Selling online is a great subject to write about as it is constantly changing and evolving. Each month new start-up businesses bring in new ideas. There are lots of opportunities to improve your online business for B2B or B2C.
If you have any questions about eCommerce try our FAQs and Ideas Center or just send us a comment or email.
B2B eCommerce is one of the most rapidly expanding sectors of the online market, with an increasing acceptance and expectation that business procurement can be facilitated seamlessly online.
Business buyer behaviour is changing, influenced by online experiences as consumers and the rapid increase of millennials in positions to make or influence purchasing decision.
When planning for or improving a B2B eCommerce presence, there are numerous factors to consider and tools needed to position your business for Success.
Many of the 65k+ Australian businesses, particularly small businesses, are now placing orders via websites and many are eschewing tradition B2B payment options (such as invoicing and credit terms) for the favourite B2C payment method - the credit card. We are also increasingly seeing the use of alternative payment methods such as digital wallets being used by B2B buyers, as businesses accumulate value in these options and they become more comfortable transacting with them. Businesses that aren’t ready to accept online payments will lose market share to competitors offering simpler, easier payment processes.
More than 65% of Australian shoppers will use or even have a preference for purchasing online. These modern buyers will take those experiences to all aspects of their life, including the workplace. In fact, as early as 2015 Google found that almost half of B2B buyers in the US were millennials who looked to purchase online before considering any other option.
As such, B2B companies need to provide a user experience for their customers that is consistent with those shoppers’ expectations, including providing features they have come to expect from their retail experiences like a range of payment and shipping methods, account personalisation and simplified purchasing processes.
Buyers are looking for fast and secure online ordering and payment solutions that can be tailored to their buying process. Providing tools to allow B2B purchasers to manage their orders, shopping lists, and/or quotes puts them in control of their procurement processes allowing for easier approvals and regular and simplified reordering.
Leading from the above is the need to be able to tailor the purchasing process for your B2B accounts, including tailoring pricing and discounts for their specific purchasing needs. Technology to allow the merchant to configure accounts specific pricing lists and provide tailored quotes, often integrated with back office systems, can be the solution. Quotes can be tailored according to pre-set rules to provide error-free pricing that takes into account variables such as quantities, product margins, discounts, customisation, and optional features.
The vast majority of shoppers will immediately turn to Google to search before any other source for product research. Most buyers will now conduct online research before making their purchasing decision. Research by Google says more than 80% of buyers use their smartphone at work and that in excess 42% and growing of online purchasing research is now done using mobile devices, so it’s essential for B2B ecommerce sites to be responsive for smart phones and tablets.
While the US and others are already accustomed to the likes of Amazon Business and eBay offering specific B2B marketplaces, this trend is just beginning to grow in Australia. More and more B2B businesses are seeking a way to get their products in front of potential purchasers, and the marketing power and search engine dominance of these major marketplaces makes them the perfect tool to develop a presence for your products.
A carefully considered strategy around product placement and availability across platforms like Google Shopping, Amazon and eBay can often be more effective than an equivalent effort on PPC (pay-per-click) advertising like Google Adwords for B2B vendors.
We have become familiar with around the clock customer support delivered by automated chatbots. In many cases they can help buyers find what they want without the need for a telephone call. They can even help with re-orders when the buyer visits again and can up-sell and cross-sell products. While the take up in the B2B space has been slower than in B2C, it won’t be long before these sorts of user experience become more common place.
Similarly, advanced user tools like Augmented reality (AR) can now show what products will look like in the real world and can show users how to configure or repair them. Virtual reality (VR) can provide immersive demonstrations of how to configure, use or troubleshoot your products, even if they haven’t been delivered.
What features does eCorner provide to facilitate your new B2B eCommerce store or website? The following are just some of the great features available in eCorner stores and eCorner VARshops using Resellerate.
Businesses need generally to pay based on invoice (although as noted above, the use of credit cards and electronic payments is rising). The user accessing the B2B site to place an order needs to have their credentials verified via a user name and password. This will allow changes in the user experience and information available to access, including tailor pricing and/or catalogues specifically for the registered user.
Every user that has access to the B2B website needs to be assigned certain capabilities like allowed payment methods or special pricing. Customer Groups allow the site owner to manage this tailored experience for each user that can control their actions in the website. Customer Groups are also used for marketing and promotional purposes. A Customer Group might be one company (and its employees) or a group of companies.
