As with any other website or system, when designing a B2B eCommerce system you have to keep the customer in mind. In the case of B2B eCommerce, the system that is being built is more of a business application than just a storefront. The users of a B2B eCommerce site are purchasing on behalf of their company or their customer. Their decision making process is less emotional and more practical. You must design and build a site to meet the business needs of your customer. These are things to keep in mind when designing and building your B2B eCommerce system.
A B2B eCommerce system is a tool
Remember that your customers will be using your B2B eCommerce system as a tool. It’s no different than any other web-based tool that they may use for project management, customer relationship management, or any other responsibility. Your site is simply the tool they use for product research and placing orders. With this in mind, I’d suggesting designing your “tool” in a similar fashion as a web-based application. For instance, when you log into a project management tool, you immediately feel that you’re inside a piece of software. It’s organized for speed and efficiency. The user experience is focused around conducting a business task. Your B2B eCommerce system should function in a similar fashion. It’s a mix of product research and purchasing with highly organized information and search tools.
Keep in mind that this tool may be utilized on a variety of devices. Your customers may navigate and browse products from a desktop most of the time, however, imagine the times that they are involved in client meetings and need to find product information quickly. They’ll likely do so from their smart phone or tablet. Your B2B eCommerce system must be equipped to handle these types of situations and make the buying process as easy as possible. You need to help your customer look good in front of their client. Make sure your product information loads fast and is easy to find.
Bear in mind how your customer will use a mobile version of the site. Mobile usage may involve more searching and product research where as the desktop experience may involve more account management, planning or ordering. Ensure that your site is prepared for these two scenarios.
A B2B eCommerce system should focus on utility
The B2B eCommerce shopper is focused on purchasing items on behalf of their company/organization or their customer. In some cases they are a project manager that is placing orders for products that will be used for a company job. In other cases they are buying items that will become part of an order for their customers. There are many scenarios of how a B2B eCommerce system may be used, this list could drag-on. But there is one thing that each scenario has in common. The buying decisions are less emotional and more practical. Buyers want to get as much information about products as possible, be able to easily compare products and make the best decision that they can. In the case of B2B eCommerce your goal isn’t to help persuade them over the buying line with emotional marketing tactics. The goal is to make the process as easy and educational as possible and to provide tools to make the next time even faster and easier.
Remove clutter and keep it simple
B2C eCommerce systems often include a lot of extra design features and marketing tools that create a wonderful experience for the customer. For instance, they may include massive carousel images with very classy graphics, pop-up windows asking for email addresses, or large promotional graphics that are campaign specific. Take a look at the Bath and Body Works eCommerce site as an example. This is a beautiful site and has a very thoughtful design, but it’s audience is quite different than a typical B2B eCommerce customer. These types of graphics and marketing tactics have the potential to slow a B2B customer down. You want to avoid doing this.
Buyers need to manage more than just their B2B eCommerce cart
Keep in mind that the users of a B2B eCommerce system are buying products for their company or organization or their own customers. If they find a site that includes products that they will often and the site is easy to use, they’ll likely return often. Your B2B eCommerce system will become their point of contact with you – their external vendor or supplier. This is the desired goal. Because you are using the site to build a relationship be sure to give them tools to help them perform their job better. The easier you make it for them to return and continue buying from you the more often they will. Take time to understand your customer and learn how they make buying decisions. Find segments of their buying cycle that would be easier with web based tools.
For instance, perhaps you find that customers are using your site to buy for a variety of their customers. You want your one customer to have one account to represent that relationship. However, your customer is organizing individual lists of products that will need to be purchased for each of their separate clients. A good tool to offer would be individual carts or “favorites” lists that represent each of their clients. Allow your customer to log into the site and navigate the site as a saved persona that represents each of their clients. The “Client One” persona could have a cart and a list of favorite items. That cart can be filled with items and saved for future purchases. The favorites list could include items that will be needed several times over the course of the project. The “Client Two” persona may have different needs. They also have a cart and a different favorites list with different products. Your customer can easily switch between their client personas and manage/organize the products those individual clients need. Perhaps they can even save information about those clients such as their shipping address or billing criteria.
Make B2B eCommerce buying process as easy as possible
While talking to buyers that are using a B2B eCommerce solution I’ve learned that their buying process is easier than ever. They usually have a specific product or set of products that they buy often. They desire a site that will get them to those specific products as quickly as possible and allow them to get through the checkout process quickly. The goal has always been 3 minutes or less. In that case, your marketing approach needs to be different.
To accommodate this desire focus on building tools that help your customer find what they need as fast as possible. A very powerful search tool. Well organized product categories. A lot of product details, images and even videos if possible. Allow them to save “Favorite” items.
Remember, on a B2B eCommerce site you are not utilizing emotional psychology to help the buyer make decisions. The strength of the site’s utilities will make them desire buying from you more often than flashy banners and graphics.
Allow your customers to purchase on terms
Your customers are hopefully going to buy from you often, their order sizes will be significant, and in some cases they will be buying on behalf of their customer. If you were serving as a supplier you’d likely allow proven customers to purchase on credit or terms. Perhaps they have a $20,000 credit limit and can place orders up to $20,000 and expect an invoice in the near future. If these are your standard terms offline why not offer them to your customers online?
Offering your customers the ability to “checkout” of your B2B eCommerce system with terms can make the buying process even faster. Plus your customers will know that they can buy on credit for a period of time and use their client payment to cover the invoice once they’ve received it. Of course, you should have guidelines in place of when and how a customer receives credit and there should be restrictions and parameters for maintaining a line of credit. If your customer has a hold on their account (perhaps they’re past due on existing invoices) the B2B eCommerce system should understand this and require all purchases to be made with a credit card until their account is updated.
By thinking of your B2B eCommerce system as a business application you will begin to make design and architectural decisions that will help your clients do their job in a faster, easier fashion. The easier you can make the process for your customers the more often they’ll return to your site for future purchases. Additionally, if your industry is complex and you offer educational content about products that can’t be found easily elsewhere, your site will become a knowledge-base for your customers. Thinking along these lines will help you build a more successful web-based B2B business and will ultimately increase your bottom line.