Throughout the past 15 years, business-to-consumer (B2C) websites exploded everywhere on the web as companies realized the benefits of online shopping for their business. With the dot-com boom, purchasing experiences were no longer limited to brick-and-mortar stores, or through a catalog and call center. The B2C world changed as companies like eBay and Amazon demonstrated the potentials of online shopping.
Today, with just a few clicks of a button, customers can instantly order clothes, books and even groceries from just about any B2C retailer across the world. Instant online shopping seems like second nature to many and it is expected by shoppers everywhere.
Not only that, but people are shopping from their phones and tablets, on the way to work, at work, in line at the grocery store and on the beach. They respond well to personalized messages and recommendations through different kinds of advertising, keeping them in a shopping mindset at all times.
Given the complexity of business-to-business (B2B) business, the B2B world, on the other hand, did not follow suit. Rather than focusing on user experience and mastering the click-to-purchase feature—as retailers were doing in the world of B2C—B2B businesses spent the last decade dealing with the organization and management of multiple suppliers, manufacturers, buyers and complex business processes. It seems only logical that human interaction and catalogs remained the only way to tackle these issues amongst the complexities of the supply chain at large, instead of diving in and adapting complex supply chains to the available commerce platforms’ capabilities.
Cloud technology and the accompanying integration capabilities are changing the game for B2B e-commerce, making it easier for companies to connect, maintain and manage relationships with suppliers, distributors and manufacturers at each point in the process ... all online. Companies that are able to get ahead of their competition and adopt B2B e-commerce now are able to reap the cost savings and efficiency improvement benefits internally, and improve customer experience across their whole supply chain.
Here are six ways B2B e-commerce simplifies the whole supply chain:
1. Automation of Manual, Tedious Processes
In businesses that have complex sales channels, call centers were the standard way of taking orders from channel partners. The typical manual processes of B2B businesses can be automated, including order approvals, updating users on order status, and sending order shipping and tracking information. All systematic processes help reduce order error rates, decrease order-to-cash time, provide quicker delivery to customers, improve inventory management, enhance customer communication, and boost customer satisfaction, loyalty and trust. They also lower costs due to reduced reshipments and fewer restocking situations, and decrease issuing credits and returns.
2. Real-Time Analytics of Customer Behavior
A B2B e-commerce solution creates a digital environment for businesses to operate in, giving real-time analytics of customer behavior. Learn where your customers are ordering, what pages they visit the most, where they slow down in the checkout process, what time they are ordering at, etc. Continually adapt your e-commerce site to be more responsive to your buyers’ behaviors, both orders and your bottom line.
3. The Speeding up of Customized Orders
Without an online ordering platform, custom orders need to be taken over the phone, transcribed to manufacturer or supplier, implemented, and sent back and forth with the customer a few times for review. With an online ordering platform, customers wanting to customize their orders find that they can make edits right on the platform, view proofs, and send directly to fulfillment and shipping, speeding up the process and lowering administrative costs for the business. This also makes vendors at different parts of your supply chain appreciate the ease of doing business with you.
4. More Efficient Inventory Management
When a buyer makes a purchase, the inventory is updated not only through your order management platform, notifying your manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, but it is also updated on your customer-facing interface, notifying buyers when inventory is low. These types of simplifications improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs across the entire supply chain.
5. The Reduction of Order-to-Delivery Times
According to a recent study by the Economist, Millennials now surpassed Baby Boomers in workplace makeup. Knowing that Millennials don’t necessarily distinguish work life and non-work life, making sure your business is available for business 24/7 is important. With B2B e-commerce, buyers can now order 24/7/365, allowing them to replenish their needs sooner. Instead of extensive back-and-forth conversations over the phone, fax or in person, your buyers can automatically send information across channels, greatly reducing the order-to-delivery time.
6. Fewer Order Errors
A robust, online B2B e-commerce platform can dramatically reduce the errors that normally occur during the order entry process. Orders captured via an online system and entered by the end user avoid many of the problems associated with having the customer service or call center team entering orders called in or sent via email. Online ordering systems can also strictly enforce business rules for users as they are entering orders. The system can ensure that the customer is presented with the correct information based on his or her role.
By joining the B2B revolution and making B2B e-commerce part of your business, you may find that your business is able to improve operational efficiencies, reduce costs and improve satisfaction across the entire supply chain. On the other hand, companies that do not adapt to the increasingly digital world may fall behind. Find a solution that adapts to the specific needs of your organization to have the greatest impact on your entire supply chain.
Ian O'Brien is the chief solutions officer at Four51.