Only 40% of all manufacturers have a B2B e-commerce site, according to a December 2017 survey of more than 100 manufacturers by B2BecNews. But 69% of manufacturers without a B2B e-commerce site expect to launch one, including 55% that plan to go live within one year and 34% in six months or less, the survey found.
When manufacturers do launch or expand B2B e-commerce, their top business goals are increasing sales to wholesalers, distributors, retailers, dealers and consumers, according to the survey. But selling online to businesses is much different from selling online to consumers, say web site design and e-commerce application developers.
“B2B e-commerce is far more complicated than B2C and requires manufacturers to introduce complex product configuration, pricing, discounting, and bundling features that go well beyond the capabilities of basic consumer e-commerce sites,” says Mark Bartlett, chief experience officer for FPX, a developer of online configure, price and quote tools for manufacturers.
Today, manufacturers are beginning to deploy the sophisticated digital tools that address the multiple needs of business buyers when purchasing products and services online. For example, some manufacturers’ B2B e-commerce sites focus on multiple types of users, including new and existing customers who use a shopping cart; customers that want to order and reorder through web-based procurement systems or third-party networks such as SAP Ariba Network, Tradeshift and Jaggaer; customers that use industry portals; and customers that buy on Amazon Business, eBay Business Supply and dozens of other B2B marketplaces.
B2B e-commerce sites that address customers’ needs also have such features as quick-order and reorder capability, product configuration, advanced site navigation and search, product recommendations, high-quality images with multiple views and zoom. Another key feature is punch-out procurement, which lets customers click from their internal procurement system to place an order on a designated area of a preferred supplier’s e-commerce site. The punchout feature automatically records the purchase transaction in the buyer’s procurement spend management system. Also important is the ability of customers to research and purchase products on mobile devices, with product information and customer service consistent with what’s on the seller’s desktop site.
The B2BecNews survey reveals that many manufacturers are still working to deploy some of the most sophisticated e-commerce features—and to use social media to market and communicate with customers. Less than half of all manufacturers (43%) taking part in the survey have a website that’s optimized for mobile, only 21% have deployed an app and only 34% have links to social media.
Manufacturers, it seems, also are a slow build in deploying more sophisticated purchasing and order management tools that business buyers need for making more custom purchases. “A good B2B e-commerce site has to be built and operated with multiple customers first and foremost in mind,” says Doug Dillon, director of integration for Americaneagle.com, an e-commerce website development company. Today, only 43% of manufacturers offer bulk pricing tools on their B2B e-commerce site and only 38% have deployed features that let business buyers request a quote or negotiate pricing.
Even fewer manufacturers, at 28% and 20%, respectively, have e-commerce tools that enable customers to configure orders or automatically reorder parts and supplies, according to the survey. Manufacturers will deploy more sophisticated B2B e-commerce features over time.The top priorities manufacturers have now are rolling out better e-commerce tools for advanced analytics (42%), deeper product descriptions and related content (34%) and faster site search (32%).
The extent to which manufacturers will add more sophisticated tools during their initial website design or redesign depends in part on how their customers want to use an e-commerce site to buy online, says Brian Beck, senior vice president of e-commerce and omnichannel strategy at web design and development firm Guidance. “Website requirements should be built around a customer-first approach,” he says. “The process begins by understanding their needs by listening closely to them through surveys, interviews and customer focus groups.”
Sign up for a complimentary 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 DigitalCommerce360.com, Internet Retailer and Internet Health Management. Follow Mark Brohan on Twitter @markbrohan.
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