Business-to-business companies need to follow the lead of business-to-consumer websites to meet clients’ rising expectations, says a report from Forrester Research Inc.

Some B2B companies have been selling online for years, but most B2B enterprises are either new to online selling or still deciding how to proceed. All B2B companies can learn from more experienced B2C merchants who have set a standard for customer experience and established a series of e-commerce best practices, says the report, authored by Forrester analyst Andy Hoar and titled “B2C Sets the Standard for B2B.”

“B2B customers are also B2C consumers,” Hoar writes. “If they have a B2B website open in one window, they likely also have their favorite B2C website open in another window—and it’s almost always more visual, easier to use and more relatable.”

B2B companies can adopt B2C tools such as personalized web pages, product recommendations, advanced site search and self-help and how-to guides.

Forrester estimates that U.S. B2B e-commerce will grow from $855 billion in 2016 to $1.13 trillion by 2020. Keeping pace with the exploding market means B2B e-commerce professionals compete with the B2C web experience at the same time as they compete with B2B rivals. A B2B website might need a “more ‘serious’ presentation—with first-screen logins and a more businesslike user interface—but not a less user-friendly one,” Hoar notes in the report, which was based on interviews with a dozen B2B companies and vendors.


B2B websites now must cater to clients who, like B2C site shoppers, expect to buy at any time of day, get instant answers to customer service questions and even receive same-day deliveries. “‘Overnight’ is now slow in a world where two-hour deliveries are becoming more commonplace,” Hoar writes.

Hoar says B2B e-commerce professionals can apply key B2C tools to their e-commerce sites, including:

Personalized web pages. Web pages can be personalized and customized to a customer’s buying habits. For example, MSC Industrial Supply, No. 92 in the Internet Retailer 2016 B2B E-Commerce 300, uses targeted promotions and fulfillment guarantees to lift sales volume and enhance the B2B shopping experience.

Intelligent decision tools. Decision tools can make product recommendations using filtering technologies and recommendation engines. In one example, CDW (No. 33 in the B2B E-Commerce 300) offers “B2C-like low-price guarantees, as well as cross-sells and upsells aimed at increasing the average order value,” Hoar writes.

Interactive product catalogs. Many B2B e-commerce sites, especially brand manufacturer sites, are “merely digitized former print catalogs,” Hoar notes. B2B e-commerce sites need to evolve into interactive selling platforms, or replatform to build a “world-class omnichannel commerce site from scratch.”


Advanced site search. Because B2B sites carry deep catalogs and can sell obscure and one-off SKUs, Hoar writes, simple search terms don’t always return specific enough search results. But B2B companies have learned lessons from and other B2C sites about how to build flexible content taxonomies to accommodate changing product-naming conventions.

Self-help and how-to guides. Many B2C sites developed tutorials (first static and then interactive) years ago for bringing less sophisticated shoppers up to speed on how to use their sites. Faced with user education challenges, B2B e-commerce should provide tutorials on how to use their websites.

Sign up for a free subscription to B2BecNews, a twice-weekly newsletter that covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industry. B2BecNews is published by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes the monthly business magazine Internet Retailer. Follow Bill Briggs on Twitter @BBriggsIR.

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