B2B Online Stores: Dominating the Fastest Growing Market for Online Shopping

B2B Online Stores: Dominating the Fastest Growing Market for Online Shopping

B2B online stores? B2B online shopping?Aren’t those oxymorons?If headlines and trending stories count for anything: yes.Most people think of B2B as a Stone Age industry. It conjures up images of old-school sales teams, drawn-out deal cycles, print-order catalogs, and fax machines.

However, for those willing to look beyond the headlines, nothing could be further from the truth. B2B ecommerce is now more than double B2C and growing.Savvy B2B companies are already taking advantage online shopping to help customers buy faster and easier.

They’re using features like wholesale portals, online account creation, content marketing, and even dynamic pricing to automate large portions of the sales process.Most importantly, they are adapting to the B2C-like experience B2B buyers now expect. Here’s how companies are succeeding with B2B online stores, and how you can too …

One-on-one guidance for B2B ecommerce growth

Shopify Plus hosts ecommerce’s largest ecosystem of Merchant Success Managers, ecommerce Gurus, and award-winning Agency Partners.

Those are just a few of the reasons — along with a dedicated wholesale channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 126% year over year.

Good News and Bad News for B2B Online Stores

As a starting point, according to data from Statista, worldwide B2B ecommerce sales are over three times larger than B2C:

B2B online store GMV from 2013-2017

Part of this growing trend lies in the size B2B buyers:

  • B2C average order value: $147
  • B2B average order value: $491

But size isn’t everything. Where typical B2C conversion rates hover in the low single digits, B2B online stores average around 10%. In addition, Forrester found:

B2B buyers not only report higher total spend online, but also higher percentages of work purchases made online.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that most B2B online stores still struggle to capture the demands of a shifting consumer market, what is commonly referred to as the “era of empowered customers.”

Online buyers are increasingly using multi-channel or omni-channel shopping. They’re bouncing around from device to device and from online to offline (O2O) over the course of a few weeks or even months … long before reaching out to a supplier.

If you’re trying to sell to B2B customers, taking advantage of these trends on a platform that facilitates multi-channel software them is a must.

Integrate B2C Trends into B2B Online Shopping

Read almost any B2B ecommerce article and you’ll see a familiar pattern…

Your B2B online store should resemble a B2C one. The simple reason is that buyers prefer the B2C-style store over a typical B2B experience.

Buyers prefer B2C style functionality over traditional B2B online stores

Business customers rank run-of-the-mill B2C features as integral to their shopping experience. In fact, customers are more likely to switch companies if you have a difficult checkout experience with poor purchasing options.

Staying in the dark ages isn’t an option. Not when the market is trending past $7 trillion. Not when consumers are demanding better B2B online store experiences.

Beard & Blade is a prime example of breaking the traditional B2B sales stereotypes. On their site, you can apply for and gain instant access to a wholesale account, giving buyers access to their own online sales portal:

Beard & Blade's wholesale login functions the same as a typical B2C login

Once inside, their B2B online store is mobile optimized and includes custom pricing lists built for specific customer segments:

Beard & Blades B2B online store is mobile optimized

Even better, Beard & Blade’s wholesale store operates on the same backend as their B2C store. Inventory for wholesale orders is automatically pulled from a single inventory pool and is synchronized with orders and customers in one admin for real-time monitoring and analysis.

At the same time, the turnkey, password-protected wholesale portal allows Beard & Blade to control which high-volume customers have access to:

  • Select products or collections
  • Fixed, percentage off, or volume-based discounts
  • Minimum and maximum quantity increments

As Ben Chidiac, the co-founder of Beard & Blade, explains:

“As in retail, business customers benefit greatly from the time and effort savings of online ordering, in their own time, with full visibility of the status of their order.

Since launching their wholesale portal on Shopify Plus less than a year ago, B2B revenue has increased 100% and wholesale AOV — $296 — is 5x retail AOV — $49.

Nicotine River is another shining example …

Servicing both a B2B and D2C (direct to consumer) audience, Nicotine River uses a storefront that looks, feels, and acts like a typical B2C experience. Their product pages call attention to free shipping thresholds, contact information, a prominent Add to Cart button — as opposed to out-dated phone, fax, or email CTAs — and social proof in the form of ratings and reviews.

Nicotine River uses a host of B2C features on their B2B online store

On their site, you’ll find both DIY and wholesale buying paths. For each, customer logins allow buyers to manage order history and track shipments. They also include multiple payment methods to speed up the traditional cart-based checkout process.

Lastly, Nicotine River uses popup overlays to entice subscribers with deals and rewards:

In other words, gone are the days of calling in or submitting a written form, only to wait, and wait, and wait for someone to get respond.

But what about “enhanced search functionality,” which B2B buyers rank as their most essential online feature?

To meet this demand, V-Belt Guys uses Shopify app LiveSearch to give buyers instant results — as well as visual merchandising — to nearly any search query: product type, materials, specifications, or ordering codes.

Each of these B2B online stores has one simple thing in common: they make B2B online shopping as easy as possible.

They’re willingly turning over purchasing power to buyers because they don’t want buyers to dread the process. They’re ditching the old-school, opaque sales process in the pursuit of a better customer experience.

