Chris Caruso, head of pricing, selection and supplier tools at Amazon Business, discusses with Digital Commerce 360 B2B the best practices for engaging customers and generating sales on a B2B online marketplace. A longer version of this article will appear in a forthcoming DC360B2B report on B2B online marketplaces.
DC360B2B: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting marketplace sales and operations, and what must sellers do to keep up with such changes as supply chain disruption and business buyers working from home offices?
Caruso: Industries like the public sector, education and healthcare have faced critical procurement disruptions as a result of COVID-19. To keep up with these disruptions—ranging from revenue shortfalls and budgetary constraints to a lack of supplies for essential workers, to the rapidly evolving needs of remote working and learning—sellers need to be flexible and work quickly to respond to customers’ needs. Many buyers are looking for long-term purchasing solutions, while still balancing short-term demands brought on by the pandemic.
One important step sellers can take is to ensure their supply chain is reliable. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen shortages ranging from personal protective equipment (PPE) to electronic devices. If sellers are currently sourcing materials or products from states or countries that aren’t operating at full capacity, they may need to consider alternatives.
As the new school year approaches, school districts will seek out supplies for employees and students. And when many companies start to welcome employees back to corporate offices, they may choose to distribute personal office supplies, like dry erase markers, that were previously shared.
Additionally, sellers should try to remain flexible. The pandemic has made medium- and long-term planning incredibly challenging for many, and sellers have risen to the occasion and been among the most responsive businesses. For example, hand2mind, an Amazon Business selling partner, was one such seller who quickly pivoted from providing education supplies to providing PPE during the peak of the pandemic. The team at hand2mind muscled through the unknowns of the PPE shortages and adjusted its supply chain to help frontline workers and hospitals. Now, hand2mind is in a better position to more quickly switch to PPE should the need arise again.
DC360B2B: What are some of the best practices you see among new sellers regarding product management, pricing and fulfillment?
Caruso: To be most successful on Amazon Business, there are several best practices we recommend to our selling partners. One of the most important factors is providing accurate product data with detailed descriptions and condition notes that are helpful to buyers. Product data should reflect accurate inventory status to prevent customers from submitting orders for products that are out-of-stock. This ensures selling partners set realistic expectations with customers and then meet them.
Selling partners should also ship items as quickly as possible to keep buyers satisfied. Items that arrive late or damaged may lead to negative feedback or a request for refunds. We recommend checking for new orders daily by setting up notifications, as well as clearly communicating in shipping policies how often orders are processed, how frequently items are shipped, the carriers used, and who to contact with shipping-related questions.
Monitoring and adjusting prices to match similar products from different selling partners can also help increase visibility on an online store. The More Buying Choices feature on Amazon Business displays the lowest priced items first, so buyers looking for the best deals may be more inclined to purchase items that appear there.
New sellers may find early success by leaning into technology that supplements marketing efforts, like Amazon’s analytics to track sales and customer behavior. When Today’s Business Solutions, a Texas-based office supply provider, began selling on Amazon Business, the company saw an unexpected product—time clocks—become a top seller. While time clocks have long been part of Today’s Business Solutions’ inventory, their existing clientele either didn’t need one, already had one or had opted for other time tracking methods. Today’s Business Solutions has been able to turn this initial surge into a sustainable sales opportunity with the right analytics.
DC360B2B: How does Amazon assist sellers in handling the above practices?
Caruso: Our selling partners with Professional selling plans have access to Amazon Selling Coach, which offers personalized recommendations to help them increase their success. Amazon Selling Coach notifies selling partners about inventory, product, global selling, fulfillment and low-price opportunities in real time. This feature helps businesses better manage their listings and supply chain by helping them track when they’re running low on products or determining comparable offers with lower prices. It also identifies areas for expanded growth to new markets where products are in high demand.
The Amazon Business blog regularly publishes resources for selling on Amazon like, “10 questions sellers like you are asking about Amazon Business.”
Selling partners with a Business Prime membership also gain access to instant customer feedback provided by the customer feedback service Delighted. Selling partners can glean insights directly from their customers about their brand, helping them to improve customer retention and loyalty.
DC360B2B: What are some of the most effective online researching and purchasing features that sellers can provide buyers on a marketplace, such as personalized content, segmented search and navigation, extensive product specifications, rich media product demonstrations, customer ratings and reviews? How does Amazon assist sellers in these and other areas?
Caruso: Making products easily discoverable and providing buyers with detailed product listings are two examples of what can differentiate selling partners. Amazon Business provides resources and tools to help selling partners create a more compelling offer on their product detail pages, like how to evaluate effective product images that inspire customers to make a purchase or how to optimize keywords to make products more relevant. Amazon Business also enables selling partners to add search terms for their products and provides a list of suggested criteria to generate them. For example, search terms for headphones should also include general synonyms such as “earphones” and “earbuds.”
When standing desk provider Varidesk joined Amazon Business in 2016, the company was able to reach new business customers by setting pricing available only to them, by providing business-only products and by highlighting enhanced product content, all through a user-friendly interface and familiar brand. In about a year’s time, the company saw a 50% growth in sales through Amazon Business. (Editor’s note: Varidesk has since changed its name to Vari.)
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