Sam Bayer


B2C ecommerce experts have developed a huge body of knowledge over the years. These experts are great at what they do, and they bring a unique, critical perspective to the world of B2B ecommerce solutions. However, some aspects of B2B ecommerce may surprise people who come from a B2C background. B2B isn’t like B2C!

Case in point: Abandoned carts. Bad, bad, bad in B2C. In B2B? It’s not that simple.

Interpreting abandoned carts: Understanding B2B conversion rates

In B2C, improving conversion rates is the center of gravity for marketing efforts. That means getting more people to complete a purchase after they show up on your website. There are books, seminars, workshops, analytics, and services companies focused entirely on increasing your conversion rates. In B2C, the benchmark conversion rate is 2%. If you can get 2%, you’re a conversion rate hero!

In our world, 60-70-80% conversion is not uncommon. It’s a whole different ball game.

If you’re a B2C professional moving to B2B, how do you do apply your B2C conversion expertise? How do you interpret conversion rates and their relationship to abandoned carts?

Great question. It all starts with the role that ecommerce plays in the B2B sales funnel.

Understanding the B2B funnel

The B2B sales funnel is different from B2C. In the consumer market, the website often doesn’t require a login to see pricing and product availability. The website is totally visible to the public, which means it plays a role from the top of the funnel all the way to conversion.

While that may be the case in B2B, it isn’t always.

In B2B, relationships are often (but not always) established before the user gets to the ecommerce website. (Note to the Marketing department: You should absolutely use your B2B ecommerce site to build new business–it’s just that that’s not the only access point to the site.) When a relationship already exists, including contract pricing, credit history, and more, the user coming to the website is actually much farther down the sales funnel. They often know what they need before they come to the ecommerce store.

Which leads us to abandoned carts and the fact that they aren’t so bad.

The secret behind abandoned carts in B2B: Clever customers!

The B2B buying landscape is far more complex than B2C. The B2B community uses a wide variety of procurement and payment methods to handle the large orders that we often see in B2B (which can exceed 500 line items!).

For example, over the years, we’ve noticed that certain customers of our clients put product in a shopping cart, update the cart, and abandon it. That definitely looks like a bad thing, but we need to understand the full picture.

Over the years, we’ve implemented functionality that regularly analyzes all of the abandoned carts on a client’s site. In both B2B and B2C, it’s good practice to inform the owner of that cart with a message. “Hey there, you left some products in your cart. You might want to think about moving to checkout.”

Our abandoned cart detection also notifies the salesperson who’s associated with that account. (Note: that’s another difference from B2C—the account has a sales rep assigned to it.)

We’ve found that a percentage of these people intentionally came to the cart and updated it—strictly to find pricing and availability of the product, with no intention of completing the purchase on the website. After getting pricing and availability information, they used their normal, internal purchasing process to buy those products from the manufacturer—mainly, via EDI (electronic data interchange).

Why this method was most convenient

This seems like a strange use of ecommerce, but it actually makes sense from the customer’s perspective. Had they placed the EDI order for those products, and those products turned out to be unavailable, days would have lapsed before they found out. They could’ve better used those days to potentially find the product elsewhere.  

The user came to the website, fully intending to buy product internally using their EDI/purchase system, but they wanted to check for availability and pricing before they placed the order internally. That way, they could increase the likelihood that they would get it on time.

That’s a real use case. We thought it was pretty clever–but we didn’t want our client’s customers to work that hard. We could make it much easier.

What we did to make price/availability checks even more convenient

We thought, why not take this a step further? Why not make it even easier for the user to get pricing and availability, if that’s all they’re looking for? We can give the user what they want and reduce abandoned carts, so the ecommerce manager isn’t stressing over an inaccurate metric.

We made it even easier to interrogate for pricing/availability by creating a widget on the homepage. The user can enter a SKU and quantity into the widget, never going to a shopping cart. The widget automatically interrogates the client’s SAP system to return pricing and availability for the SKU. It’s the same technology we use in the cart for SAP querying, but when we placed it in this homepage widget, we simplified the user experience for customers who are going to complete their purchase via EDI.

Why EDI? Why not ecommerce?

Great question. The simple answer—because their internal processes mandate the use of an internal purchasing system that’s tied into their accounting system. In this scenario, an ecommerce order was seen as a “rogue purchase” that required an extra human touch to get it in line with their accounting processes. EDI was the company-wide approved method of making purchases.

The next question is, why didn’t the client and customer make it even more convenient to find out price and availability, by essentially having a punchout from the internal system to the supplier’s website? Actually, that’s always an option. We’ve implemented that for some clients. It’s the next step in increasing efficiency, but it does require enough transaction volume to justify the technology.

In this case, there weren’t enough orders to require this functionality. It’s also important to note that these abandoned carts represented off-cycle EDI orders. The relationship between the customer and our client involved an ordering cycle, mostly by EDI. But sometimes the customer need to place a 1-off order that didn’t fit into the monthly or seasonal cycle.

This was a valid case. The need wasn’t big enough to do a punchout, but the basic need for SAP data (pricing, availability) was there. Our client’s customers were clever, recognizing that if they put products in the shopping cart, it would give them the “1 true view” of pricing and availability. Depending on the answer, they would either place the order with the manufacturer, or they would find an alternate source. That’s not great for the manufacturer, but the manufacturer would rather the customer be happy than place an order that can’t be fulfilled. In the long run, that frustration could jeopardize the relationship.

Taking it farther: Using this data for demand forecasting

The next step on the roadmap is to track all of these queries that return “product not available” (for example). Why not feed that data back to our client’s product planners? They may not realize that 10 people came to the website this month, asked for the same product on the same day, and none of them could get it.

Wow. That’s powerful. Then the website and its SAP queries act as proxies for demand. Why not capture that demand visibility and send it to the product planner for better demand forecasting?

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