In some cases, the business will want the site closed, or pricing hidden, to anyone who does not have credentials to log in to the website. In this case only limited content such as a home page marketing message or simplified product catalogue is seen by the general visitor who might try to access the site.
B2B customers rarely use the recommended retail price (RRP), and may be discouraged from your site if they are shown full retail pricing.
Most B2B systems will have multiple prices for each product with a specific price, discount or markup assigned to a specific customer group. While most people understand the concept of RRP and discounts, it is becoming increasingly common that B2B sites don't deal with RRP at all. The base price is instead set by the manufacturers wholesale price and the price to each customer is based on a "mark-up" or a percentage increase to the base price. B2B systems have to be flexible to handle many different pricing scenarios with both bulk or value-based discounting at a product level.
Many businesses sell internationally and need to be able to present their products in different currencies and languages. Internationally eCommerce is booming with huge growth markets like China and the south east Asian nations looking to Australia for quality products. Allowing your site to be quickly and easily switched between multiple currencies and languages improves the user experience for international buyers, increasing the likelihood of engagement and conversion.
Due to internal procurement processes, most businesses need to get quotes and issue Purchase Orders (POs) before buying a product.
A B2B solution needs to reflect the business processes that most companies use. Once the correct product (or products) have been selected the customer should be able to request a quote online and if acceptable return with a PO and complete the checkout process.
To be effective and seemless, a B2B eCommerce solution has to be able to handle the negotiation electronically and the merchant needs to be able to update and reissue a quote in real time.
The B2B eCommerce solution should also provide all the information necessary for you to properly determine reasonable pricing for your quotes including relevant purchase costs, availability of stock and/or the cost of shipping.
Many businesses and distributors have the products that they sell shipped directly from the manufacturer or distributor warehouse (this has become commonly known as ‘drop shipping’).
The available stock and price might change daily and there may be many different warehouse locations across multiple suppliers. Accuracy in price and availability is essential as often margins can be slim. Updates from data feeds provided by your suppliers need to be automated to update when changes occur to avoid sales which are below cost or unable to be fulfilled.
Just as critical to the success of many B2B systems as the ability to automatically accept data feeds is the ability to create similar data feed files from your B2B system that are sent to the businesses that might resell your products.
There may be some content on the online store that is not open to just anyone accessing the site. This might be access to specific product information or assets or it could be marketing information that is confidential to business partners. B2B sites need to ability to restrict access to content by Customer or Customer Group.
Businesses sell products that might come from many different suppliers but when a company is ordering those online from a B2B website they expect the total order to be fulfilled. In the B2B environment, the system needs to differentiate products from different suppliers that are in the same order. When the order is created the system then creates multiple sub-orders and purchase orders to go to each supplier or warehouse.
If the business running the B2B website is substantial and handling 1000's of orders and maybe 100,000's of products then integration to back office and third party systems is a key factor of success.
Most larger businesses will rely on back office systems like ERP, CRM or accounting systems to manage the business overall, and will have a range of 3rd party suppliers managing everything from logistics to payment automation. The ability for the B2B website to integrate seamlessly is essential to ensure efficient operations.
This also extends to the user experience of your B2B buyers, the ability to build custom functionality and to modify the existing functionality and user experience is essential to engage and convert potential shoppers in much the same way as retail B2C stores. You may also need to manage payments, logistics or commissions on behalf of your resellers and need to tailor the order process and reporting to capture and fulfil those requirements.
eCorner can tailor any of our Enterprise packages specifically to your business needs to ensure both your shoppers’ experiences and your back office processes are as seemless and effective as possible.
eCorner has multiple solutions to provide eCommerce to small or large enterprises. Our core software fully supports a B2B and B2C model, but we have also enhanced that with specific functionality for resellers. It's primarily focused on merchants that want to manage large product catalogues and data feeds from distributors. Our packages include all core functionality, software, hosting, maintenance and support.
Starting and running a business can be great fun and deliver rewards. Having been in business now over 40 years we've see some recurring patterns that can be indicative of a business in trouble. Many new starters in business will be recommended to read some book or blog site and can get bombarded with the great business platitudes that sound great and mean nothing.
There are many foundation issues to a successful business but I would like to cover just three I think most important, Products, Markets and Customers.
