June 29, 2010, 1:38 PM

Business-to-business web merchants excel

A mystery shopper study shows many B2B companies meet their customers’ needs.

Lead Photo

While business-to-consumer, or B2C, merchants place more importance on providing a total web experience for the customer who has time to browse and explore, business-to-business, or B2B, merchants often aim to create a more convenient, efficient shopping experience for those who are time-pressed, juggling multiple priorities and need to get in and get out, says Lauren Freedman, president of research and consulting firm The E-tailing Group Inc.

These B2B online experiences often start with sophisticated search and end with efficient checkout, resulting in timely delivery. That execution is derived from better refinement of results, auto-completed search phrases, increased use of guided navigation and better landing pages, she adds.

These are the findings of the “2nd Annual B2B Mystery Shopping Study” by The E-tailing Group, which has studied B2C shopping for 12 years and moved last year to begin researching the web sites of companies that sell to other businesses and organizations.

The B2B purchase cycle, the study finds, is streamlined with fewer clicks to checkout, pre-populated customer information and convenient checkout with one click. Time from order to product receipt has been dramatically reduced in the last year: 2.40 days in Q2 2010 versus 4.10 days in Q2 2009, the study says.

Service levels were high in all contact channels, especially compared with their B2C counterparts. For example, e-mail response times were much shorter (3.33 hours for B2B compared with 20.69 hours in B2C), and more often than not, questions were answered correctly (88% in B2B versus 72% in B2C). In general, customer service representatives were friendlier, more efficient and more knowledgeable about product features and benefits; live chat experiences were more prevalent and positive, with more answered questions and higher quality service, the study finds.

But there’s still room for improvement, according to the report. “We see many opportunities for B2B online sellers to move beyond their current nuts and bolts approaches,” Freedman says. “Along with the basics that appear to be in place, more sophisticated interfaces and suggestive selling should increase their ROI.”

To help make improvements, The E-tailing Group offers seven suggestions:

  • Test merchandising tactics that will inspire browsing and buying.
  • Further enable shoppers to shop “their way” with a variety of “shop by” options and the ability to view search results on one page.
  • Better integrate content throughout the site.
  • Keep recently viewed products top-of-mind and promote in key areas of the site.
  • Embrace user-generated content beginning with ratings and reviews and move toward social strategies.
  • Ensure the product page is comprehensive with full product descriptions, rich supporting tools and integrated content that builds buyers’ confidence.
  • Take advantage of post-order communication to merchandise and reinforce brand strategies and value proposition.
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