Business relations between enterprises, e.g. companies, wholesalers or retailers, are described as B2B (business to business). In contrast, the B2C (business to customer) market deals with customers who are private individuals. The numbers of items involved are another difference between the B2B and B2C segment. Very large numbers of goods are often handled in the B2B market and that represents the major challenge: several people are frequently involved in the decision and ordering processes because of the huge volumes of items and the costs these incur – and these people all have to coordinate with each other. The purchasing cycle for a B2B order therefore takes much more time to process than a ‘spontaneous purchase’ by a private individual.
Retailers sell their products and services directly to consumers or private individuals in the B2C market. It is almost impossible to imagine the B2C market without online trading now. This business is booming and more and more suppliers are even transferring their entire operations to the online world. The COVID-19 pandemic has given this process a further boost during the last few years. Online business operations are lucrative and offer many benefits: one of them is the cost savings for companies. Rents for retail space are becoming more and more expensive and the costs of running a brick-and-mortar store are no longer a factor when operating an online shop.
Everything is rather different in the B2B market. Many companies often underestimate the potential offered by digital platforms. Thanks to the boom in digitalisation, they may transfer their business to the online world, but online trading has not yet become as firmly established here as in the B2C market. Despite this, transferring business to digital channels may also make sense in the B2B segment as this also offers great potential.
The ‘omnichannel’ model will be the trendsetter for the B2B market in future. This business model covers various channels, where it is possible for clients to remain in contact with one company. Products or services are advertised and sold through several sales channels and optimised touch points enable clients to switch from one channel to another without any difficulties. This creates a better user experience for clients so that customer satisfaction can be increased in the long term. Companies also benefit from connecting different sales channels. Client preferences, which have been registered on one channel, are also available for the other channels. This makes it easier to log and evaluate the data. Simply focusing on one sales channel will no longer be productive for companies in future.
Operators need to take several issues into consideration when setting up an online platform because there are significant differences in B2B in comparison with the B2C market. Placing orders in B2C has nothing to do with entertainment. This is exactly what those operating a B2B online business need to align with: functionality comes before customer experience. A good customer journey may be important here too (i.e. the clients’ user experience), but different factors determine whether that is the case.
This can take place, for example, in the form of product descriptions or instructions. What initially sounds like an increase in effort and expenditure quickly turns out to be a benefit. By describing products and providing extensive explanations, companies can demonstrate their expertise and make a good initial impression with clients. Specialist expertise can also have a positive effect on clients’ decisions on whether or not to purchase items. Clear structures in the shop are another supporting factor in this process, i.e. clients can quickly find what they are looking for. Clear navigation processes through the online shop help create a positive customer journey. The website should also include an explanation about the service processes. This gives clients adequate information and familiarises them with the individual process stages even before they place an order. The focus here is on communication and building trust.
Clients enjoy significant benefits from B2B companies’ online services because they can quickly view and filter the range of products. In addition, clients can become active themselves by using calculators or intelligent shop systems. If different parameters are set, it is possible for them to enter data about an order that they wish to purchase – and this enables clients to obtain some initial information, e.g. whether the products are in stock or details about the approximate costs that would be incurred if an order was placed. This involves information that the client can also use when considering whether to make a purchase. The online ordering process is therefore simpler and faster: a purchase can be made comfortably with just a few clicks.
It is also possible for clients to register at an online shop. This provides direct access to the portal for regular clients and means that it will be even easier to handle any orders that are placed in future. Once a product has been ordered, the client would normally like to receive as precise information as possible about when it will arrive. Companies should set up the relevant order communications system to make interaction with clients as positive as possible. Clients then always have precise information available about the current status of their order. They can also examine these details on the portal.
There are also significant benefits in operating an online shop for B2B companies. They can, for example, tap into new markets and target groups. Geographical distances, for instance, are no longer an issue and the business can be extended to cover the international market. It is also easier to track the purchasing behaviour of clients, for example, and analyse their user practices. Companies are then able to better understand their clients and consistently adapt the shop to their needs – this in turn improves the users’ experience and clients’ satisfaction.
Rhenus Data Office, a provider of services in the area of file and data storage media destruction, also operates an online shop and offers its own services for sale there. The service process when an order is placed online is quite simple: clients can order the type of file disposal that they require online – which means that it is not necessary to place orders on the phone or by email.
Once an order has been initiated online, the client immediately receives confirmation of the order by email. It can then track the status of the order via the link that is provided in the email. The order is then forwarded to the branch responsible so that an employee can contact the client in the near future, set the relevant date and discuss what will happen next. The client then receives an email with notification of the date. Depending on what the client requests, the documents are either destroyed directly at the client’s premises or at one of the high-security sites at Rhenus after the pick-up. The client finally receives proof in the form of a destruction certificate, which verifies that the disposal procedure has been conducted properly.
Even if companies have to consider certain issues, online business operations pay off because the market offers a great deal of potential. In addition to having a good strategy, continuous and long-term optimisation is very important since this is the only way to permanently ensure customer satisfaction. There are therefore plenty of reasons why companies operating in the B2B market should take the plunge into the digital world.
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