Business to business (B2B) transactions involve many complexities and steps throughout the buying journey that, in most cases, are not easily translatable to digital (much less automated) workflows in the e-commerce space.
Price and contract negotiation, for example, that’s common in B2B relationships need to take into account several factors like: amount and frequency of orders, previous purchase history, working relationship between the companies, and more. While a discount or pricing rule can be automated based on the first two, the third one almost always needs a human discussion to decide on.
Despite this, however, there are also certain opportunities that e-commerce presents for a B2B business.
Here are some strategies and features (beyond displaying products and taking orders) that we’ve seen or implemented ourselves in our B2B projects that you can consider for your own B2B webshop.
Controlled shop login and product visibility
One common feature of most B2B e-commerce platforms is the ability to create customer accounts authorized to purchase in the webshop.
At its most basic level, a B2B webshop is simply hidden behind a login page, accessible only to known customers who are given credentials to log in and shop on the site. But if you’re looking to reach a wider audience or allow for less strict rules on who can purchase your products, there are also a lot of varying configurations that can be implemented according to your specific rules.
Some of our B2B e-commerce customers display their catalog publicly, but hide the prices so that only logged in customers are able to see them. Others show the suggested retail price (SRP) instead on the public site and configure different pricing depending on who’s logged in. (More on pricing later.)
One project we’ve worked on, for example, is a combined B2C and B2B e-commerce site, where B2C customers can shop as guests on normal retail prices and B2B customers can log in and get access to wholesale discounts and other offers.
Aside from managing visibility based on customer groups, you can also configure this setting depending on products, where smaller items like consumables or parts are publicly available and advanced solutions are by authorized access only.
Further, you can determine how customers get access to your webshop—some companies prefer to limit account creation to their internal team, where they add the customer information themselves and provide the credentials to customers whom they have established relationships with, while others allow signups on the webshop subject to human approval.
If you have less strict or more objective rules, you can even opt for an automated approval process, where you set allowed or valid entries and the system can automatically approve or reject new signups based on your pre-defined requirements.
Pricing structure, discounts, and incentives
Pricing in B2B webshops is rarely fixed compared to B2C. As mentioned previously, this usually depends on a lot of factors that the buyer and seller negotiate about before finalizing a purchase.
Depending on your business model, you can configure different pricing structures and set up different incentives or discounts programs within your B2B webshop:
- Set up different pricing structures depending on customers or customer groups
- Configure tiered or volume-based pricing and automatically apply different wholesale prices based on quantity of order
- Set up loyalty and referral programs that automatically add discounts to certain customers’ purchases
- For consumables, allow for monthly or yearly subscription for automatic reordering and apply savings accordingly
B2B transactions usually involve manual invoicing, but with an e-commerce solution, you get other more flexible and convenient payment options that significantly improve your customers’ experience.
- You can integrate with payment gateway modules to simplify the checkout process. (However, these modules often charge processing fees for every transaction that may not be practical for larger orders.)
- If your customers tend to order different products throughout an irregular schedule, you can arrange for a monthly billing system or allow them to “subscribe” by leaving their credit card on file.
- If you offer credit, you can set up customer profiles to include a place where your customers can check their credit standing or status.
Note: Some of these will require an integration to your ERP system to function properly.
B2B purchases are usually recurring orders, so implementing a quick reordering system within your B2B webshop will hugely help your customers get a more convenient and streamlined buying process.
To enable customers to quickly reorder the products that their businesses need on a regular basis, it’s important that they have access to their order history on their customer profile.
If possible, you can also integrate offline purchases (using your ERP system) with their online profile to further simplify the process and also provide you more accurate data on your customers’ buying behavior.
You can implement a faster checkout process by allowing customers to simply click a reorder button within the record of their past purchases, eliminating the time needed to add products to their cart every order instance.
As applicable, you can also provide an interface for your customers to input SKUs or unique product IDs, without needing to browse through your entire catalog to find the few products that they need. (Note that, in the first place, your catalog should be easily navigable and supported by a smart on-site search functionality.)
Creating a product feed helps simplify the way that you share data with your B2C (or B2B) customers. A product feed can contain data such as:
- New products
- Inventory level
- Updated descriptions
Product feeds can be created by exporting data, either using a third-party service that offer automatic feed management or by developing a custom module that exports data at fixed time intervals so that your customers can update their data.
In some cases, customers can also opt for a one-time import of the product feed and get only data on new products, inventory, prices moving forward.
If your customers integrate with your product feed, they’re able to automatically add new products you’re introducing, remove products that you’re no longer selling on their own catalog, update stock counts, prices, etc.
They can also use your standard product text, page titles, and descriptions. Most companies tend to use this text on their own sites without modifying it, so make sure that they’re informed about how this practice can lead to duplicate content and may affect search results ranking.
Automated order confirmation and transactional e-mails
If your B2B e-commerce site allows for a fully self-service purchasing, automated transactional e-mails for successful orders may be the primary customer service experience that your buyer gets throughout the whole process, so make sure that this feature is highly optimized.
Optimize your confirmation and other transactional e-mails by personalizing, providing necessary details, and adding some related product recommendations for upselling and cross-selling.
For transactions that need sales assistance, you can integrate your sales platform to your B2B webshop, so that your in-house sales representatives are available to support customers as they purchase.
Make sure that sales agents assigned to specific customers are the same throughout the whole journey to provide them a consistent experience, and that your sales team has enough access to company profiles or accounts in the webshop to empower them to assist your customers.
Emerging technologies allow B2B merchants to offer not just B2C-like shopping experiences to customers, but also features that have been traditionally unique to the B2B model, upgraded and digitized to align with today’s customer expectations.
If you have a B2B feature in mind that’s unique to your own processes and wondering how you can transform it into a digital solution for your customers, contact us today. Our project managers have worked on many B2B e-commerce projects, for small and large companies alike, and we can help you find a solution fit for your business.
Speaking of technology, in the next article, we’ll discuss the e-commerce solutions available to B2B merchants today, and how you can implement and integrate these with your existing workflow and systems.