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Tech Tips | 6 min read

Changing Customer Journeys & The Complexities of B2B eCommerce Search

June 12, 2023

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Whether you're a B2B wholesaler or a B2C retailer, a person who's searching on your website has the highest intent to purchase. Are you providing them with a seamless path to product discovery?

For a host of reasons, the B2B buying journey is much more complex than the consumer path, and B2B vs B2C product discovery scenarios have very different challenges. But when as many as 80% of B2B buyers prefer remote or self-service options, it's no wonder that B2B organizations are moving fast to up their digital games.

B2B has historically lagged behind B2C when it comes to transforming the digital experience, yet B2B buyers are embracing online shopping like never before. McKinsey reports that 70% of B2B decision makers are open to making new purchases of $50,000 or more via fully self-serve or remote channels, while 27% would spend more than $500,000. On top of that, 87% of B2B buyers would pay a premium to do business with a supplier that has an excellent eCommerce portal. The upshot is that B2B wholesalers and distributors need to provide an exceptional eCommerce experience for their customers. However, it's not just a matter of taking a page out of the B2C playbook – the customer journeys can be dramatically different.

B2B vs B2C Customer Journeys

Providing a frictionless omnichannel experience is critical for B2B, as well as B2C. Harvard Business Review notes that B2B buyers expect the same omnichannel flexibility as they enjoy in their personal lives. Both B2B and B2C customers are used to switching between channels and devices in their search for the right products, with mobile playing an ever-larger role. Now that nearly two thirds of today's business buyers are millennials and Gen Zers, B2B ordering on mobile apps has increased 250% since early 2020.

In general, modern B2B and B2C customers are increasingly tech savvy and expect a convenient shopping experience, but there are many ways in which their paths to purchase diverge. The B2C customer journey is fractured across many platforms, and over 50% of customers will use 3-5 channels to engage with a company, while regularly switching between websites, mobile and in-store shopping. In fact, the lines between in-store and online are continuing to blur for B2C, as customers check product availability, read reviews and compare prices with other retailers while standing in the store.

The B2B buying journey also no longer takes a straight path. With self-serve purchase options and so much information now immediately at their fingertips, B2B buyers can craft their own journey, from researching online to asking questions via social or chat to video conferencing with a rep and having an expert come on-site. But a key difference between B2B and B2C is in the number of stakeholders involved in a purchase. Gartner reports that the typical business buying group has 6-10 stakeholders, each with 4-5 pieces of information they need to “de-conflict” with the team.

While speed is essential in B2C, from fast and accurate product discovery to speedy delivery or pickup options, B2B has a long and complicated purchasing cycle. Making a new B2B purchase usually involves several steps, including problem identification, requirement gathering, supplier vetting, product assessment, achieving stakeholder consensus and settling on purchasing terms. It's the sheer complexity of a B2B purchase that makes optimizing product discovery so difficult on your eCommerce platform.

B2B vs B2C Product Discovery

While B2C eCommerce has multi-faceted product data, B2B eCommerce involves a whole new level of complications, beginning with the purchasing agreement. From dynamic pricing schedules to custom product catalogs to complex use cases, here are some of the factors that make product discovery much harder for B2B:
  • Custom Catalogs
  • Purchasing agreements between two organizations are not one-size-fits-all, and there may be restrictions on what individual companies are able to purchase. As such, individual buyers may require a custom view of your product offerings. These restrictions can depend on the industry, geography and even local regulations. This means that products that one buyer can purchase should not be visible to others in your online catalog and in search results.

  • Dynamic Pricing
  • Negotiated pricing schedules for the same products can also vary according to the purchasing agreement. While the average B2C retailer can catalog products at prices that apply to all customers, B2B needs to be careful about the price points each buyer can see, while also ensuring that accurate quantity discounts are applied.

  • Multiple Product Catalogs
  • Optimized search and reliable product discovery depend on the quality of your data, yet most B2B companies struggle with classifying and organizing large volumes of diverse product data. The challenges grow when new supplier catalogs are added to the mix and new companies and lines are acquired. In order to provide a unified shopping experience and accurate search results, B2B companies need a way to standardize their new product assortments with the rest of their catalog and rapidly apply product attributes at scale. Otherwise, findability will suffer and products will get lost in the shuffle.

  • Complex Use Cases
  • In addition to multiple and custom catalogs and dynamic pricing, options like part number search, unit conversion, fitment (year, make, model) and intricate faceting further complicate B2B product discovery. B2B buying requires a next generation search and product discovery engine that can easily manage the most complex use cases. At GroupBy, we can help.

GroupBy is the first in the market to provide wholesalers, distributors and retailers access to Google Cloud's search and recommendations, through its Product Discovery Platform powered by Google Cloud Discovery AI. The next-generation search engine at the heart of its platform easily handles dynamic pricing, custom product catalogs, unit conversion, highly faceted navigation, and complex use cases like fitment. Providing B2B retailers and wholesalers with the tools they need to create digital shopping experiences that match their customers' expectations.

Summary

There are a number of challenges that are unique to B2B vs B2C product discovery and few solutions capable of meeting those needs when upgrading your digital channel. GroupBy can help you to easily manage custom catalogs and dynamic pricing, as well as complex fitment and faceting scenarios, with a search engine that can deliver exactly what your buyers are searching for across multiple query types. Manual intervention can also be drastically reduced, with advanced machine learning that cuts time-intensive search tuning and business rule management, so your teams can focus on critical revenue-generation activities.