Often we see in forums or hear people ask "why don't visitors buy from my online store?".
Of course there are many potential answers to this question. It could be issues like design and user experience, maybe the prices are too high, maybe it is shipping cost.
Understanding why people do not buy can be hard. The starting point is to use a good web analytic system to track what your visitors are doing and then use the results to improve your business and conversions. This can often show that visitors will start a basket but then abandon it before checkout. By looking at the step of the drop out you can often find a cause.
Feedback from your customers is also a great tool to understand what they like and don't like on your site. While it can be difficult to engage with customers in the online retail space, tools like surveys can be used very effectively to identify problem areas and let your customers feel like they are involved and being heard.
Every week we have new customers come to eCorner, some have never had a website or online business before and for them it's the beginning of a long and challenging journey.
For those that have a website and an online business and are re-platforming, we often find that they are not prepared for the change that is coming to their business and have made a snap decision to change without fully considering the implications.
Of course we never like to turn away a new customer but we always ask these questions to ensure they are making the right decision and will get maximum value from their move to our platform.
Sometime the answer is vague and this can often mean that the change has not been fully thought out.
"Change is as good as a holiday? Not always…"
A good parallel to draw is a home owner that needs to up-size (or down-size). Families outgrow the family home and need more space, comfort or a different location, or maybe it is retirement time and you are down-sizing.
When this happens it is a huge decision and impacts all the family. It can be time consuming and expensive. Mistakes in the process or bad decisions can often be life changing or cause ongoing problems for the whole family.
On the other side of the coin it is also very exciting. Moving to a new neighbourhood, suburb or city can open up new opportunities. Moving in to that sparkling new house with all the new space and fittings can be a buzz.
It is a decision that takes analysis and planning and not one that it undertaken lightly - do you move, renovate your current home, or is it better to just stay put. The choice often depends on a number of factors like availability, time, cost and life-style impact.
Moving also invariably comes with a long list of things to do like change of address, change phone, internet, digital services, power, water and the list goes on.
Bottom line: it’s a major decision that needs careful consideration. Moving your online businesses home should be considered just as carefully.
Consider that your website is just like the digital home of your business. When it comes to a decision to change, the impact can be as lasting as changing your family home. You need to look at the options and ask the right questions to ensure you aren’t making the wrong decision or missing some critical factor in your decision making process.
Once you feel you have all the information then build a plan that will help you transition through the change. You may find once you’ve done your diligence that a move isn’t the right option and you should simply renovate your online home or leave it as it is and focus your efforts elsewhere.
If the decision is to move (i.e. build a new website), then your plan becomes the core of the process with all your key information, including all the necessary requirements that can be provided to the companies that can build your website.
This is really an important question to ask as change is not always your friend.
If you are a business owner or manager then you invariably get pounded with emails and calls from SEO and Digital Agencies telling you how bad your website is and how “easy” it would be to rebuild. This should never be the reason why you change websites, building a new site is never “easy” (or cheap) and there are a range of flow on issues that should be considered in formulating your plan.
The key reasons to change are in general a need for new features or some failure in your current site.
Main reasons for change:
The downsides of changing should also be considered.
There is a risk with any site change that your search rankings will be lost or reduced, content may be lost or not be able to be migrated to the new site and there will likely be a huge investment of your time both as part of the build process but also to learn the new system and change your business process to adopt the functionality of the new platform.
The first consideration that you need to make is to build a simple plan to cover the change process. This way nothing will be missed and your decision to renovate, move or do nothing will be much easier.
There are some key questions that you can ask and you should consider all stake holders involved in the process.
Who are your stakeholders:
Once you establish the list of people that can impact (and will be impacted by) the change then you can get their input which will help make the process (project) simpler.
"If it’s not broken then don't fix it..."
Don't laugh! The first and most important thing to consider is do you need to change at all.
If your website or online store is delivering results then changing it may negatively impact the business. You can use your website analytics to determine how your website is performing.
Website performance is often thought of as how many people find your website but in reality that is generally more about marketing and search engine optimisation. The website's performance is really about what people do once they find your website, how many become buyers or customers and are the business results meeting expectations.
