The Complete Guide to Usability in B2B E-Commerce

Table of contents

    In today’s fast-paced world, business-to-business (B2B) buyers are short on time and expect even better service when buying online than your average consumer. A personal touch makes a big difference in B2B e-commerce, for example, a customized buying experience that provides relevant product and pricing information not only saves the business buyer time, it creates a positive impression of your company as well.

    In this paper, we explore the top five priorities to consider when creating a user-friendly B2B web store.

    B2B buyers want an online one-stop shop

    According to the B2B Web Usability Report, 70% of B2B buyers rank overall website features as extremely important. However, their main priority is a website that is easy to navigate rather than one with lots of bells and whistles.

    “Buyers, who are busy and efficient, follow certain behaviors when they arrive at a vendor website. They head directly to the products and services pages; they thoroughly dislike website elements that waste their time or distract them.”

    It’s much easier to sell online when a B2B web store is easy to use, attractive and simple, yet still provides all the necessary product information and search functionality.

    While wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers can reuse elements of attractive consumer e-commerce sites, it’s even more important that business buyers can find items and prices as efficiently as possible. Essentially, an effective B2B web store should act as a one-stop shop and information source for B2B buyers and provide a good first impression of your company.

    Clients want to have a choice to do practically everything they need online via a web store, whereas in the past they would have called a sales agent. Companies are beginning to realize that B2B e-commerce is about more than just adding an online sales channel. Creating a user-friendly web store is important to improve customer service and the overall sales experience.

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    Top 5 priorities when creating a user-friendly B2B web store

    1. Personalize the buying experience
      Unique My Account portals deliver a personal touch.
    2. Improve product information and content
      High quality product images, descriptions and technical information encourage B2B customers to buy online.
    3. Enable easy navigation
      Clear menu bars and sub-menu bars enable easy navigation.
    4. Keep the design functionality clean and simple
      A well-designed B2B store is responsive and easy to use.
    5. Integrate your web store with your ERP system
      An integrated ERP and web store speeds up the buying process.

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    Personalize the buying experience

    B2B selling is all about building long-term relationships with customers. A web store provides an opportunity to develop close customer relationships and provide a completely personalized experience. This personalization is based on the history of the customer relationship including previous interactions, order history, negotiated pricing and contracts etc. A self-service portal or My Account provides dynamic and relevant content that allows business customers to customize their interactions.

    These user-friendly features can include:

    • Allow customers to log in with their email address
    • Provide access to complete order history
    • Include details on previous orders
    • Enable easy repeat purchasing based on order history
    • Create custom shopping lists of favorite or frequently bought products to speed up repeat purchases
    • Track order status and shipments
    • Access account balances
    • View invoices
    • Make payments online

    This online store should be customer-centric and include both online and offline customer interactions and transactions. The value to the customer only occurs if the web store and self-service portal provide a truly accurate and up-to-date version of their entire relationship history with your company.

    How do we tackle this at Sana Commerce?
    We have created a unique My Account dashboard to deliver a personal touch. Sana Commerce Cloud users can use their company email address to access their personalized My Account dashboard where they can view recent orders, check order status, and easily place a new order using the templates provided.

    Relevant product suggestions

    With relevant product suggestions we’re referring to additional or related products and spare parts can be presented to customers. These suggestions can be based on their previous order history, their business type, browsing behavior and items that are currently in their shopping cart. This helps your customers to discover new and better products, and more importantly enhances your cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

    Customized pricing and company discounts

    Customized pricing and company discounts are frequently used in B2B selling. Your customers will expect the web store to reflect the same personal prices and discounts they receive from a sales rep. This is possible to achieve online by establishing different price levels for products depending on each customer’s negotiated price and volume discount and works really well if the web store is integrated with your ERP system.

    Create views for different roles

    Create views for different roles within your customer’s organization, which allows you to customize self-service capabilities. For example, a person who works in a retail shop may be able to select products, but only their manager can actually authorize the order. This can be arranged by limiting the authorization of his or her online account to preparing an order. Likewise, segmenting customers by their role enables more targeted marketing campaigns and promotions, as well as more relevant product suggestions and price agreements specific to their role and department.

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    Improve product information and content

    As well as being an important sales channel, a B2B web store functions as a valuable information source where customers can access documentation about your products and business. Most B2B buyers use the internet to research products, and frequently require additional product information before they progress to the ordering phase.

