B2B Retail’s Coming Transformation

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We had the privilege of attending the B2B Online conference in Chicago, led by a collection of prominent digital marketing and eCommerce executives from across the B2B retail industry. As with many industries, there is an ongoing generational shift within the workforce. In particular, the people making purchasing decisions within buying organizations are accustomed to a specific type of shopping experience - namely, one that does not involve a fax machine, or a phone call with a sales rep in order to complete a purchase. In a country where 1 in every 3 people is an Amazon Prime member, offering a subpar digital commerce experience regardless of industry is a major risk.

Why is the digital transformation for B2B retail so complicated?

At the risk of oversimplification, it is because the purchasing agreements between two enterprise organizations are deeply complex.

Firstly, there are restrictions on the products that the buyer is able to view and purchase. Depending on their industry, or even different regulations from one region to another, there could be products that one buyer can see and purchase that should not be visible to the other buyer at all.

Secondly, prices for the same product will often differ from one buyer to another, depending on the agreement they were able to make with their sales rep. The last thing a seller would want is for their buyers to know that another buyer has a preferential rate on one of the products in their assortment, so it’s critical that the correct price is shown and that the engine is able to sort and filter products by the relevant price.

While the ordinary B2C retailer can simply index all of the products they have with whatever price they’ve chosen to sell them at, the B2B retailer needs to be more cautious about how products are shown and what prices they contain.

Key Takeaways from B2B Online

The B2B buyer is a multifaceted organization, rather than a single person who has decided to browse and make a purchase. The concept of an “impulse purchase” is rarer, when the average B2B buying decision is made by 6-7 people, all of whom may have very different priorities and motivations. As Jill Steinhour, Adobe’s director of hi-tech strategy pointed out in her keynote, buying priorities vary depending on the buyer’s industry and their interests (Steinhour, B2B Online, 2019)**. She also noted that a growing share of younger buyers are looking to social media and search engines to research products before buying, as opposed to speaking with a sales rep to gather information. It’s increasingly critical that B2B retailers understand the behavior of the companies that buy from them and are prepared to provide an online experience that caters to that company’s buying style and preferences.

One of the other key messages of B2B Online was that any digital transformation within B2B retail has to align with the success of those organizations’ sales teams. Abhishek Shastry, the Director of Product Strategy for Dell, shared an initiative that they had recently introduced to use bots to cut down on simple interactions that their sales reps would ordinarily handle so that they can stay engaged with more complex and high-value engagements. Similarly, the shift towards online-centric buying will provide sales reps with more comprehensive tooling on how their buyers behave when making purchasing decisions, ultimately giving sales the opportunity to be more productive and more profitable if they’re able to take advantage of the technology.

How does all of this make a difference for us at GroupBy?

We believe there are two major ways we can help B2B retailers differentiate their digital commerce experience from the competition. The first is by following the example of their counterparts in the B2C space and using a best-in-class search provider to power product discovery for their shoppers. At B2B Online, there were plenty of manufacturers and distributors who spoke about the pains of trying to customize open-source search platforms like SOLR for their use case. Often this means hiring a range of consultants and system integrators to try and help the enterprise build a search experience in-house, losing time and money on basic search tuning rather than focusing energy where it matters most. At GroupBy, we know that we can give retailers a differentiated eCommerce search experience with minimal effort because we have been doing exactly that for retails across a range of industries for years.

The second point of differentiation is when it comes to product data. As everyone who works with search knows, the search experience is heavily dependent on data quality. However, most B2B retailers have a huge problem classifying and organizing the volume and diversity of products they sell. This problem is exacerbated by the trend of retailers either picking up new suppliers or acquiring other companies. In order to provide a unified experience, these companies need to easily standardize their new product assortment with the rest of their catalog. GroupBy’s Enrich product specializes in solving this problem for improved search relevancy and navigation filters.

Lastly, given that our search services are independent APIs, we can add value without requiring complex implementations or incurring overhead to manage. Our products can easily be integrated into an enterprise’s existing eCommerce system with minimal difficulty, and improve relevance without requiring extensive customization from a third-party vendor. As we’ve said before, headless services are the future of eCommerce as they allow retailers to innovate more quickly and truly own the customer experience across the site.

If you’re interested in learning more about how GroupBy can apply these learnings to your business, please contact us at [email protected] for more information.