August 8, 2013, 10:11 AM

B2B seller boosts online orders with a new web site

With its new customized products site, Great Northern’s online orders are up 30%.

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Great Northern Corp., a business-to-business provider of customized packaging products to retailers and other companies, has increased its online order conversion rate by about 30% with a new e-commerce site designed to be more user-friendly, says Matt Ruggle, marketing manager.

Great Northern in June relaunched CustomBoxesNow.com, which debuted in 2007 on the InsiteCommerce e-commerce platform from Insite Software. The original site, Ruggle says, was innovative in its ability to show online customers instant updates of product pricing as they customized box orders, such as by box dimensions, material strength and number of units. The site grew sales at an average annual growth rate of 25% over the next five years, the company says.

But there was room for improvement, Ruggle says. “We were happy with the site’s usability, but knew we could improve on it quite a bit to make it easier for the end-user,” he says. And with the site attracting a large percentage of first-time customers to the Great Northern brand, the company wanted to make sure it was providing shoppers the information they need, including answering common questions on topics such as product details and shipping times. The company also wanted to make it easy to place an order and to complete it, Ruggle says.

Great Northern learned through customer service agents’ communications with prospective buyers, including via e-mail, phone and live chat, where customers wanted more help in completing orders. As a result, it has introduced on the relaunched site new features and services including shipping confirmations and a calculator that instantly shows a customer’s estimated shipping cost once she configures a box order and enters her ZIP code. With customers often placing bulk orders of, say, 100 or more custom-configured boxes, shipping costs can vary widely.

When web analytics in the InsiteCommerce platform revealed that 85% of online orders came from first-time buyers, Great Northern also introduced new educational content designed to encourage new customers to place orders. The content includes an industry advice blog, details on the different types of available packaging, and images of boxes configured by other customers.

“The new enhancements to the site have increased the number of pages per visit and visit duration, leading to an increase in conversion rates,” Ruggle says, declining to offer more specific numbers on those metrics.

However, he was willing to quantify how customers are interacting with the new site. “We’ve seen about a 160% increase in the number of people contacting us via e-mail and phone call leads after visiting our web site, and about a 30% increase in the number of people purchasing online,” Ruggle says.

Great Northern is also using call-tracking technology from Marchex to analyze whether customers complete an order when they call from a distinct telephone number shown on the web site or in a Google ad; it then decides if it needs to modify web site or ad content to improve conversions. “It helps us make decisions on methods driving traffic,” Ruggle says.

Ruggle declines to comment on the cost of operating the technology for its relaunched site. Insite refuses to publicly comment on pricing.

Industry analysts say the cost of running a web site on a B2B e-commerce technology platform can vary widely, based on such criteria as sales volume, number of SKUs, and the extent of integration with accounting, inventory management and other software. B2B e-commerce software alone can start as low as $25,000 to $30,000, analysts say, with additional costs for integration and other services typically bringing the total for mid-sized companies into a range of $75,000 to $250,000, with some unusually complex deployments running up to $1 million. 

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