The wholesale distribution industry is going through some interesting changes right now, what many are referring to as a period of flux. These changes are pushing all distributors to make updates to their business models. More specifically, to adapt to new customer buying patterns. According to Bridget McCrea from Ted Magazine, “It used to be that the business experience informed and drove the consumer experience… Now, the situation is completely reversed and distributors need to step up and provide consumer-grade user experiences, particularly in relation to e-commerce as online sales continue to grow.”
For example, retailers expect to be able to access product information, place orders, and manage their accounts online. And they certainly do not expect to have restrictions on these processes, such as store hours or ambiguous inventory information. We know 79% of Americans shop online. Now the expectations derived from shopping on the best B2C sites have carried over to the requirements for B2B businesses.
You can credit companies like Amazon and Alibaba for some of this. These dot-com giants have set high standards for the customer experience, product delivery, returns, and customer service. With these resource-rich behemoths shaping the way customers define a good shopping experience, distributors have to play catch up by providing comparable functions in their own sites. Ignore these imperatives and it won’t be long before customers move along to a more agile supplier that does offer these tools and platforms (such as Surya and Loloi).
What Do Retailers Need in B2B E-commerce?
As B2B customers now expect many of the same options and experiences as B2C shoppers, the line between selling products to businesses versus consumers begins to blur. Essentially, B2B customers want online self-service tools and immediate access to product information (both on desktop and mobile). The most recent data parallels the B2B E-commerce trend. Research firm Frost & Sullivan expects business-to-business e-commerce to hit $12 trillion in worldwide sales by 2020 (that’s a $5.5 trillion increase since 2012).
Want to ensure your e-commerce site meets or exceeds your retailer’s expectations? Here are four top functions your retailers need:
- Real-time inventory and order status.
- The ability to easily search for and find products on your site.
- Robust digital product information (this includes product specs, details, and multiple images).
- Complete website optimization across all devices.
Meeting or Exceeding Retailer Expectations
No one really likes change—it’s often messy, and then there’s that whole fear of the unknown thing. But the alternative is clearer, and that’s watching top customers go out the door. It seems there are currently two camps. Camp one includes the leading distributors who are investing time and money into building e-commerce platforms that meet their customers’ needs. Then there’s camp two, which is composed of those companies standing on the sidelines, not quite ready to take a dive. They’re the ones who are waiting to see how this big online B2B shift plays out—but they’re also the ones who are at the highest risk of achieving irrelevance.
To be fair to that second camp, putting together an effective e-commerce strategy isn’t easy and it does amount to an additional cost. There are plenty of companies that are in that middle ground, somewhere between an effective b2b e-commerce site and one that doesn’t quite get it right yet. But by taking a customer-centric approach and including the top functions your retailers need, distributors will be gaining immense ground.