The world is becoming more digital by the day, with astounding growth in online transactions of every kind, ranging from banking to shopping. However, there is one area that has let itself fall behind, and that is B2B distribution.
B2B eCommerce for distributors is still in its infancy compared to B2C eCommerce, with an online presence often limited to a basic website offering nothing more than catalogues or brochures. Most distributors have yet to realise how valuable a decent eCommerce website can be to their business. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this, with people forced to work from home, and virtual contact has replaced human contact. B2C companies were well prepared for this, but B2B distributors have been caught with their pants down.
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B2B businesses, like B2C customers, are increasingly purchasing over the internet. They, too, are demanding an excellent, individualised online experience. They want to quickly and easily find product information, check availability, place and track orders all online. Little of that is possible if the distributor’s website is just a catalogue and price list.
According to a report published by PWC, more than 86% of B2B buyers are happy to pay extra for a great customer experience. Similarly, the 2020 edition of Adobe’s Annual Digital Trends survey tells us that 36% of B2B companies said that the top business opportunity that helped them exceed their business goals was an excellent online customer experience. So, it’s pretty clear what distributors need to do.
Distributors should be looking to create an online presence that gives their customers what they really need. That, in turn, will build better business relationships and streamline the distributor’s operations. Buyers no longer want to waste time scouring catalogues and brochures or attending meetings with salespeople – they want to do everything from their computer or even a mobile device.
The benefits of a modern eCommerce website for distributors are enormous and include:
- Corporate branding
Branding is your unique identifier and is what sets you apart from the crowd. Nowadays, a website is the first thing a customer may see of your company. It is also what they will remember it by. As such, it is essential that the website makes a great impression from the outset and impresses all who use it.
Additionally, a professional, helpful website that demonstrates authority is more likely to be trusted than one which just offers scant, outdated information.
- Availability around the clock
This is a huge advantage. With a good website, your customers can see your products, find the information they need, check stock levels and delivery times, place orders and track progress at any time of day or night. That removes all logistical issues related to time zones, meaning you can operate in a broader global market.
- Online discoverability
Businesses now look for other companies using search engines. Therefore, the higher you appear in searches, the more likely you are to catch their attention.
Optimising your eCommerce site for SEO is essential for increasing the discoverability of your business. A blog is highly beneficial too. This should contain articles and information that helps address your customers’ pain points, all linked to your product lines. These methods are proven to increase a company’s discoverability and establish a brand as a trusted resource.
- User data and metrics
The fantastic thing about modern websites, particularly eCommerce ones, is that vast amounts of data can be collected about visitors to your site and customers. It is possible to drill down to the finest details, such as how long they are spending on the site, if they are new or returning visitors, what they are looking at, their location, etc.
- Better decision-making ability and increased efficiency
The additional data and metrics provided by a website can lead to better decision making and greatly improved efficiency. Distributors can quickly react to customer demands, and many manual operations can be automated and sped up. Above all, following up with consumers even after they have left the website is simpler, thanks to functions such as abandoned cart recovery.
- More opportunities for growth
Nowadays, businesses seldom use ‘traditional’ means of sourcing products and supplies and instead, they procure things online. The most significant advantage of having a good internet presence is that your business can easily be visible globally, allowing you to capture markets that logistically were not practical to pursue previously.
Moreover, a good eCommerce website for distributors makes it simple to offer omnichannel, tailored experiences to each customer, beginning with the first emails they receive up to the products delivered to them.
The Essential Elements of a Top-Notch Distributor Website
To bring your distribution business right up to date, you should create a website incorporating the following elements as a minimum. These include essential frontend features that attend to your customers’ needs and backend ones to automate and streamline your internal processes.
- Essential Frontend Features:
- Ergonomic and responsive design
A good website should look professional, be intuitive and functional regardless of what type of device the customer is using. Furthermore, given that many B2B transactions nowadays are made ‘on the fly’ from mobile devices, the website must be fully responsive.
- Searchable product information
B2B customers now expect all information about products they are looking to buy at their fingertips. They don’t want to trawl through brochures and catalogues. As such, a good search function and interactive catalogues are essential.
- Automatic pricing
The website needs to cater for dynamic and custom prices, discounts, and price negotiation. A website that can provide exact pricing tailored to the customer is not just a great sales driver; automation means sales can occur around the clock without needing staff to be present.
- Configurable matrix products
If you deal with complex and customisable products, your website needs product pages with matrix ordering capabilities and the ability to provide different descriptions, attributes, attachments, etc.
- Customisable account permissions
Each of your customers is likely to have their own unique internal structures comprising multiple business units, offices, departments and teams. This may require different account permissions for the various hierarchies, e.g. purchasing managers, junior buyers, etc.
- Ordering and checkout workflow configurations
B2B customers come in all shapes and sizes, and as such, a distributor’s website must be configurable to accommodate the ordering, payment and shipping preferences of each of those customers.
- Essential Backend Features:
- Integration capability
A good eCommerce website for distributors should be capable of integrating with CRM, ERP, PIM, WHM, accounting, marketing and other systems.
- Marketing capability
The website should have a sales promotion engine that enables you to create marketing promotions targeting individual customers, for example, by offering cross- or upsells.
- Automated ordering processes
A massive benefit of a good eCommerce website is order automation. Most, if not all, of the ordering process can be automated: RFQs, CPQs, QTCs, even administration of the contract after an order is placed. The result is a faster process, reduced pricing errors and happy customers.
Of increasing importance to distributors with complex vendor or customer relationships are robust APIs for both the backend and frontend. These can, for example, allow Progressive Web Application (PWAs) and headless commerce integrations to be deployed.
- Multisite support
If your business operates internationally across several industries or has several unrelated subsidiaries, then the website should be capable of dealing with multiple sites, organisations, languages and currencies.
- PCI DSS compliance for credit/debit card transactions
To accept credit or debit card payments, PCI DSS compliance must be integrated into the website.
Now is the Time for Distributors to Adopt B2B eCommerce
B2C businesses have fully embraced eCommerce and are reaping massive rewards as a result. They offer their customers incredibly slick, efficient and enjoyable online experiences, and the customers reciprocate with brand loyalty.
It is now time for B2B distributors to take their bite of the eCommerce cherry too. Life is becoming increasingly digitised, and the traditional methods that distributors cling to are likely to be the death knell for many. So, future-proof your business now by investing in an eCommerce website that is not only compatible with your customer’s modern way of thinking, it will be instrumental in streamlining your own operations.