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In talking to different industrial equipment manufacturers, electronics suppliers, medical devices manufacturers we were asked to provide guidance on the latest trends in B2B e-commerce solutions.

Whether you design a Magento or a wooCommerce based solution, markets are shifting and the old “thick”, “binder” type catalog becomes obsolete.

Moreover modern B2B e-commerce solutions have to appeal to the current shifts in the buyers demographics while providing significant business tools for the merchants.

1. Current trends

– smart phone and tablet revenues overcame desktop revenues
– 50% of the Corporate Buyer nowadays is a millennial, hence influenced by Social Media
– the B2B buyer remains a specialized, qualified buyer
– the B2B buyer at times acts in groups of decision makers
– big data and predictive analysis increase profit margins
– personalization becomes a competitive advantage
– using common UI patterns increase conversions
– mobile payments are norm
– same day shipments are norm
– merchants demand more and more integration and business tools

2. Business requirements

The vision of a modern B2B e-commerce platform should be to present their customers with a state-of-the-art solution to offer:

– ability to easily locate the desired product in the catalog
– accurate, spectacular product presentation
– compelling reasons to order
– easiness to order and return
– pricing intelligence
– integrations with CRMs, ERPs, Accounting Tools and Social Media
– strong business tools for the merchant’s staff at all levels
– all the other standard B2C e-commerce features

In other words this is where we start from:

MagentoFeatures

Fig.1 Magento E-commerce Solution- Minimal Feature Set (picture courtesy of Praveen Raja on Quora.com)

3. Functionally by users roles

The customer

The online catalog has to be attractive, professional looking, easy to navigate and easy to find the desired product. The potential returns are to be handled in an automatic way including offering the ability to self print shipping labels and automatic online transactions processing the refunds. No phone calls to customer service are to be placed to return product.

The shipping and handling staff

The site has to offer efficient mechanisms to ship out and process product in. These include mechanisms to print out labels and straight forward mechanisms to process potential returns.

The inventory manager

The site has to offer efficient and accurate mechanisms to handle inventories. An emphasis will be on optimizing inventories and economically manage them.

The marketing manager

The site has to be SEO ready, SMM integrated, has to allow for integrating mechanisms of online marketing automation, has to offer coupons and discounts and has to allow for its own intelligent e-mail campaigns including integrations with products like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. The site also have to be integrated with a major CRM platform such as Salesforce or HubSpot.

The accounting and financial staff

The site has to integrate with the company’s accounting product and/or an established current accounting product such as Quick Books.

The CEO

The site has to provide high level sales reports, detailed sales reports and other types of reports to allow to for strategic decisions to be made.

4. Non-functional considerations

We can discuss an example with a system that starts at 3,000+ SKU. The system has to be able to scale correctly to support high traffic loads. The system will have a built-in ability to augment inventories / add new products as they become available.

Transactions security is key. We recommend implementing a PCI compliant solution by working with a PCI compliant gateway, training in house resources in PCI procedures and never storing credit card # locally.

5. Design considerations

Let’s discuss a solution implemented on Magento 2.2.3. Due to the requirements in terms of flexibility and advanced search mechanisms, the UI/UX has to be custom designed as opposed to choosing a front-end template.

The catalog has to offer very well structured product categories and subcategories. Brands will be obvious and easy to choose from to take advantage of brand loyalty in this industry.

Discontinued products should be removed. No product layout should lack a picture presentation or be displayed a discontinued qualifier.

We are aiming for nearly perfect product presentations with all the technical details, 4-5 large high resolution pictures per product and a video where it makes sense to play one.

Magento e-commerce solution

Fig. 2 Well designed Magento Front End

When a search operation returns a higher number of items they will be pre-indexed by price, pre-indexed per brand and presented with the ability to sub-filter by subcategory / product type.

We will not sort by criteria like “most popular” or “most ordered” but we will implement intelligence to actually detect what the customer is looking for to order. The best match can be defined as a subtle combination of different criteria such as best price per brand or best value in the market segment.

Four different types of searches will be offered: by keyword, by catalog #, by #SKU# and by natural language, e.g. “double speed metal drilling tool”.

6. Pricing intelligence

The recommendation is to display the products in comparison with other distributor’s products and to implement nearly real time price comparisons algorithms to prove the value proposition. Solutions like Indix, Semantics3, Wiser or Sigmento can be integrated.

7. Implementation considerations

When implementing from scratch, we recommend to follow the following phases.

Phase 1. Implementation of the core functional feature set:

– Fully functional UI
– The first version of the catalog imported
– A first comprehensive version of the products layouts and presentations configured
– Full ordering and shipping system implemented
– Pricing intelligence mechanisms included
– Returns mechanisms and policies implemented
– The functional e-commerce site hosted live in the cloud

Phase 2. Implementation of additional features

– Mechanisms for cross selling and up selling
– Promotions, coupons and discounts
– Inventory management module
– Integration with an automatic online marketing solution
– Integration with a major CRM

Phase 3. Implementation of extra features

– Social media integration
– E-mail marketing integration
– Live chat / customer service integration
– Reviews / recommendations
– Security and anti-fraud mechanisms

8. Conclusions

When implementing a new modern B2B e-commerce solution or just upgrading your current solution it is essential to take into account these latest market trends. The B2B world implements a lot of the features that were traditionally specific to the B2C world.

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