    It’s not surprising that professional buyers rely on online channels to conduct research before making a purchase for their company as they need to purchase exactly the right products, especially when it comes to highly technical products such as construction materials.

    Besides making technical product information available to B2B buyers, wholesalers and manufacturers can also use product brochures to underline their differentiation with competing products. A B2B web store is also a valuable information source for internal employees. Sales representatives and other teams can look up product information, customers buying history and transactions, etc.

    The following are must-have content for any successful B2B web store:

    • Online pricing information
    • Technical information
    • White papers and blog posts
    • Shipping information

    B2B web stores can provide detailed product information in multiple formats such as high quality brochures, visual images, videos, and interactive technical manuals. Products can be presented using a gallery of high quality product images with zoom capabilities. In addition, the site can display related products and suggest alternative products when a certain product is out of stock.

    How do we tackle this at Sana Commerce?
    By making product pages easy to create with content templates and by making it possible to incorporate high quality product images, descriptions, technical information, and even with advanced features like our LoobBook functionality.

    Sana Commerce Cloud users can provider their buyers with all the relevant information they need to make a purchase on a single page. Our e-commerce platform automatically creates product pages for you by using all the products already housed in your ERP and/or PIM system. On top of that, any changes or additions made in your ERP will also be reflected on your product pages in real time. Product pages show the product and any available variants, images, price, stock availability, ratings and reviews, product descriptions, and more.

    Enable easy navigation

    Users need to be able to find what they are looking for quickly and with minimum effort. Studies show that most website users are not willing to stick around and figure out a complex navigational scheme. If your menu structure isn’t user-friendly, you’ll lose their interest. This is particularly true for B2B buyers, who want a fast and efficient online buying process.

    A challenge is that B2B product catalogs tend to be large, varied and complex, with unique product assortments and pricing for each customer, and technical product information. It is therefore really important to enable easy navigation through your web store so that customers can quickly and efficiently look up products by using faceted search, guided navigation or quick search.

    These navigation guidelines will make your B2B web store easier to navigate and although some may seem obvious, it is surprising how often companies fall short on implementing them.

    Anatomy of easy navigation in B2B e-commerce

    • Menu bars are the primary way people navigate through web stores. The categories should be logical and their purpose obvious. Limit the number of menu and sub-menu bars to enable a clear overview.
    • Keywords used in the menu and sub-menu bars should be relevant, logical, and also Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ready. For example, check how often a particular term is being searched for in Google and whether it will perform better in search if you change the name of the category slightly.
    • Search boxes should be visible on every page in the upper right side of the menu or in the right upper corner of the web store.
    • Auto complete search should be enabled so that when a customer starts typing, the search box automatically retrieves the results using a fast index based search engine.
    • Sort and filter capability is useful so that customers can sort products based on categories and attributes such as brand, size, material, color or type to enable an effortless search process.
    • Adjustable product views provide a user with a choice between detailed product lists or informative grid views with images.
    • Optimal catalog classification means that you may need to adjust your ERP or administration system’s classification of product groups, so that product category descriptions are more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
    • Breadcrumbs or a text-based navigation system keeps track of a customer’s movement through a web store and shows where, within different categories, a current page is located. It gives customers a sense of direction and provides shortcuts to instantly navigate within the categories.
    • A footer is essential to have with links to informative pages about the company and products, FAQs, customer service and contact information.

    How do we tackle this at Sana Commerce?
    Sana Commerce Cloud uses clear menu bars and sub-menu bars to enable easy navigation, as well as product filtering, or facetted filtering. Within the main navigation, users can opt for a cascading or multi-column main menu.

    Configuring your navigation and filters is simple with our product import functionality, which uses your ERP logic to build out product sets, product sorting, and more. It is also possible to use sub-menus to drill down further by brand, price, color, etc. A search box is also available if a customer wants to search for a specific product or model number.

    Keep design and functionality light, clean and simple

    When designing a web store it is important to keep the design and functionality as light, clean and simple as possible. The focus should be on helping B2B buyers to navigate through content and not bother them with unnecessary features. The following features and functionality will ensure your customers have a positive B2B web store experience:

    Ensure your web store is fast

    Nothing is more annoying for customers than a web store that takes a long time to load. Slow speed is one of the main reasons why visitors leave a web store and can also lower your search engine ranking. Making sure your web store loads within one to two seconds is important for a good user experience. When considering elements such as full screen video, first think about the impact on your loading time.

