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B2B Insights | 9 min read

The Top 6 B2B eCommerce Challenges in Search and Product Discovery

July 27, 2023

mechanic shopping online for specific parts using fitment for b2b eCommerce

eCommerce has come a long way in recent years, but it’s still not as straightforward for B2B wholesalers and distributors as it is for their B2C counterparts. With a wide range of complex search requirements, B2B eCommerce wholesalers and distributors face many unique challenges when it comes to providing an excellent customer experience.

From custom pricing and multiple product catalogs to complex faceting and fitment, these companies must address a wide range of issues in order to meet their customers’ expectations. In this article, we will discuss some of the biggest challenges that B2B companies face when it comes to eCommerce, and what solutions they can use to overcome them.

The B2B Customer Journey

Before we dive into the challenges, it is important to understand and consider the B2B eCommerce customer journey.

The B2B buying process is much longer and more complex than that of a typical B2C customer. Sales often involve multiple stakeholders from across the company when making a purchase decision. Keeping up with all of the stakeholders' different preferences and requirements is a complex endeavor, and one that technological solutions have not yet mastered.

Plus, the purchasing process itself often requires a certain level of customization and flexibility, which can extend the sales cycle and require the involvement of human customer service reps to provide the best possible customer experience. This is at odds with how B2B customer journeys have changed over the years. Potential customers now overwhelmingly prefer digital self-serve options and are willing to spend more -- up to $10 million in some cases, according to McKinsey.

Even though they're willing to spend more, B2B buyers also often require flexible payment options, such as invoice-based payments. This creates another layer of digital complexity, especially if your customers desire flexible payment methods. On top of this, many B2B customers require custom payment terms and terms of sale, which can be difficult to integrate with traditional payment gateways, and present another challenge for eCommerce sites.

As such, any B2B eCommerce platform -- especially a search and product discovery platform -- needs to be able to deliver multiple options, flexibly, and dynamically respond to and understand user intent. Otherwise, they won't be able to match customer expectations, no matter how great the online B2B shopping experience is.

Legacy Technology & B2B eCommerce Businesses

Search and product discovery are especially hard for B2B eCommerce wholesalers and distributors, because of the complex use cases required to accommodate the needs of their customer base. This is largely due to the prevalence of legacy search technology throughout the B2B eCommerce industry.

Legacy search technology is keyword-based, and relies on text-matching software to find and retrieve relevant search results. However, B2B eCommerce businesses -- especially wholesalers and distributors -- have very complex data sets, for which simple keyword matching technology cannot always find and retrieve the relevant results. Especially when factoring in user intent and complex use cases like year, make and model search (fitment), legacy technology creates many of the challenges outlined below.

Fortunately, as AI-first search and product discovery platforms have emerged, B2B eCommerce businesses have been able to solve these issues by harnessing the power of AI. We'll talk about that more, later.

The Top 6 Search and Product Discovery Challenges of B2B eCommerce

Here are the 8 biggest challenges B2B companies face when trying to improve their ecommerce experience:

  1. Personal Relationships & Understanding User Intent

    Many B2B businesses rely heavily on personal relationships with their customers, which can be hard to maintain when transitioning from traditional sales methods to an online platform. Companies must find ways to not only create meaningful connections with customers through digital channels, but also ensure that their customers have access to the same level of customer service that they would receive with a face-to-face interaction. And that those same customers can easily locate the products they wish to purchase on their own.

    As such, understanding the needs of B2B buyers is vital for ecommerce companies. These customers often require a personalized shopping experience and unique payment options, which can be difficult to manage on a single platform -- and that's before you consider user intent or personalization of the B2B eCommerce experience. While many B2B buyers tend to be loyal customers, shopping with the same suppliers for years, they can and do switch when a different supplier offers a better customer experience.

    As such, it's vital that wholesalers and distributors leverage next-generation search technology that understands user intent and context. This will allow them to more easily craft a customer experience that delivers what their customers needs. For example, relevant search results can be delivered with the click of a button, and served up alongside relevant content. This content can then be leveraged to help educate buyers and other stakeholders in the process, as well as stand in for self-serve options. This pays off in the form of long-time customers and repeat business.

  2. Intricate Product Filters and Complex Faceting

    eCommerce B2B businesses usually have more complex product search requirements than their B2C counterparts, often requiring intricate product filters and faceting. Especially for wholesalers and distributors who carry many different product lines, their menus can become extensive, with multiple filters and attributes for each product type.

    This can put a strain on legacy eCommerce search platforms, which may not be able to provide the most accurate results for these kinds of searches. eCommerce companies must find a solution that can handle B2B buyers’ needs while providing a fast, intuitive search experience.

