The toolmaker conducted its own customer interviews about usability aspects.

Robert Bosch Tool Corp. doesn’t just think about what business customers want from its business-to-business e-commerce portal. The toolmaker completed independent user testing to make sure it knows how business customers want and need to use BoschLink.com.

Bosch began its digital redesign like many businesses, Sonesh Shah, digital director, said during the B2B E-commerce workshop Tuesday at IRCE 2016 in Chicago. Bosch went out and conducted its own customer interviews about usability aspects of BoschLink.com, a dealer portal the manufacturer uses to sell to a closed system of distributors via negotiated pricing.

Through these interviews, Bosch identified three primary business user personas: Bosch employees checking BoschLink.com for inventory availability; small dealer customers that account for less than $50,000 in annual Bosch sales shopping online to reorder Bosch parts; and larger regional dealer customers that account for more than $150,000 in annual Bosch sales purchasing Bosch products. Bosch’s goal was to redesign BoschLink.com to cater to these three personas, instead of just designing the site with retail-like features for business buyers. “There is way too much talk about B2C usability in the B2B world,” Shah said.

Before the manufacturer committed to a redesign, however, Bosch decided to work with web usability testing firm Usability Sciences Corp. to survey business customers about their pain points using the site. Usability interviewed eight BoschLink users about things like the site’s user search technology and customer reviews. The independent research firm recorded videos of users completing specific actions and answering questions about the B2B portal and later showed the videos to BoschLink staff, said Scott Kincaid, vice president of user experience at Usability Sciences.

One employee user admitted he wouldn’t trust the customer rating system on BoschLink.com because he wasn’t sure that ratings weren’t “marketing glitter,” or inauthentic product reviews generated by Bosch’s marketing department. “The customer was hesitant to say that they would go somewhere else for reviews,” Kincaid said. “This is why we talked to them separately, not as a Bosch employee. It’s a safe space for them to maintain their opinion.”

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Though skeptical of ratings, the same user also said he was more likely to trust numbers on the amount of products sold on BoschLink.com. Usability Sciences showed the customer testimonial to Bosch, and online badges attached to products on BoschLink.com have since been deployed to indicate those items are best-sellers. “Ultimately ratings and reviews were a feature we put in our digital roadmap without understanding how it would influence sales,” Shah says. “This helped us identify our proof of concept and ask, ‘Do people care?’”

Usability’s work also helped Bosch realize it needed to better explain to customers site updates like improvements to its site search function. One user—who Usability nicknamed “Skip from Texas”—said he primarily used BoschLink for parts re-orders. Skip’s first move in reordering a part was to search on Google.com for Bosch’s BoschTools.com, where consumers can find products and link to retailer’s websites to make a purchase. He then searched BoschTools for a parts diagram that highlights every part available of the Bosch drill he was searching for, and used the parts diagram to identify the exact drill handle he needed. Next, Skip copied the part name and number from BoschTools and pasted it into the search bar on BoschLink.com and completed his purchase through the B2B site portal to receive contract pricing. Another user didn’t bother with such an exhaustive process and just ordered the item he needed through the B2C site, sacrificing his contracted wholesale discount.

“We’ve invested a lot lately into search,” Shah said, adding: “When we added new features and functions we learned we needed to make sure people know they’re new and how they work.”

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