If Amazon shipments arrive in two days or less for free, why can’t B2B purchases do the same?
Influential members of B2B buying groups are increasingly asking questions like these. With 73% of millennials involved in B2B buying groups, the ensuing expectations are here to stay. Companies can fight this battle, trying to explain the intricacies and complexities of B2B sales and logistics, or they can adapt.
E-commerce is no longer the sole domain of B2C companies. While the pandemic accelerated trends, the writing has been on the wall: B2B companies must adapt to e-commerce. According to recent research by McKinsey, e-commerce now represents half of B2B sales compared with in-person sales, and one-third when factoring in hybrid sales. Not only is e-commerce increasing in popularity, but executives are ready to make larger purchases than ever online. Sixty-two percent of executives are willing to make purchases of $50,000 online, and 27% are willing to make such purchases as large as $500,000.
With the growth of B2B e-commerce also comes new expectations from customers. B2B buyers have grown accustomed to the speed and convenience of B2C buying cycles. Now, they’re asking for the same. When it comes to e-commerce fulfillment, they have four primary expectations, and meeting them requires the use of advanced e-commerce software. They are:
Speed. The Amazon Effect has been well-documented, and its impact isn’t limited to B2C. Once people have experienced free and fast shipping in their personal transactions, they expect the same in their business transactions. Many B2B e-commerce companies are turning to advanced e-commerce logistics software to adapt to these customer expectations. In doing so, they gain access to carrier marketplaces in which they can choose from various carrier options. Then, they can offer customized delivery options to customers, giving them the power to weigh out cost versus time.
Reliability. Failure to meet delivery expectations will result in customers looking elsewhere. Sometimes, circumstances outside the shipper’s control threaten to derail shipments. One thing that separates mature from immature e-commerce operations is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. With the help of advanced e-commerce logistics software, companies can proactively reroute deliveries around weather events or other extenuating circumstances.
Traceability. If customers routinely check shipping updates on small purchases, they’re even more likely to demand traceability for large, B2B purchases. Providing real-time tracking is more than just a service for peace of mind. It’s also an opportunity to upsell customers. Some e-commerce logistic software will include fully branded tracking sites with integration for product advertising. Rather than having customers track shipments through FedEx, UPS or any number of carriers, they can bring them to a branded site with an opportunity for new sales and increased web traffic.
Hassle-free returns. Eighty percent of buyers want free returns, and 54% check return policies before purchasing. Not every company can offer free returns, but those that can will gain a competitive advantage. However, any returns, and free returns especially, can be complex to manage. Customers aren’t concerned about a vendor’s logistics challenges; they’re concerned about complex return processes making disappointing products even more frustrating.
While some companies may feel stuck between unrealistic expectations on one side and soaring costs on the other, there are other options. Companies using advanced software to manage e-commerce logistics can use local carriers to decrease return costs. Furthermore, they can enhance the customer experience during returns by providing return labels with shipments, offering customized return options ranging from pickup services to in-store returns, and keeping customers informed with status alerts for refunds and returns.
Many companies have recognized the value of B2B e-commerce and started the adoption journey, but few have fully matured their solutions. In addition to helping execute on the four pillars outlined above, e-commerce software helps companies mature their business by streamlining cross-border sales, eliminating operational silos through integrating with enterprise resource planning and other business systems, and utilizing omnichannel distribution strategies for maximum flexibility and cost savings.
Lynne Roof is product marketing director with QAD.
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