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Half of B2B organisations surveyed say it is difficult to provide intuitive and user-friendly interfaces as multiple factors driving change adds complexity

When it comes to selling online, business-to-business (B2B) organisations have to adapt to changing customer expectations, driven by trends such as smartphone usage, social media and the consumerisation of IT, according to the 2013 E-commerce Report from Intershop

Across the board, respondents in a survey of 400 B2B companies agreed that the world of B2B commerce is undergoing a radical transformation and that business-to-customer (B2C) trends are reflected in the B2B environment.

It also found almost all organisations (96%) were facing challenges. Half found it difficult to provide intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for multiple touchpoints, such as B2B online stores and mobile apps. A similar number (48%) said it was difficult to manage complex organisational structures such as different user roles, as well as multiple business models, commerce touchpoints and data domains.

Proliferation of customer touchpoints

One big challenge is how this change is driven by multiple factors, from customer demand and expectations (81%), to developing technologies (74%) and the fact that business buyers engage through various offline and online touchpoints with their peers and use multiple information sources to make decisions (73%).

Yet, almost half (49%) agreed that bringing business buyers from the offline world to online could result in a higher overall bottom line. Almost (44%) expected higher average basket values and 43% said bringing buyers online could result in more return customers and higher brand loyalty.

Jochen Moll, member and spokesman of the board of management at Intershop, explained: “Where there is complexity, there is also opportunity. Organisations that can develop their B2B commerce channels now and offer a consumer-like approach will be well placed to capture market share. They will need to understand how to manage the complexities around their new channels, but the effort will pay off.”

Of the 400 B2B organisations surveyed in Europe and the UK, 92% already sell online and the remaining 8% have plans to. Almost one quarter of these organisations (23%) are planning to increase the percentage they sell online by a further 40% or more.

When it comes to the features their customers expect, intuitive search and navigation are understood to be important by more than three quarters (77%) of B2B organisations, followed by online order approval (75%), self-service account management (74%), category and product pages (73%) and online store analytics / monitoring in real time (72%).

Organisations also realise how important search engine optimisation and search engine marketing are (70%). Two thirds (63%) are trying to encourage ranking or scoring of their organisations’ products on social media sites.

Conquering mobile strategies

Intershop’s 2012 E-commerce Report revealed that conquering mobile commerce was the top business challenge facing B2C retailers. In the near future, mobile channels will gain in importance in B2B too. When asked what new touch points organisations plan to use in the next 12 months, online marketplaces (25%), mobile apps (24%) and mobile stores (22%) were the most popular choices.

Of those organisations that say mobile commerce will be important in the next 12 months, a total of 65% are planning to create a mobile-optimised store version that allows business buyers to see products, to purchase, to access their account profile and to track orders. 56% plan to create a mobile app that allows business buyers to see products, to negotiate the price, to click and buy and to track orders.

The findings from the survey underline that the transformation of B2B commerce is hitting a tipping point in 2013. The pressure in B2B is to cope with a large number of challenges and fast changing expectations, both from inside and outside their business: Integrating processes and systems, providing consistent cross-channel experiences and embracing mobile and social media, to name but a few.

“B2C has become the test ground for B2B companies to understand how e-commerce technologies can support their sales strategies,“ adds Moll. “After all, every B2B customer is also a B2C customer so if you want to understand the future of B2B, that is where to look.”

Moll concludes, “Interestingly, there is a noticeable disparity between countries in terms of how sophisticated their B2B e-commerce strategy is. E-commerce really is a global market place and B2B organisations need to raise their game to meet the highest benchmark."

To download the full report, click here.

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