While online shopping has grown exponentially since the launch of Amazon in the mid-1990s, its value for the B2B market is only now being realized on a wide scale. In the past year, the industry has seen a substantial increase in web sales, with supply chain disruptions, logistics challenges and the slow movement of cash pushing buyers to take their supplier relationships online. In fact, data shows that B2B e-commerce is growing at more than three times the rate of its B2C counterpart. Meanwhile, in the plumbing distribution space, 87% of suppliers have already deployed an e-commerce solution, according to new Billtrust data.
This is skyrocketing the need for a true B2B e-commerce platform that can have a dramatic impact on productivity and a business’s ability to not only deliver exceptional experiences to its customers but elevate the efficiency of distributors’ and manufacturers’ roles in the process.
As a result, businesses that have been reliant on in-person interactions are asking: Where do we start?
We’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right B2B e-commerce platform to meet your needs. But first, we want to discuss which red flags to avoid.
Avoid Common Pitfalls When Choosing an E-Commerce Platform
The rapid rise in B2B e-commerce adoption has led to the emergence of new market entrants. This is certainly welcomed and perhaps an ode to how far B2B’s digital transformation has come. But B2B distributors and manufacturers need to be careful not to buy into the “glitzy” platforms that promote their AI capabilities and third-party widget integrations but neglect features that actually solve the complexities of selling online as a B2B supplier.
Distributors need a solution that enables you to improve project management and streamline internal data flows, upscale the buyer’s journey to stay competitive and ultimately do more with less. This is a platform that’s purposefully built for your unique needs and lets you futureproof your business with functionalities that support your operations—which oftentimes cannot be achieved on B2C-centric platforms that tout some B2B capabilities.
It’s important to choose an e-commerce platform that empowers you to deliver to your customers (e.g., contractors) the type of self-service experiences that meet their shifting and often more complex expectations. For example, when Billtrust recently asked buyers what e-commerce features are most critical to them, they cited fast delivery, inventory transparency, clear pricing, simple search capabilities and accurate product descriptions as necessities. Offering these will not only create a more loyal customer base but also lead to significant bottom-line benefits for your organization.
With this in mind, here are six capabilities you can’t live without:
1. Quality Control and Manage Data Efficiently: PIM and DAM Systems
As a B2B distributor, you need to be able to handle your organization’s huge catalogs with ease within an e-commerce platform. A truth that marketers know all too well is that content is king. Content needs to be presented professionally and accurately. Further, it must be optimizing the buyer journey. After all, you want to deliver high-quality experiences for your buyers while also boosting your own e-commerce management capabilities.
This is why it’s crucial that the e-commerce solution you adopt features a product information management (PIM) system and a digital asset management (DAM) system. A PIM centralizes product information from multiple sources, like product attributes and marketing copy. DAM systems enable you to manage and optimize digital media like photos, videos, PDFs and branding materials. DAM provides the ability to not only consolidate your webstore’s assets but ensures that images will be sized correctly, and you can modify them without additional manual design resources. Another huge advantage of DAM is the ability to improve SEO by ensuring these assets are automatically tagged correctly.
Both of these are imperative for B2B teams creating efficient, digital-centric processes and strategies. These systems will enable customer acquisition efforts and increase order amounts as your internal and external web store visitors easily find what they need.
2. Accurate, Real-Time Information with Deep ERP Integration
A deep ERP integration is vital for distributors to maintain a scalable e-commerce platform that supports seamless product, account and order management. In reality, it’s never been more crucial to success as wholesalers strive to serve both traditional and digital channels equally. This is something businesses often struggle with, leading to mistakes that threaten to impede the buyer’s journey such as inconsistent pricing and inventory, missing specs and miscategorized data.
With a robust ERP integration, however, you can reduce these errors and shorten the order fulfillment cycle by providing consistent, real-time visibility into stock, order history and accurate customer specific pricing. Furthermore, it allows you to automatically update all product information, relationships and categorization in your ERP, saving you valuable time across the organization and shrinking costs.
As your value as a distributor skyrockets, your job role is also changing. However, your mission remains the same: to design and deliver consistently superior customer experiences that drive revenue. A seamless ERP integration enables you to achieve this by removing silos and prioritizing consistency in every customer interaction—and helps you enable internal sales teams with the right info when they need it.
3. Robust User Account Functionality That Supports B2B Buyers
Your business customers may come in a variety of sizes and have different purchasing needs, which are all more complex than your average B2C consumer online purchase. There are approval routing processes and accounts payables processes, inventory tracking and different roles that all need access to detailed information. Understanding those needs and accommodating them is not only a way to retain and grow the customer relationship, but is also a big value to doing business with your company for prospects researching new suppliers.
The goal with your e-commerce presence is to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase the products they need. User accounts should allow for multiple roles and permissions and have access to detailed order, payment, credit and account information. Also, offering functionality like punchout creates a sticky experience when systems are more streamlined.
One way to accomplish this is to ensure the proper product grouping on your platform. Whether displayed as categories in your top or side menu, or as a grid or carousel on your home page, your products should be neatly grouped to make finding them as effortless as possible.
In a similar vein, a functionality like barcode scanning can remove friction from the purchasing and reordering process by allowing customers to use any camera-enabled device to quickly and accurately scan and reorder the product they need in seconds, while substantially cutting their own inventory stocking process time.
Similarly, estimator tools and other tools and widgets are features that your buyers can use to help support their own business. Estimate tools can be provided so that your small business buyers can create professional looking digital invoices to send to their customers, while streamlining the ordering process with you online.