uneven race
There's a disconnect between the ecommerce experiences B2B companies think they deliver and the reality PHOTO: Stephen Di Donato

Though it's made some headway in recent years, business to business (B2B) ecommerce still has a ways to go when it comes to measuring up to the consumer experience.

That was the big takeaway from a recent webinar by Forrester VP and principal analyst Andy Hoar. Hoar, who leads the B2B ecommerce practice at Forrester, presented the findings from the “2016 B2B Benchmarks: Insights from the 4th Annual Sell-side Survey,” a survey completed by 75 B2B wholesalers, distributors, suppliers and manufacturers doing business online.

Below are the highlights of the survey:

  • More buying online … more channel shift
  • B2B experiences still falling well short of the "Amazon-like experience"
  • Sales and marketing benchmarks continue trending positive
  • Ecommerce IT spending is increasing, but priorities are shifting
  • B2B companies are making progress on mobile
  • Measurement is not keeping pace

Four of the six points reflect positive trends in B2B ecommerce, but the second and final point to lingering challenges. Let's take a look at these challenges and see how they are impacting the B2B ecommerce experience.

Replicating an ‘Amazon-Like Experience’ Isn't Easy

According to the survey, B2B ecommerce practitioners have ground to cover before they can close the gap with B2C players such as Amazon.   

When asked to rate their company’s B2B website customer experience compared to that of other B2B competitors, 52 percent of survey respondents said that it was better, 33 percent felt it was comparable and only 15 percent believed it was worse. While self-assessed, these numbers reflect B2B companies’ confidence in outperforming their competition with respect to their website experience. 

However, the responses were more pessimistic when companies were asked to rate their website customer experience against that of Amazon. Only 16 percent said it was better, 26 percent stated that it was comparable and 58 percent believed it was worse.

What's intriguing is that 42 percent rate their customer experience as either comparable or better than Amazon’s. 

Why is this intriguing? For one, 68 percent stated their IT systems cannot support an "Amazon-like customer experience." How can 42 percent believe that their customer experience is equal to or better than Amazon’s when only 32 percent believe their IT systems can support an "Amazon-like customer experience?" 

Somewhere in here lies a disconnect.

Admittedly, replicating a business that has been in the ecommerce industry for as long as Amazon is tough. Amazon has been selling online since 1995 and has grown to over $125 billion in revenue, becoming the largest retailer by market cap in the world. The online retailer is widely recognized for bringing attention to customer-centric business models.  

Given its significant achievements in ecommerce, can any other company share the throne with Amazon? 

The survey suggests that some companies are either overestimating their capabilities or underestimating Amazon’s, or a combination therein. It will be interesting to see how B2B companies work to match, and possibly surpass, Amazon’s customer experience online.

B2B Companies Need to Start Tracking the Right Metrics

The second point from the report which B2B ecommerce practitioners should take note of is measurement — specifically website analytics and clickstream analysis.  

The beauty (or bane depending on your perspective) of the internet is that every action can be monitored and tracked for future analysis. While clearly unsettling for some people from a privacy perspective, for a company selling its goods online, it provides the opportunity to understand every single transaction in great detail. This ability to dive deep into every transaction separates the winners from the also-rans.  

Amazon is where it is today because of its superior use of analytics and its dedication to understanding customers’ behavior and improving how it serves them. Its use of analytics greatly influences customer experience because it offers direct feedback on what the company is doing well and which areas need additional work. 

One way to find out if a company is committed to understanding customers is to check if they perform A/B testing for websites. While not perfect, A/B testing can help closely measure what customers want and increase conversion rates.

Customer experience matters more than ever and most B2B ecommerce practitioners still have plenty of room for growth. The upside is that companies are starting to take action to close the gap with their B2C counterparts.