For example, if you're concerned you aren’t selling enough but your statistics show that a large percentage of users on your site buy products (i.e. high conversion rates). Then problem to fix isn’t likely to be the site itself, but the way customers are find or are driven to your site. Then your time and money may be better spent reconsidering your marketing strategy or on a new pay-per-click campaign (like Google AdWords).
If you know what is being achieved then you can set targets for improvement in your plan, and that can be communicated to your stakeholders, to ensure that any changes you make are for a purpose which is measurable.
My advice is to start by talking to your existing web developer or web service provider.
You've likely already committed time and money on your current site, and making your existing website more modern or improving user experience may be much more simple and less expensive than a full rebuild. Just like renovating a bathroom or adding a bedroom versus moving house it will come with a far shorter list of things to do and also have less risk of failure.
There are situations where the previous web developer has disappeared or gone out of business, or maybe the existing website has been a catastrophic failure. So the only real alternative is to start from scratch.
What questions do you need to answer?
Consider seeking feedback from your customers as part of this process, that will allow you to ensure it isn’t just your potentially ‘bias’ view of the site that is incorporated but also the needs/desires of your customers become the core of the build process.
Once you have developed your plan for the future of your website, there will likely be an obvious answer to whether you should move, renovate or do nothing.
If not, having conversations with your existing provider and other similar providers in the industry will help you analyse your plan and determine your next steps.
We, as a provider, will never advise someone considering a change to their online store that it will be a "quick, easy process", nor that it will be risk free. Unfortunately, not all providers and agencies in the industry are as unscrupulous. So ensure you take all advice with a grain of salt, and are comfortable with your decision before you move forward.
By having a plan and a clear view on the objectives, costs (both money and time) and risks of the change, it will ensure you make the decision for the right reasons not because the grass is greener on the other side of the digital fence.
If you are planning a change and want some help or don't know where to start then the eCorner Assist team has services available that will help you review your existing website.
It was coming up to our end of week team meeting on a quiet afternoon in August 2015. Discussions were about what the weekend would be like with everyone looking forward to winding down and how we would spend our family time. Somewhere thousands of kilometres away someone had a different idea (ominous music plays).
It all started as a blip on the radar with our incoming data charts starting to show excessive activity. That is not necessarily unusual as we often see spikes in activity. However before long we knew the prolonged and aggressive spikes meant a potential attack. Then the phone calls and emails from our customers started to roll in and the rest of the weekend went downhill fast…
What started as a Friday prelude to the week end was an attack that lasted (on and off) for over a week. It impacted most of our customers’ websites, it was a large attack that was relentless. It disrupted customers and cost a great deal in time and money before it was eventually beaten. No one asked for money, there was no vulnerability uncovered, it was done solely as a business disruption.
Starting an online store or business, or extending your bricks and mortar business online can be a real challenge for many people and is much more complex than most new business owners understand. There are lots of forums where the general feedback will tell you how easy it is to build you website and sell online. How often do you see: “Your products will sell because you have a great looking website! Customers will just turn up and buy from you! You can do it all for free!”
Well sorry to tell you, but it is all basically rubbish!
Right now there is a lot of speculation that retail in Australia will be impacted negatively by international eCommerce players like Amazon. The general view seems to be that retail is under threat and there is nothing that we can do!
We aren't convinced that this is true! Retail has undergone several evolutions in the last 50 years and if anything the market has always got bigger and better each time. The retailers who embraced the changes and accessed the new opportunities flourished, while those that resisted missed out (or went bust).
Each stolen record costs retailers USD$172 on average in the event of a data breach, according to the latest Cost of Data Breach Study, the gold-standard benchmark conducted by the Ponemon Institute – and this figure is on the rise. Cyber security should therefore be front-and-centre for any business operating on the Internet, and we are regularly asked to advise on how to manage and mitigate the risks of operating online.
Wanted to share a few of the podcasts that I’m listening to/find interesting at the moment.
I’ve always loved the podcast format, as you can consume information, tips or stories in easily digestible chunks while leaving your hands free for other things. Whether it be your daily commute, an hour at the gym or your daily picking and packing time, I’ve always found a podcast to be a good way to add a layer of additional productivity to your "free" time.
Listed below are a few podcasts that contain interesting information, tips and tricks for online retailers, as well as a few random ones that I’m listening to at the moment in case you are looking for something else to fill some time.
All of these are available via iTunes if you search for the names below (as well as from their own sites as linked).