There’s a generational shift happening in eCommerce that’s forcing vendors to take a long, hard look at the types of customer experiences they provide. Customer expectations for service are changing; there’s no getting around it. These days, shoppers expect convenience and information availability in equal measure. It’s not enough to just offer a product, companies have to provide the right details at the right time—and then go above and beyond with their post-purchase outreach.
In short, we’re moving into an ecosystem of “online everything,” and naturally, this is a shift that challenges the eCommerce status quo, particularly where B2B eCommerce is concerned.
Of course, customers demanding more and more isn’t a new concept. Ever since the early days of eCommerce, customers have gravitated towards companies that offered the best experiences and biggest conveniences, and even today, this fact holds true. One survey by HubSpot found that 80% of respondents had stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer experience.
And while B2B has often played by its own rules compared to B2C trends, we’re starting to see B2B shopping preferences fall along the same lines. There are preconceived notions surrounding the B2B sales process, many of which involve customers picking up the phone, making direct calls to salespeople, and generally handling sales touchpoints through personal outreach rather than some type of structured online approach.
This person-centric approach to sales used to be common in B2B, but today, things are a bit different. B2B buyers are beginning to expect the same level of convenience, transparency, and informational availability as the average consumer.
And it makes sense, when you think about it. Despite the real distinctions that exist between the two, why would the B2B customer experience be that different than the B2C variety? No matter what products we’re looking for, we’ve grown to expect certain things when we buy.
For example, consider what you expect to happen after placing an order:
Unfortunately, B2B-focused sales organizations are too often failing to meet those basic requirements.
These types of touchpoints used to be the domain of B2C sales, but as B2B evolves, they’re becoming must-haves for business-oriented sales as well. According to a Digital Commerce 360 survey, we see that only 7% of business buyers rate the eCommerce sites they use as excellent—and 76% cite a lack of transparency in the shipping process as a key detractor.
How are these businesses falling so short of their goals? Part of it has to do with these businesses' own perceptions of their customers. They prefer to stick to the ways things have always been done, and assume that their B2B buyers simply “don’t expect” to receive this information. (As this above data shows, this mindset is getting outdated fast).
The other challenge, of course, comes back to the technology. Many of these companies are using platforms that are just extensions or plugins off a larger ERP, meaning that the systems lack key functions for addressing these needs.
But the trend isn’t just about post-purchase delight. B2B consumer expectations are changing to the point where they expect a shopping experience just like the type they’d find in their personal B2C purchases. This puts new demands on B2B vendors across information they provide, which might include technical documentation, specifications, or even something as simple as a few additional images in the eCommerce product library.
(It sounds basic—but based on the above survey by Digital Commerce, 69% of buyers find it problematic when a B2B website doesn’t have enough product images.) These types of changes are simple and can add real value to an eCommerce experience by better meeting customer demands.
The idea that “this is B2B, our buyers don’t expect” needs to go. Buyers are expecting a lot more these days, from complete product information to a dynamic purchasing and buying experience. They want the process to be easy.
It’s possible to improve your presence online progressively. B2B sellers aren’t forced to do everything at once.
Modern platforms will integrate on top of your existing technology stack, allowing your team more flexibility in developing your eCommerce presence.
Modern eCommerce platforms offer different functions that meet the vendor’s needs in different ways, and often, vendors will integrate more and more of these systems on top of one another to build out their functionalities.
It makes sense from a certain perspective; integrating new systems is the easiest and cheapest way to build in new functions. But there are two challenges with this approach:
These limitations can translate to real dollars left on the table. According to a 2019 B2B Buyer’s Expectations Survey, 63% of customers agreed that products being unavailable or hard to find was one of their biggest frustrations with a B2B eCommerce website.
Clearly, overbuilt eCommerce platforms can get complicated fast. But on the other side of the coin, companies can’t necessarily rely on simple, smaller builds either. Basic eCommerce platforms let vendors do straightforward things, but they lack the sophisticated features of bigger systems—a framework that presents a whole new set of limitations. What options do vendors have for addressing these expectations in a sustainable way?
There are more eCommerce options available to B2B vendors than they might realize—solutions that live outside the realm of large-scale integrations or limited starter platforms. These solutions offer a newer, more flexible approach to eCommerce design that gives companies an avenue to try out new optimizations. These are known as headless commerce platforms, a different approach to online selling that leverages a decoupled back- and front-end architecture.
By separating the content presentation layer from the back-end mechanics, vendors open the doors to customization options that integrated platform architecture just can’t match. This is particularly true when considering eCommerce platforms that are just layers on top of the existing ERP. When these two systems are separated, developers can make adjustments to one without affecting the other—and build in new integrations that connect directly to the system rather than through an intermediary. In short, it offers the same potential for advanced functions as large-scale builds, but with much simpler architecture.
These advantages come down to flexibility and preparing for the future. B2B systems are becoming these monolithic structures that help a company keep pace with what it needs today, but leaves them with a completely untenable framework for what’ll come down the line. And with B2B customer expectations changing so quickly, this is a real concern for generating (and keeping) the brand loyalty that’s so important to B2B commerce relationships.
Rather than sticking with legacy systems that force them to sell a certain way, companies hoping to compete need to stop and ask themselves, not “how can I sell?”, but “how do I want to sell?” Headless platforms offer the freedom to ask these questions and explore their associated opportunities, no matter which specific outcomes a customer segment may be expecting.
Look beyond your platform and existing technology infrastructure, and ask yourself what you WANT (or need) to build.
If you need buy-in on eCommerce investment, opt for a series of improvements rather than a single large investment. The old mantra of build, launch, and measure still works for B2B.
In brief, the B2B landscape is changing, and companies without the right type of eCommerce engine may find it hard to keep pace. Ecommerce solutions should be added on the foundational basis of how it’ll help prepare them for the future—a future that stands to be increasingly dominated by industry players who can adapt to the opportunities presented to them. In this way, modern eCommerce platforms aren’t just a point of competitive advantage; they’re the only real way to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace.