Over the past couple of years, a growing trend has been observed by eCommerce experts which has them worried, sceptical or just plain confused: more and more B2B sites are turning to B2C for eCommerce inspiration. Is this such a terrible thing, or could it hugely benefit the user experience? Read on to find out.
B2B and B2C have typically always been very different in their approach. B2B has always been seen as a much more cut-back and formal version of commerce than its glamourous and engaging counterpart known as B2C. All of that has changed.
People now enter into any B2B scenario with the same expectations as they do with B2C, and this is certainly beginning to challenge the feature delivery within a B2B portal in the eCommerce market. Where is the clear line dividing the two markets? Well, these days, there isn’t one. The tone of language is very similar, the needs addressed are the same and the customer expectation is in many respects identical… but why? Why has the paradigm surrounding B2B changed in recent years?
The Changing Consumer
A few months ago I wrote an article on ‘
Understanding the Digital Customer
’; a discussion on the changing attitudes of the consumer towards eCommerce, it looked at how they interact with companies and how this is shaping the current marketplace. It is this type of customer which is also shaping the expectations of the B2B experience. The modern consumer likes things to be quick, easy and omni-channel. They want to be able to shop wherever and whenever they like, and this doesn’t just relate to shopping for clothes or gadgets, but for every area of their commerce experience.
It stands to reason that if someone receives incredible customer service from always-online B2C but not from traditional B2B, then they will want that experience to cross over. What the consumer has come to expect from their B2B provider is the same level of personality, personalisation and yet professionalism that they receive from B2C environments, and why shouldn’t they? The customer is king after all, and if their overall eCommerce transactions have changed, and their relationship with those brands has developed as a result of it, then why are we concerned about its benefits?
This is one half of the reason for the paradigm shift. The other is that the consumer we have just covered is also the seller.
The Consumer, The Seller
Roles in eCommerce used to be very clear: the seller and the consumer, the product and the buyer, and so on, but these lines are blurring more and more every day, as the empowerment brought to the consumer continues to grow. Campaigns are less standoffish and more interactive, they are less formal and more personal – if anything, too intrusive! Social media and the like have played their part in this as I have discussed in other articles, but it is also about the fact that the people selling want the same experience as those buying.
The provider in the B2B relationship has evolved to understand far better the concerns of this modern individual, because they too are included in that category. They have seen what can be made of B2C sites and want the same for their own – the engaging content, the customer-keeping design and the sales strategy. This kind of impression can easily be achieved too, which is why it is becoming more widespread. The plethora of features now available from an enterprise level platform, a comprehensive content management system and marketing tool-set can completely transform a business offering.
What’s the problem?
The key to a successful B2B portal, is to give the customer the experience they want by working with them and understanding them, but problems occur when what you believe they want and what they actually want may well be two very different things.
A regular user of B2C sites may be looking for some of that functionality within their professional lives too, but the requirements of that person differ between B2B portals and B2C websites. In-depth information in relation to invoices and credit limits, for example, will have limited, if any, part to play in a B2C environment, but are usually crucial B2B pieces of information. As the customer in a B2B environment, they may need to manage the access and activities of other users within their company; they may want to establish administrators who can grant access, clarify what information can be seen by whom, or what tasks you will allow them to perform.
It is also important to remember that certain B2C functions can be adapted to suit a B2B portal; for example, think of ‘related products’ in a B2B environment as more of a “don’t forget about”, in which case you’re offering more of a reminder – a plus for your customer and from your logistical standpoint, ensuring that only one delivery is made. If you’re going to deliver a satisfactory experience, you must modify your B2B eCommerce approach, reflect the engaging and exciting nature of the B2C world, but all the while projecting the professionalism of the B2B world.
One of the major cruxes holding back this acceptance is the perception that only big businesses can deliver this – this is not the case! Most B2B companies are simply not thinking about the bigger picture, and it is holding back their potential for additional revenue generation. While you may think all you need right now are the basics, in five years’ time you will need to overhaul your system to bring it up to speed again, while everyone else is already stages ahead of you. Why do just enough when you can do more? Why play catch-up when you can get ahead? These are the questions you should be asking yourself as a B2B provider – or even simply, “what would I want?”
So, why is B2B becoming B2C?
1) A shift in the customer expectation, coupled with…
2) A change in the perspective of the B2B provider, enhanced by the…
3) Rapid changes to the eCommerce marketplace
Sellers have become regular online consumers and they crave the same slick operation for their platform that they see elsewhere. This is a positive thing; it demonstrates how businesses can adapt and shift their focus towards a more customer-orientated mind-set, open to exploring new concepts within the market place if it means they can get ahead. The trick is to re-assess what B2C environments use and make them work for a B2B environment rather than dismissing them; looking at selling functions as helpful tools can ensure that customers come back to your B2B portal again and again. This is absolutely crucial if you want to thrive rather than survive.