What B2C E-Commerce Teaches Us About B2B E-Commerce

What B2C E-Commerce Teaches Us About B2B E-Commerce

What if I told you that there was a fundamental law by which the internet worked, and, like gravity, it wasn’t something that you or I could change?

Rather, like gravity, it simply was.

As it happens, there is such a law, and it’s called Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience.

It effectively says this: Users spend most of their time on websites other than yours, which means that users prefer your site to work the same way that all the other sites they already know and love work. As a result, you must design for patterns that users are already accustomed to, lest they get confused, click the back button, and leave.

As an agency that works primarily with B2B companies existing somewhere within the world of building and construction, it’s not uncommon to hear our clients refer to their clients as people who “aren’t really concerned with fancy website things,” or “don’t need any of that complicated UX stuff.”

But here’s the thing: our clients are completely wrong about their clients.

Because their customers are just like everyone else’s customers—which is to say, they’re human beings living in the 21st Century. And whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company is somewhat irrelevant.  

The same UX principles that Nike and Yeti and Vanguard employ to build trust with their B2C customers apply to B2B customers as well.

Because even though we differentiate between B2B and B2C as businesses (so we can position ourselves accordingly while coordinating our marketing efforts), we’re still fundamentally dealing with people, and those people have web-browsing and purchasing habits that transcend these delineations.

Just like you, and just like everyone else on the internet, I browse the web to read the news and do my banking and buy things on Amazon and other online stores, and all of those experiences, whether I know it or not, set the tone for what I expect in the future.

(This isn’t limited to just online interactions, either. This is just how commerce works. All my consumer experiences inform and influence all my other consumer experiences and my expectations adjust accordingly.)

So when your customer orders a new shirt from the Carhartt website and is able to filter by category and size and color, while also seeing the product from multiple angles and reading customer reviews of the product, they expect the same experience when they come to your site.

You’re not selling shirts of course, and you might be selling cranes or trucks or parts or suspended platforms (even if you have a catalog website that’s not a full e-commerce site, this still applies), but the expectation from the human being on the other end remains the same.

They want what they got from Carhartt—an easy, seamless experience that allows them to find what they want quickly and without frustration. There’s a simplification to the process of purchasing that they’re yearning for in their transactions with you.  

Adding to this, over the last few years, people’s expectations have ramped up even more, and have moved beyond the digital space. Covid caused a fundamental shift in commerce that you’re likely aware of in some way, even if you’re not paying direct attention to it.

According to data collected by Nielsen Norman Group, this shift forced retailers of all types to adapt to a new reality and new consumer behaviors. In addition to improvements in the online information provided to customers, NN/G observed advancements outside of the digital interface as well, in the services that stores provided to customers. 

Retailers began offering more choices and flexibility to e-commerce shoppers, including more options for: payments, financing, shipping and delivery, recurring orders, and customer-support channels.

Yes, NN/G is talking primarily about B2C companies selling DTC (direct to consumer), but B2B companies aren’t absolved from having to adapt to this same, new reality.

People are people, and smart businesses understand that having more choices and being more flexible and accommodating is absolutely the path to long-term sustainability.

However, I’m not saying that B2B sites don’t have a challenging job, or that their job is slightly different from B2C companies. Because they do, and it is.

For starters, B2B sites need to support business customers through long, complex buying processes and generate leads for the sales team. They also need to be a resource for existing customers after their purchase. 

None of that is necessarily easy.

But this complexity means there’s lots and lots of room for innovation. There are lessons to be pulled from the experiences all around us, especially the ones we’ve endured over the course of these last three years. 

My question to businesses is essentially this: What is the B2B e-commerce version of the curbside pickup options that emerged during the pandemic?

Is it a chatbot that keeps your customer informed of their order status? Is it real-time inventory tracking? SMS messages informing customers of shipping delays? Warehouse “curbside pickup” for local customers? Thoughtful product bundles organized by common jobsite challenges?

Or is it something else entirely, something you’ve been thinking about off and on, something that’s been in the back of your mind because you experienced it in another part of your life and thought, “Hmm, what if?”

Remember that Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience says that people want your website to work more like other websites they visit.

When you apply that to yourself, to your life and your online experiences, what stands out as memorable and what can you implement in your B2B business tomorrow—or even right now?

It’s finding those moments of delight in other areas of your life—those surprising moments that leave you smiling—that you can adapt and evolve for your own business. That’s the way forward, the path towards growth. 

It’s a fact of the human experience that there’s inspiration to be found in everything around us.

You must simply pay attention to what you feel, and take the time to look.

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