Originally published Jan 17, 2019. Refreshed Nov 30, 2021.
In a fascinating infographic, Digitalcommerce360 highlights the top 3 areas in which B2B sellers are trying to improve their offerings in eCommerce and customer portals. The infographic draws on data from the company’s B2B E-commerce Buyer Expectations Report, which surveyed 100+ B2B respondents on numerous industry trends. Among survey respondents, the highest-ranked problems are:
- Limited information about shipping the product
- Poor inventory information
- Not enough information for the buyer to make a decision
These 3 areas are incredibly telling. If survey respondents are trying to improve ecommerce in each of these areas, then it stands to reason that the ecommerce solutions in question are suffering from 3 major weaknesses.
Let’s look at those weaknesses. In each case, we’ll also examine what it will take for manufacturers to overcome the problem and provide a seamless ecommerce experience.
B2B Weakness 1: Unclear shipping information
In their lives as consumers, B2B buyers are accustomed to getting shipping information from Amazon (whether it’s accurate or not is another matter!). At the very least, B2B eCommerce and customer portal solutions should provide this level of buyer confidence. Customers deserve accurate estimates for shipping charges and an estimated delivery date.
However, that baseline is often not enough for dealers and distributors buying from manufacturers. Depending on the manufacturer’s business processes, these users need may visibility into many more attributes of the shipping process. Even visibility may not be enough if buyers actually need control over these things. Here’s what we’re talking about:
- Selecting ship-from warehouse to control shipping costs and/or delivery time.
- Choosing a requested delivery date from an accurate calendar of available dates.
- Real-time address validation when the buyer is buying on behalf of a third party.
- Getting accurate shipping charges ahead of time, based on total weight and dimensions of the order as a whole.
Manufacturers typically have this data defined in SAP ERP. The challenge is bringing it to the web. Whether it’s B2B eCommerce, a customer portal, or a combination of the two, most platforms can’t support this depth of SAP integration.
Solution: Real-time SAP integration
With a platform like Corevist Commerce, your buyers get real-time interaction with your SAP system right in the customer portal. That means you can give them accurate shipping information on the web, eliminating the need for a phone call to your Customer Service department. Without this real-time data on shipping, you introduce friction into the buying process and reduce buyer trust in the B2B portal.
B2B Weakness 2: Inaccurate or missing inventory data
It’s no surprise that B2B buyers are frustrated with inventory availability. Shipping information aside, inventory data is arguably the most important information you can give your buyers in the B2B portal. The question is, will you give them accurate inventory data?
The answer to that question depends on your architecture. Are you integrating the B2B portal to SAP in real time? Or are you using batch updates?
B2B eCommerce and customer portals that depend on batch synchronization simply can’t provide accurate inventory data. Why? Because in an omnichannel world, the last widget in stock could be sold at any moment—and the web portal won’t know about it until tonight’s batch update.
But it gets more complicated. You may not want to show every customer the total inventory that you have available for a product, so you can keep your highest-value customers happy. In SAP, this is known as an ATP calculation. If ATP is essential to your customer relationships, then it’s essential in the customer portal. And simply put, you can’t provide an up-to-date ATP calculation, personalized to your customer, if your architecture depends on batch updates.
Solution: Real-time SAP integration
With a platform like Corevist Commerce, your buyers get real-time inventory data from SAP displayed in the B2B portal. Whether you give all customers the same inventory information, or whether you give them personalized ATP calculations, Corevist Commerce supports both. It’s just one more way we take out friction in the buying process.
B2B Weakness 3: Not enough information for buyer to pull the trigger
This common weakness sums up the first two, but it also includes far more. It highlights the mindset shift that’s required for manufacturers to transform their customer experience. Information that was once available in many disparate formats (product specifications, contract pricing, how-to manuals, product substitution, etc.) must now be brought under one roof: the B2B web portal.
This is an immense challenge for manufacturers. You know you need to get online, but the obstacles are tremendous. How can you move forward?
Solution: Real-time SAP integration (with multi-phase rollout plan if necessary)
We recommend prioritizing the highest-value data points which your buyers need, then providing them through a real-time SAP integration. With a smart B2B eCommerce rollout plan, you can launch a B2B portal now for post-order care. This empowers customers to track orders, invoices, and shipments on their own, no phone calls required. In Phase II, you can add online ordering capabilities and transition customers away from phone, fax, and email ordering.
Starting with post-order care portal, you give your customers everything they need to answer routine inquiries through self-service.
- Real-time order status and tracking, straight from SAP
- Real-time shipment tracking integrated with all major carriers
- Full order history from all channels (phone, fax, email, EDI…)
- Full invoice history and status
- Option to add online payment capabilities
When you add product catalogs and online ordering, you give your customers all of the above, plus the following.
- Real-time pricing calculations based on contractual terms, quantity-scaled pricing, and any other pricing rules living in SAP—everything that your buyers would get by calling Customer Service.
- Intelligent search within the web portal.
- Intelligent error messages, straight from SAP, for discontinued or disallowed SKUs.
- Accurate credit standing to determine if the buyer can place the order today.
- Everything we covered in solutions to Weaknesses 1 & 2.
- An Amazon-like buying experience with images, rich content, full product descriptions, and more.
- Intelligent product recommendations taken straight from related SKUs in SAP.
- Intelligent search results pages that include rich content.