B2B ecommerce experts urge online sellers to anticipate problems and keep communications open with customers amid the coronavirus.

Managing a B2B ecommerce enterprise successfully—and addressing inventory management, customer service and marketing issues coming in the wake of the coronavirus—requires companies to be nimble and proactive and to anticipate problems, says Lori McDonald, CEO of Milwaukee-based ecommerce services and website design and development firm Brilliance Business Solutions.

In particular, keeping customers fully informed on inventory and delivery status is especially critical, she says. “Provide clear information for customers regarding product availability,” McDonald says. “Display information on how quickly customers can expect products to ship out or if there are known delays due to product shortfalls.”

Equally important to B2B sellers is prioritizing what orders to fulfill based on available quantities, says Jason Daigler, research director, commerce technology and experiences, at technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. “For dealing with inventory supply and shortages, it will be important for B2B sellers to consider setting maximum order quantities for products with limited supply,” he says. “This equitable process will help to satisfy as many of their customers as possible and prevent one buyer from taking the entire supply.”

Optimize product information

At MSC Industrial Supply Co., along with other big distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. in medical supplies, a critical strategy is prioritizing the delivery of supplies to healthcare providers and other frontline organizations battling the coronavirus. “To ensure that we continue to serve our existing customers as a trusted partner, we have prioritized their orders ahead of new customers looking to order these particular products only,” says an MSC spokesman. “We also have a “good, better, best” portfolio of products to offer customers alternative product options—for any potential shortfall of products, we will work with alternative sourcing partners and make every effort to maintain inventory levels to support our customers. At this point, we do not anticipate a material disruption in the supply chain.”

Most manufacturers, distributors and other online sellers should take special precautions in keeping accurate data feeds and constantly look at analytics to keep a tight handle on inventory management, says Perficient Digital senior commerce consultant Karie Daudt.

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“Spend some time optimizing product data to support on-site search and search engine optimization (SEO) to improve rankings in internet search results because this will help prospects find you and the products you make and or sell,” she says. “Many digitally mature organizations have invested in an order management system, which provides them with a 360-degree view of inventory and supply, so make sure that your product relationship data is robust and accurate so people can find similar or related products if what they normally order is not available.”

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