B2B Ecommerce Can’t Completely Copy its B2C Counterparts

Steven Baruch, MSC Industrial Supplies
Steven Baruch, MSC Industrial Supply

The more B2B ecommerce changes, the more it stays the same

Yes, there are more bells and whistles than ever in B2B ecommerce, but there’s not a straight conversion between the B2B and B2C audiences, said Steven Baruch, Vice President of Strategy for MSC Industrial Supply, during an interview with Multichannel Merchant at IRCE 2015.

[REPORT: Ecommerce Gets More Mobile Savvy]

“The notion of consumerization of B2B comes up a lot. B2B customers are increasingly expecting that B2C experience,” Baruch said. “It does create a lot of pressure for B2B companies to replicate what they see in the B2B world, but it’s also fraught with risk because it’s not a pure translation. So when you think about what our B2C customers are looking for, it’s incumbent upon us to look at this vast array of capabilities that the B2C customers are using today, and make sure that we’re really diligent about picking those that most suit the needs of our B2B customers and add the most value.”

One big difference is variety of product offered on the B2B site. Less is more is kind of a mantra for most B2B sellers.

“When you look at the B2B customer, most of them are not looking for the most SKUs at all. They’re looking for the exact opposite,” Baruch said. “They’re looking for fewer SKUs, fewer suppliers, fewer products, especially if that means faster work and lower costs.”

Not everything from the B2C world will translate, Baruch said. There’s absolutely an expectation from an experience perspective that a lot of the basics need to be covered, but curating your experience based on the needs of the customer has got to stay at the top of mind, Baruch said.

While 47.5% of MCM Outlook 2015 B2C respondents said they use video on their ecommerce site, that paled in comparison to the respondents who said at least half their audience was B2B.

B2B buyers need to know as much as they possibly can before buying the right product for their needs, and that was reflective in two-thirds of the respondents saying they have video on their sites.

Another big difference was the use of live chat. More than half (55%) of the B2C respondents said they have some sort of live chat active on their sites. But most B2B merchants have a more-personal sales force, which is why just 16.7% of B2B respondents offer up live chat.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most valuable, B2B respondents rated the value of social a 5 to their ecommerce strategy. In contrast, B2C merchants ranked social media a 6.45.

And while B2C respondents rated mobile a 6.8, B2B respondents rated it a 4.9.

But also, as Baruch points out, mobile to the B2B audience is different from what it is to the B2B audience.

“[B2C customers are] really hyperfocused on mobile transactions; how much revenue am I generating via mobile device or app?” Baruch said. “When we think about mobile, we ask how it fits in with the customer experience. We’re omnichannel, we have a sales team across the country of a few thousand folks and we have our catalog and website and marketing. We look at mobile as another way to engage the customer throughout their experience. For us, it may be how does mobile fit in with the customer journey, and where along the journey is it the most effective for them?”

In the B2B universe, Baruch said, the mobile device may be more useful for alerts and notifications. For example, if you need to order a part and it’s out of stock, the customer can receive a text alert when the product is back in stock.

Or, Baruch said, mobile can be used by B2B customers who have a sense of urgency.

“If you are out on the floor, and you do see there’s a shortage of an item, or an item is out of stock, you do have the ability to search, find and buy online and have that connected to your account,” Baruch said. “Those use cases are where we’re seeing more mobile popularity.”

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