It's been 20 plus years since e-commerce emerged and we're still only seeing the tip of the business to business (B2B) e-commerce iceberg.
One sign that it's still early days is the recent release of Internet Retailer's (IR) inaugural issue of its B2B eCommerce 300 list. This list tracks leading B2B e-commerce company revenues.
While the estimated 2015 revenue quoted in the list — over $547 billion — suggests a more mature market, there's still plenty of room to grow.
Sizing Up B2B vs. B2C E-Commerce
Internet Retailer subdivides B2B 300 e-commerce revenues across 4 categories:
- Primary e-commerce site
- Commercial network
While each can be considered a form of e-commerce, let's narrow the focus to how companies sell directly through their primary e-commerce site in order to compare with the more established business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce space.
Using the data from the report as a base, we can estimate a worldwide 2015 revenue of roughly $205 billion from B2B primary e-commerce sites and marketplaces, in comparison with the overall 2015 B2C e-commerce revenue of over $341 billion in the US alone.
While not a perfect comparison, it does suggest B2B eCommerce hasn’t progressed as quickly as its B2C counterpart.
Selling through one’s own e-commerce site suggests a greater level of maturity than outsourcing to a third party marketplace: it's an indication that a company is trying to develop its own capabilities. Of the top 100 companies on the B2B 300, 50 of them derive at least a quarter or more of their online revenue on their own e-commerce sites and 21 of those sell half of their online revenues through their own site(s).
This suggests that revenues generated through a company’s own e-commerce site(s) aren’t as high as one might expect. While some might dispute that point, for the purpose of this article we are going to assume it's valid and propose some better practices leveraging Amazon’s expertise.
Taking a Page (or Two or Three) from Amazon's Book
Gated Product Information
A striking area for improvement is the login requirement of many B2B companies e-commerce sites. Requiring a login to view detailed product information seems onerous at best.
Having built an early B2B e-commerce solution in the late 90s targeting industrial distributors, it surprises me that companies still feel the need to hide their product information behind a gate. Amazon doesn't limit access to product information and excluding certain, very specific product information, neither should B2B companies.
At least eighty percent or more of product information should be accessible to anyone. Removing barriers to reviewing product information is in a company’s best interests as it helps educate and inform prospective customers.
Displaying certain information, such as customer-specific pricing and available inventory, only to the relevant audience makes sense. But this is easily handled using a list price and/or a "request a quote" function and the term "In Stock" for the general public.
Whether the gated approach reflects the company's own thinking or a lack of capabilities in the e-commerce solutions being used, it's a problem that needs to be solved.
Neglecting Information Architecture
B2B companies would also do well emulating Amazon when it comes to information architecture, taxonomy and usability. How a business organizes and presents information is highly relevant to getting people to use it.
Yes, B2B is often more complex than B2C. This will require more work in delivering a superior experience, but the customer experience has to be front and center, whether you're B2C or B2B.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t receive the attention that it should in most companies. As with many things, Amazon does this extremely well so there should be no issues with companies benchmarking against known best practices.
Leaving Out the Details
One last area where B2B companies can learn from Amazon is the immense detail in the product detail page (pdp).
Facilitating a buying decision online with minimal to no human intervention and numerous exit points is a challenging process. While each of the previous points chips away at people's ability to complete an online transaction, the lack of rich product content on the product detail page probably has the greatest impact.
It’s precisely here where a customer is making their decision on whether to add the item to their cart. When they don't, it’s often because they can't cross the purchase decision threshold due to lack of information.
Amazon really has mastered the art of the product catalog, so again, for any company looking to benchmark, why not do so against the best in breed?