    Make bulk purchasing easy and fast

    Make bulk purchasing easy and fast by providing a multi-add to cart feature and enabling bulk ordering. Create a responsive website that automatically adapts screen sizes and capabilities to the device a customer is using, e.g. laptops, smartphones or tablets. Offer suitable B2B payment methods such as invoice billing, credit cards and ACH payment processing

    Ensure a consistent corporate identity

    Ensure a consistent corporate identity throughout the web store so there is uniformity between all the pages. That means keeping the corporate identity layout uniform throughout your tabs, buttons, commands, imagery, and menus. Usage of design templates will ensure consistency in your web store.

    Make sure your site is easy to read

    The readability of the website is largely dependent on contrast, color, font and the use of formatting features. The right contrast between the background of the website and content is one of the most basic yet most important web design principles.

    With regard to the color scheme used, customers generally prefer to visit light and bright web pages. People process information best in black and white as our brains are designed for simplicity and efficiency.

    Similarly, a simpler font will increase the readability of the web page. Most design experts agree that sans serif fonts work best for online design. Formatting can also greatly improve the design of your web store. Avoid long chunks of text and instead use headlines, bulleted lists and bolding to increase readability.

    How do we tackle visual design at Sana Commerce?
    Sana Commerce Cloud is designed to support an omnichannel selling experience. Meaning? It has a responsive web design to support any device, including tablets, smartphones and desktop. This responsive design improves user experience, makes managing content easier, improves page speed and loading times, and is more cost effective since you don't need to create different sites for different devices.

    In addition to this, Sana Commerce Cloud features quick order suggestions when typing in search and allows for bulk ordering or multi-add to the customer's shopping cart. It also offers a theme editor which allows web store administrators to create a theme based on your own unique company identity — without and HTML or CSS knowledge.

    Integrate your web store with your ERP system

    Integrating your B2B web store with your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system enables additional functionalities and benefits that can really improve the customer’s buying experience.

    A fully integrated B2B e-commerce solution, like Sana Commerce Cloud, leverages ERP data and uses this information to run your web store. The real benefits of having a B2B e-commerce solution integrated with your ERP system are at an operational business level, but integration will also improve the customer friendliness of your web store through added functionalities.

    Online sales automation is a key example of how an integrated web store and ERP system can improve usability. Since many businesses have long-term relationships with their suppliers, it is easy for them to predict buying behavior based on order history, both online and offline, using ERP data. By using predictions based on actual ERP order history, you can proactively send order templates/quotes to existing customers.

    Real-time order validation that includes exact pricing and inventory data as well as complex volume discounts, saves time and makes life easier for each customer. It is a way of automating online selling that has only just started and will rapidly transform the B2B market.

    Final thoughts

    Digital advancements have not only changed the way B2B buyers search and buy items, their expectations regarding the buying experience are higher as well. With the growing popularity of e commerce, consumers are now bringing those same expectations of a seamless shopping experience to the world of B2B e-commerce. In this respect, B2B web stores are starting to adopt the best practices from consumer websites to optimize the business buyer’s online experience – a trend which we expect to see more often in the future.

    Usability in B2B e-commerce is key

    Having a customer-friendly web store requires you to think like a customer. You should help them find what they need without any hassle.

    A B2B web store is required to function as an online sales portal, online information portal and customer service portal, all at the same time. This is where usability plays a vital role in the success of a web store. A user-friendly web store provides a positive experience for business customers and improves the rate of sales conversions and repeat visits.

    Usability is one of the main factors to consider when developing a professional and well-designed web store. This is especially the case for B2B web stores, where buyers are busy, and require fast and efficient service and relevant product information before ordering. The long-term nature of B2B e-commerce relationships leads to expectations of personalized service, customized prices and product lists that are tailored to different roles within the organization.

    What does a customer-friendly web store really mean?

    Essentially, it means that customers should be able to quickly find what they need and buy your products without any problems or hassle. This requires you to think like your customer and help them in ways they are not expecting.

    How can you achieve this?

    By paying attention to the five top priorities we discussed when it comes to usability:

    • Personalize the purchase experience
    • Improve product information and content
    • Optimize navigation
    • Keep design and functionality light, clean and simple
    • Surprise them by using online sales automation from your ERP system to provide personalized service

    Make it easy to buy from your company and save business buyers’ time and energy by using automation and personalization — this is the future for successful B2B e-commerce.

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