By Mike Leibovitz
Now that we’re well into the recovery phase of the pandemic, it’s worth stepping back and looking at what impact this period of turbulence has had on organizations that rapidly scaled their B2B ecommerce operations.
The explosion in ecommerce innovation and access to new delivery offerings means it’s never been easier for companies to re-imagine how to engage with their audiences online. Given that economic uncertainty is likely to continue for some time, it’s critical that the investments companies make now to improve the digital customer experience deliver the greatest possible return and ensure long-term success.
To do that, ecommerce leaders must make their entire online sales ecosystem as frictionless as possible. We recently partnered with Environics and surveyed 3,800 North American consumers to understand the frictionless opportunity. There are lessons in there for what B2B ecommerce managers must take to create a truly frictionless experience and maximize their revenue.
Consumers and more business-driven buyers have one thing in common – they want a smooth and intuitive user experience. Friction is best defined as anything that interferes with that experience, whether the result of technical or design glitches. For consumers, that may mean poor search functionality or product listing menus, items with little or no relevant information attached to them, or shipping policies that are vague. Our recent research found that 49% of consumers who shopped online in the previous six months were dissatisfied with their experience. It’s difficult to build loyalty in the face of that general unhappiness
The number of friction points are far too many to mention individually. What’s important for businesses to understand is that a truly frictionless e-commerce experience is impossible without mastering three fundamental areas that, if left unattended, can quickly ruin the best laid digital plans.
- Start from the customer and build from there
Start from the customer and build from there
Many businesses tend to approach their in-store and online channels as separate operating units. Even with the best of intentions, this can result in a lack of integration and a disjointed experience for buyers.
It’s easy to get overly focused on short-term tactical solutions when often the best approach is to take a step back and look at your ecommerce with critical eyes. Everything should be based on the needs and wants of your customer, and then built out from there. B2B buying cycles tend to be slower than the consumer purchase cycle, and tend to involve levels of customization and specialization. Making it easy for these buyers to build a custom order online based on their specific context, and ensure that this context is attached to their buying persona that is remembered and easily shared across the organization, is a worthwhile effort. It requires integrating Fulfillment and Multi-Channel Alignment and Customer Service dimensions. But it also means instilling a “customer-first” mentality across the entire culture, and ensuring that every project and investment ladders back to that ultimate goal.
One example of a customer-first mentality is offering multiple payment options such as Apple Pay, Paypal, Bitcoin, Credit Card and financing. Millennial consumers especially want the payment options that are catered to their needs and wants. One of the biggest new age payment channel is Bitcoin due to the massive price increase in cryptocurrencies. Millennials would like to pay using the profits they’ve made and today’s eCommerce brands can cater to this in order to stay ahead.
2. Resolve to eliminate silos
Even today, many companies are saddled with legacy software that keeps their ecommerce ambitions in check. Often referred to as “technical debt”, it’s what prevents tying together product, inventory and customer data in ways that truly drive frictionless experiences. The problem is rooted in technology. But the solution requires more than rushing to implement the latest and greatest ecommerce software. A different architectural approach must be utilized to avoid encountering the same old problems under a new software banner. Many crucial factors — such as how APIs are connected, what underlying tools are used throughout the commerce ecosystem and how easily components can be added or replaced — are far more dependent on how companies opt to architect and deploy versus by what software they choose.
Aging platforms and siloed operations can only truly be solved by taking a new approach based on three factors. First, select a platform that’s right for you, but know that this is just the starting point. From there, build a team of in-house people or partners who can truly bring the long-term vision to life, and then commit to eliminating technical debt once and for all by building an environment where operating silos are impossible.
3. Get serious about Master Data Management
From search to product recommendations to order fulfillment – companies can’t accomplish their ecommerce goals without approaching data as a fundamental building block.
Lack of data is not the issue – on the contrary, companies are more inundated than ever, with some experts estimating that the average business only uses a small fraction of the information available to them. Success comes when organizations have ways to automatically curate, collect and get insights from data. The solution to this challenge is exploring Master Data Management. MDM ties together core business data with product and customer specific information to help bring consistency to what buyers, partners and suppliers see while also creating ways to capture and help learn from the actions they take (or don’t).
Pursuing a data strategy based on MDM is critical for any organization seeking to strengthen their e-commerce operations. It opens the door to offering your buyers a level of personalization that’s virtually impossible otherwise, for example, allowing them to create customized profiles that curate relevant products based on their needs and specific context. This reduces the time from search to sale and creates fertile ground for long-term relationships.
Ecommerce has surged over the past 18 months, and shopper expectations have surged along with it. To differentiate themselves from competitors and succeed in this highly competitive world, brands must act quickly to address these three dimensions of frictionless commerce. By doing so, they’ll set themselves up to weather any disruption and realize their digital ambitions.
Mike Leibovitz is Vice President of Product Management at Pivotree, a global commerce and MDM services provider.