  3. Offering Dynamic Pricing

    Many B2B companies work with different customers on a regular basis, each of whom may have their own pricing structure or pricing agreements. This makes it difficult for companies to offer consistent pricing across all customers, and makes displaying the correct information to the correct customer difficult. Companies must find an eCommerce solution that can handle customer-specific pricing in order to provide each customer with the correct pricing.

  4. Multiple & Custom Product Catalogs

    In the same vein as dynamic pricing, many B2B companies have multiple product catalogs, each of which may contain different products or variations on existing products. The catalogs can vary from customer to customer or organization to organization. For example, company A may have a different list of approved suppliers, complete with different pricing, from company B. So when an employee from company A logs in to their B2B eCommerce business supplier's site, they should see not just different prices, but different products entirely from someone from company B.

    These catalogs may also present custom product options that are tailored to a B2B buyer's specific needs and requirements. This can make it difficult to keep up with the various products and product lines, as well as the different pricing that each may require. B2B eCommerce companies must find an eCommerce solution that can handle multiple product catalogs in order to ensure customers have access to all of their products, as well as any other customization options their customers may need.

  5. Unit Conversion

    Especially for wholesalers and distributors who manage multiple product lines and work with B2B companies in different countries, unit conversion can be a big challenge. For example, if a customer is searching for a part using imperial measurements (inches, feet, etc.) but the distributor's or wholesaler's product catalog only has data in metric measurements (centimeters, millimeters, etc.) then those units need to be converted before the search engine can return relevant results.

    Without unit conversion, customers are not assured that products will fit their application and purchasing confidence decreases. When confidence decreases, eCommerce returns increase, and for B2B especially, returns can be difficult due to the unique needs of B2B customers. As such, companies must have an eCommerce solution that can handle unit conversion in order to provide customers relevant search results and product recommendations. (And an effective return policy for when things go wrong!)

  6. Fitment (Year/Make/Model Search)

    Providing relevant product results with a large inventory of products that include year, make and model can be a daunting task. And many B2B products require this fitment data in order to ensure that the correct size and type of product is being purchased.

    Fitment is both a search problem and a data problem. A given part can fit tens of thousands of products, however different products will need different information in order to guarantee a fit. For example, a spark plug will need to know what engine type a vehicle is to guarantee fit, whereas a windshield needs body style, not engine type. This means fitment requires both a robust data set, with all of the data needed to guarantee fit, as well as intelligent search that can determine which attributes are relevant, and can potentially prompt the customer for more information when needed.

    Many industries use fitment as well, not just the automotive industry -- industrial manufacturers, machinery supply stores, electronics and computer parts, B2B industrial supplies, HVAC supply stores, MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and more. As such, it's especially important that a B2B eCommerce business be able to accurately deliver the right search results for fitment queries.

These are just some of the major challenges that B2B companies face when it comes to providing an excellent customer experience. By finding an eCommerce search and product discovery solution that can address all of the above use cases, B2B companies can ensure that their customers have a smooth and efficient buying process, regardless of product search complexity or other requirements.

AI-First eCommerce Search and Product Discovery is the Solution

All of the use cases presented above can be addressed by leveraging the power of AI to supercharge your B2B eCommerce search and product discovery experience. With a superior understanding of user intent and context, next-generation search technology can deliver relevant, personalized, buyable search results that are optimized for revenue and are guaranteed to fit.

An AI-first platform, like GroupBy's eCommerce Search and Product Discovery Platform powered by Google Cloud Vertex AI Search for Retail easily handles all of the above use cases. Built on Google's innovative new Retail Search Engine, which was rebuilt from the ground up to be AI-first and tailored to eCommerce use cases, this platform easily handles complex B2B search use cases like dynamic pricing, multiple product catalogs, unit conversion, complex filtering and has even cracked the code on Fitment.

Choosing an ecommerce platform that can accommodate the unique needs of B2B customers is essential to providing a great customer experience, and GroupBy's platform excels in supporting the specific needs of B2B clients.

In Conclusion

Navigating these six challenges can be a daunting task for B2B companies – but it doesn’t have to be. By finding an eCommerce solution that can address each of the above topics, businesses can ensure that their customers have a consistent and enjoyable buying experience.

For example, having a platform that is able to handle complex product search requirements and custom pricing will make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for and ensure that they get the best possible deal. Having a platform that is also able to accommodate multiple product catalogs, unit conversion, fitment data, and other customizations will allow businesses to provide an even more personalized experience for their customers, resulting in long-term growth and customer loyalty.

With the right eCommerce solution in place, B2B companies can easily create a better customer experience and increase customer satisfaction – both of which can lead to increased sales and revenue for your business.