In Part 1 of our blog on preparing for an eCommerce project, we explained that B2B businesses have to define who they are, involve the entire organization in the efforts, and get the sales team on board by explaining how digitization will change their role, not diminish it.
eCommerce is a disruptor, both of your market and your own operational culture. This is why you need a business-wide strategy to be successful; all aspects of the business are affected by your digital ambitions.
Technology is creating ever more ways of reaching your customers, who adapt very quickly to these new transactional models. You want to meet their expectations and diversify your sales channels – but how can you do that without cannibalizing sales on your existing channels? This is what we will explain in this second blog.
The problem of sales cannibalization existed long before eCommerce. A great analogue example is the carmaker Renault which has owned a distribution channel – since 1898 – operating in parallel to a network of franchised dealers. The end-user may not know the difference, or care, but this is a clear case of conflict between two channels. Renault is now mitigating this issue by closing direct sales points and investing more in its digital presence to reduce friction with its franchise network.
eCommerce amplifies the problem of channel conflict because technology is creating ever more digital channels that can potentially damage not only traditional sales but also the conversions on other channels.
Covid forced many B2B businesses to pivot quickly as their traditional supply route and channels of distribution – to restaurants or retailers for example – were suddenly closed. Wholesalers with surplus stock set up websites to sell directly to the end-consumer, adopting the D2C business model.
D2C creates a conflict with your indirect channels as end-consumers suddenly have the choice between buying directly from you or from the retailer that gives you 90% of your revenue. Is it really such a good idea to risk compromising the relationship you have built up over many years with your traditional customers?
It is a complex question. If you have a powerful brand, you can risk the shift to direct sales; the retailers will still want to stock your products. A current example of this is Dyson, the manufacturer of vacuum cleaners, which is transitioning from indirect sales to D2C.
Most other B2B businesses have to tread more warily. Some of their options include:
Whatever mix of sales channels is appropriate for you, what you put on those channels – your content – is paramount. We tell all our customers, without exception, not to neglect content. No eCommerce strategy can survive this.
Businesses are often tempted to cut corners when it comes to content. This is understandable because it is very expensive and time-consuming to strategize and execute impactful content.
But we would say: you have no choice. Many B2B businesses are often disappointed with the results of their eCommerce efforts and the cause is almost always to do with content – or the lack of it.
Using a manufacturer’s product photographs can seem inevitable – but it is never optimal. Even the very best of them will look the same on the eCommerce site of your competitors, and so you do not differentiate yourself.
Images have many detailed technical properties that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Samsung and HP both produce SSD storage drives but will have photographed them differently to different scales, with different ratios – differences that suddenly come to light during the implementation of the site, as you import the product pages. They just don’t look right. What is often lacking is context: a cut-out of an SSD doesn’t show you how small it is but photographing it in the palm of your hand will.
Businesses are often happy to “make do” only to find that sales on their new eCommerce site are disappointing. It is always better to make the images yourself, even if you sell a very common product. This is not only a question of hiring a specialized photographer but also of considering how you want your products to be presented.
And that is just the images! How about the written content? If you write it yourself, do you get lost in the details? Who explains your returns policy (always a fraught subject in B2B)? Who drafts the FAQ page? Are we helping our buyers with our content, and how can we do better?
Product descriptions and specifications are crucial. The more granular your content, the more chances you create for a B2B buyer to find your products. A rival who is more comprehensive in its product descriptions will probably gain the confidence of the buyer more easily.
We get upset when the coffee beans or the garden chairs we have ordered online arrive a day late – an hour late even, as B2C is increasingly offering one-hour delivery windows. Nothing terrible happens if we do not get our coffee beans on time, yet eCommerce has made us extremely demanding.
In B2B terrible things can happen if a delivery is delayed because B2B transactions by their very nature are part of a supply chain. Even the most technically accomplished eCommerce implementation will fail if there are problems with fulfillment.
Before expanding to new markets, you must make sure that the fulfillment infrastructure is in place. This is proving problematic for wholesalers pivoting to D2C where the switch from bulk to piece delivery often involves engaging with separate logistics partners. That’s not the only adjustment: retail delivery requires different warehouse processes and workflows, and your D2C market needs to be targeted with a different assortment.
Don’t fall at the final hurdle by failing to prepare adequately for fulfillment.
In 2020, at the annual Shopping Awards in the Netherlands, the award for best B2B site went to the Dutch fruit and vegetable wholesaler Van Gelder. A panel of eCommerce experts picked Van Gelder as the winner – and looking at the site, it is easy to see why.
A huge range of products – from sage to string beans, from potatoes to portobello mushrooms – has been lovingly photographed. Each product has an interesting but concise product description as well as its nutritional values and associated allergens.
What is striking about the site is its simplicity – the kind of simplicity that is the product of a careful strategy and a lot of hard work.
Van Gelder is a great example of a B2B business that wanted to leverage all the opportunities of eCommerce and understood what that involved.
Of course, every business is unique, so you need a platform that gives you the freedom to be you – for now and in the future.
We are proud that Van Gelder trusted us to build its vision on our CloudSuite eCommerce platform; it is an indispensable part of an eCommerce strategy to commit to a trusted and proven technology partner.
No matter where you are in your eCommerce journey we can demo how the CloudSuite platform aligns with your strategic options.