The Amazon Effect on B2B eCommerce & What B2B Businesses Need to Do About It

By
Sarah Leung
January 6, 2016

It’s no secret that B2B eCommerce platforms are rapidly becoming a key channel for many brands, wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers. While the B2B purchase process was once limited to in-person sales interactions, more and more buyers are demanding the convenience of 24/7 online ordering. But while many B2B businesses are now offering eCommerce channels, the "Amazon effect" is setting the bar high when it comes to the customer experience. In many aspects, Amazon has set expectations for what the online purchasing process should look like, and many B2B companies are now struggling to keep up.

The Amazon Effect: How Do Most eCommerce Experiences Stack Up?

We’ve all shopped on Amazon. Product details and pricing are readily available, and product suggestions are personalized for each user, based on past purchases. Shipping is usually free––and lighting fast. And the overall user experience––of navigating the site and making a purchase––is straightforward and intuitive. In a recent webinar given by Internet Retailer, Oracle, and Forrester Research, B2B eCommerce Analyst Andy Hoar suggested that this Amazon effect is having a greater impact than previously thought, exerting pressure on businesses to improve their customer experiences. In fact, he revealed that 92% of B2B buyers actually use Amazon to research purchases for work, and that 82% of buyers reported actually making work purchases on Amazon. While Hoar is quick to point out that these purchases are often general purchases like office supplies (as opposed to more specialized products), it’s important nevertheless to remember that B2B buyers are constantly exposed to the Amazon experience, and will have similar expectations when shopping on other B2B platforms. With Amazon’s recent launch of its B2B marketplace, Amazon Business, this is scary news for many manufacturers and distributors, some of whom haven’t even invested in a B2B eCommerce solution yet. Among those who have made these investments, there is a definite opportunity for differentiation when it comes to the customer experience. The more “Amazon-like,” the better. When asked to compare their B2B eCommerce experiences to their direct competitors, 46% of B2B companies said that their experiences were better, and 36% reported that their offering was comparable. When asked to compare their experience with Amazon, however, only 20% reported that their experience was better, and a whopping 63% cited their eCommerce experience as worse than Amazon’s.

So how do you create an Amazon-like experience?

For B2B brands large and small, B2B eCommerce should be a priority. How can these brands put their best foot forward in the eCommerce space?

1. Provide better content.

While it’s obviously hard to out-scale Amazon, you can focus on providing more in-depth content to your customers. While Forrester found that many B2B buyers are using Amazon to research and purchase products, they also found that many B2B companies actually prefer to make purchases directly from the brand or manufacturer––45% of those surveyed, to be exact. Furthermore, 62% of survey respondents felt that a brand that manufactures a product tends to have the best information about that product on their website. B2B buyers have an insatiable desire for high quality content. By providing all the content that Amazon can offer and more (after all, Amazon doesn’t know your products as well as you do), brands and manufacturers can create a significant point of differentiation.

2. Highlight your brand.

When purchasing your products, B2B buyers want to interact directly with your brand. Figure out how you want to shape not only your customer experience, but also your brand experience online. Create an online portal that is dedicated only to your brand and products, and––to go back to the point about content––showcase other assets that can help drive sales and build brand equity. Things like promotional videos to showcase your products in their best light, instructional videos for more technical products, or even merchandising guidelines to help retailers drive sell through––these are all ways to provide value and highlight your brand at the same time.

3. Fulfill orders faster.

Another straightforward way to provide an Amazon-like experience is to fulfill orders faster. While many companies look to their warehouse operations and logistics to solve this problem, it’s also important to look at the process by which orders are submitted and transferred. How are B2B eCommerce orders getting to your back office team, and how do they get into your ERP system? How are orders coming in from your field sales channels? By consolidating sales channels on a single platform that is integrated with your ERP, you’ll remove the delays and fulfillment errors that can damage your customer experience.

4. Provide an omnichannel experience.

Customers want to place orders wherever they want, whenever they want, using whatever method they want. Be sure that you’re offering a streamlined, personalized experience on the web, on mobile, and in-person through your sales team. All of these channels should provide a consistent experience to the customer, and they’ll be willing to pay more for that experience.

5. Find the right eCommerce solution.

The right eCommerce solution will be one that can accommodate the complexities of B2B purchasing while maintaining a simple, intuitive user experience. Finding a solution that prioritizes ease of use on mobile as well as on the web is imperative. Many businesses are investing in third party best-of-breed eCommerce solutions that they can then integrate with their back office systems––as well as their field sales channels. In the end, the key to creating an Amazon-like B2B eCommerce experience is always thinking from the customer’s perspective. Are you delivering the value that they expect from a typical B2C online shopping experience while accommodating the complexities of B2B? Do you understand what kinds of information they are looking for on your site? If so, you’re well on your way to building a successful B2B eCommerce channel.