products, a mobile app or mobile-optimized browser experience can allow your company to offer on-the-go functionality to your customers.
  • Configuration (customization). In certain B2B industries, customers require the ability to configure products and services. By adapting B2C customization features to business commerce, brands can enable customers to view product details, availability, and pricing for custom-configured equipment and other tailored B2B offerings.
  • Multichannel commerce. In the consumer space, retailers are offering customer multichannel options, such as "buy online/ship to store" or "buy online/return to store." Multichannel features expand customers' options; in certain B2B scenarios, they can improve the overall quality of the customer experience.

When What's Good for B2C Is Good for Only a Few B2Bs

Finally, some common B2C features offer superb functionality but only for a small number of B2B brands:

  • Multiple storefronts. Multiple storefronts are commonplace in consumer e-commerce. Although they have fewer applications in business commerce, the multiple storefront concept can be helpful for B2B brands interested in maintaining separate sites for each product line or reseller.
  • Gifting, premiums, and incentives. In some instances, gifting or premiums and incentives can play a role in B2B e-commerce. For example, a brand could use online premium certificates to reward volume orders or to solidify relationships with loyalty customers. Customer-facing gift certificate purchases are less frequent, but since the technology is essentially the same, B2B brands can use digital gifting features to streamline premium and incentives across the organization.

* * *

At first, the disparity between B2C and B2B sales approaches might make the adaptation of consumer e-commerce features feel counterintuitive. But, in the end, B2B procurers are consumers who make purchases for their employers. By incorporating targeted B2C features and functions into B2B e-commerce platforms, brands benefit from their customers' familiarity with common online buying tools as well as the significant improvements those features bring to the customer experience.

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Tips for Improving the B2B E-Commerce Experience

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