Stop me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve decided to buy a birthday gift for a family member who’s always been a little tricky to shop for, and you have a specific gift in mind. You spend some time searching on Amazon but can’t seem to find exactly what you’re looking for, so you pivot to the Target or Walmart website to see what they have available.

You find that Target has just what you want, but there’s a problem: it won’t arrive until after her birthday (gasp). So, you try to see if the local Target store has your item in stock for you to pick up, but you have trouble finding this information from the general Target website. After about 10-15 minutes of fruitless searching you begin to get frustrated. You curse modern technology, berating yourself for not just picking up the phone in the first place and calling the local store.

So, you pick up your phone (which undoubtedly is within arms’ reach), Google the phone number of the local Target store, and place the call. Maybe it rings, but probably the phone is answered immediately, which would be a tremendous relief except that the person on the other end isn’t a person at all. As you hear the dreaded automated voice on the other end say, “Thank you for calling the [name of your area] Target store. Our hours have changed for the holidays,” your eyes begin to roll all the way back into your head.

You know where this is headed. “For store hours and location, press 1. To speak to a specific department, press 2.” In the heat of the moment, you’re not entirely confident which department your item falls under (is it apparel? Is it outdoor equipment? Sporting goods?).

You can feel your patience (and sanity) beginning to fade away like a fond memory from your childhood, and as you debate how far you’re willing to go down this rabbit hole, you quickly remember the hidden backdoor that most companies mercifully have built into their automated systems that allows you to press “0” to speak to an operator.

So, you press 0. The phone rings, and the sweet, angelic sound of a human voice answers the phone. With tears in your eyes, you ask your question, and receive an immediate, “Let me check on that for you.”

The silence builds anticipation in your mind as you anxiously await the verdict that will determine if your efforts have all been in vain, until finally you hear that dear familiar voice on the other end come back with the most sublime words you’ve ever heard: “Yes, we have that in stock.” Already knowing the answer, you ask them if they can hold the item for you, and before you can thank the operator, you have your keys in hand and are heading out the door.

B2C vs. B2B Needs

While this Dante-esque journey into modern-day consumerism is not uncommon, most B2C e-commerce distribution strategies actually do a pretty good job of meeting the needs of the average, everyday consumer.

In addition to providing sleek, user-friendly, one-stop shops for everything that’s available in the brick-and-mortar store, most major e-commerce sites also typically provide pertinent product information, like size, color, accessories, and included materials, as well as information regarding whether or not the product is in stock and how many of the particular item are currently available.

They also offer images of the product and existing customer reviews, shipping details and return policies, and order tracking capabilities. Some even provide real-time customer service via online chat.

All of these services are now an expected part of the B2C e-commerce experience, thanks in large part to Amazon, which has been the primary driver of online retail for more than a decade. But as Amazon has begun expanding into the B2B space via Amazon Business, customer expectations have similarly evolved. Specifically, B2B customers now expect e-commerce for distributors to mimic their at-home buying experiences.

While this certainly means a more streamlined, a la carte ordering process — a process that provides customers with desired autonomy and flexibility — what’s becoming apparent is that this is not terribly high on customers’ lists of concerns.

In fact, a more pivotal component of the customer experience when it comes to e-commerce for distributors involves shopping rather than ordering, because not only do a majority of B2B customers prefer to research products online before contacting a distributor salesperson, but the vast majority of these same customers actually end up placing their orders through channels other than an e-commerce website.

In other words, customers are using your e-commerce site, just not in the way you might think.

What’s on A B2B Customer’s e-commerce Wish List?

So, what are these customers looking for? How can you enhance their e-commerce experience in a way that will ultimately drive sales — no matter the channel?

1) For starters, product content is king. Customers want to see what their potential purchases look like (imagery); they want PDFs and data sheets that provide technical information, application guides, and relevant safety information; they want data on the pricing and availability of inventory; and they may want manufacturer links that will support their shopping experience.

Even for small or mid-sized distributors, this doesn’t necessarily have to be cost-prohibitive. For example, according to Real Results Marketing, “about 10 percent of your products are considered core and make up 90 percent of the revenue for most distributors.” What they suggest is singling out these “core” products for content enhancement, adding things like videos, extra descriptions, and customers reviews that will help drive sales of these higher-margin items.

2) Another important factor when it comes to e-commerce for distributors is the ability for customers to view the status of their orders. This includes being able to track their shipments in real-time, easily check current order information, view past orders and past quotes, and request copies of invoices. Basically, customers want the ability to perform order maintenance online without having to contact the distributor directly.

3) Finally, B2B buyers increasingly prefer to interact with customer service reps via online chat and for good reason: It’s often the path of least resistance when it comes to getting the answers they need in a hurry. It’s also great for distributors, as statistics have shown that offering a live chat feature can actually improve customer conversion rates.

But not all live chats are created equal, and it’s important to make sure the live chat reps you employ have enough expertise to guide customers to the products they need. It’s also important to ensure this capability is available to customers 24/7 and that reps not only respond to potential customers but respond quickly.


Whether your customers have been bad or good, fulfilling their e-commerce wish lists is a great way to earn their trust and their business.

As customer expectations of e-commerce for distributors continue to reflect their consumer experiences, distributors should continue to find ways for their online sites to meet these expectations. But while things like product information, order status, and live chat services are all great ways to enhance your customers’ online experience, it’s also important to keep in mind that your e-commerce capabilities will most likely supplement rather than replace the more traditional B2B sales channels.

In other words, a highly efficient omni-channel sales strategy should be the goal, of which a successful e-commerce experience will be an integral part. Because, after all, even though we’re mostly content doing our shopping online these days, sometimes there’s simply nothing sweeter than hearing the voice of a fellow human.

Article originally posted by HMI Performance Incentives.

Published date: 01/22/18