Create a Content Funnel to Drive B2B Online Sales

Very few new B2B buyers simply land on your site and become a new customer.

More than likely, they’ll browse from channel to channel before reaching out the first time. Salesforce pegs that number at around 6-8 touches prior to becoming a lead.

But there are a few ways to move buyers down your funnel faster than normal. One of the best ways to do that is by creating content that buyers are already looking for:

B2B buyers want to learn about businesses and products

This is what they’re doing during all those preemptive touches. They’re reading, digging, and — most importantly — researching.

B2B buyers prefer to self-educate well over halfway through a purchase decision rather than connect with a company sales rep.

This principle drives smart-glass manufacturer View, whose educational content leads with customer-focused benefits:

What’s more, they take the technical and make it simple:

Polycom uses a content-based strategy to funnel customers from different pain points to their products. And they build this process into the very first option on their navigation bar.

Notice how the subheadings under “I need to” relate to many of the best practices we’ve already examined:

  1. Understand — to educate buyers
  2. Select — to guide purchase decisions
  3. Implement — for post-transaction support

If a new customer arrives at their site, they can learn more about their own problem and potential solutions. Instead of pitching products, your goal is to develop need awareness so the buyer places a real value on solving their problem.

Of course, in many cases, stories are far more powerful than feature lists and product specifications. That’s why a great deal of the B2B marketing we do here at Shopify Plus is customer-centric rather than product-centric.

Instead of making the product the hero, our aim in storytelling is to make the business the hero:

This sounds great in theory, but in practice, knowing what kind of content to create and where to put it can feel overwhelming.

Thankfully, two sources provide guidance.

First, LinkedIn’s Rethinking the B2B Buyer’s Journey contains a detailed breakdown of the types of content that connect with buyers at each stage of the funnel:

Second, our own Merchant Acceleration team recently put together a Data Analysis course exclusively for Shopify Plus merchants, but you can access their customer persona process and customer journey map templates by reading either of those linked articles or by clicking the below image:

Customer journey map in ecommerce (template)

Create your own personas and customer journey map using this downloadable template

When done correctly this approach helps customers educate themselves without ever speaking to a member of your sales team.

Build Loyal Customers Faster with Transparency

Transparent pricing and product details are the number one factor in producing repeat B2B orders:

B2B online stores need transparent pricing details

Surprisingly, “transparency” was a full three spots ahead of lower pricing. Of course, full transparency extends past the shelf price to include everything from shipping fees to taxes to warranties.

Transparency, though, can come in many forms. It can mean a satisfaction guarantee if someone’s not happy with their experience. It can even apply to social proof in the forms of customer reviews.

Merchology does all this on their B2B online store by including both customer reviews as well as real-time product pricing based on order quantity using Shopify Scripts:

Shipping offers and order quantity make sure that buyers know what they’re getting every single time. Dynamic pricing helps cut through the clutter.

Buyers don’t need to call a sales rep and worry about price gouging when they can see order values update in real-time. And reviews help to give clarity to hesitant buyers when it comes to testing new products.

Focus on Producing Recurring Orders to Increase Sales

Even in B2B, most first-time customers are unprofitable when you factor in cost of acquisition and fulfillment. It might take up to a full year to break even. That’s why recurring orders are the lifeblood of B2B sales: the longer you hang onto a customer, the more profitable they become.

Marketing Metrics shows that repeat customers have a 60-70% chance of converting (compared to the single or barely double-digit conversion rate for new customers).

customer value life cycle

Image via Harvard Business Review

One way that B2B online stores can keep repeat customers coming back is through customized logins, histories, recommendations, and prices.

For example, Grainger uses customized logins to structure pricing based on each client, rather than blanket pricing:

Grainger customized login pricing page

In some cases, recurring orders through month-to-month subscriptions add powerful streamlined incentives. Cleaning, medical, and office supplies — as well as consumer packaged goods bought in bulk — all fall under a short shelf. As a result, tools like Recurring Orders and ReCharge are ideal fits.

In other cases, product and buying cycles vary considerably.

Schools, for instance, buy bulk books for several classes across a single grade. They’re not going to purchase several years worth. Instead, they’ll purchase 50 or 100 on BookPal in the summer. Then, they’ll come back next year to do the exact same order.

BookPal purchase page

Whatever the average re-order cycle for your products, B2B online stores can and should guide existing customers so that procurement departments can simply refer back to previous orders, quantities, and pricing to speed up the second, third, and fourth purchase.

Re-purchases drive the lifetime value of each B2B customer higher so that companies are able to recoup their initial investment in advertising, marketing, sales, and support.

One-on-one guidance for B2B ecommerce growth

Shopify Plus hosts ecommerce’s largest ecosystem of Merchant Success Managers, ecommerce Gurus, and award-winning Agency Partners.

Those are just a few of the reasons — along with a dedicated wholesale channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 126% year over year.

Reimagining B2B Online Stores

B2C online stores might get more attention. But they pale in comparison to the total transaction volume in B2B.

The best B2B online stores dominate their respective markets by …

  • Borrowing B2C best practices
  • Creating funnel-based content
  • Injecting full transparency
  • Making re-orders easy and natural

B2B ecommerce has already moved beyond B2B’s traditional roots.Have you?

By Aaron Orendorff, B2B Ecommerce

 

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