E-commerce has been incredibly successful for retail or business to consumer (B2C) sales. Online holiday shopping continued to grow last year, hitting an all-time high of $108 billion according to CNBC, nearly 15% higher than 2016 statistics. Outside the holidays, more people than ever continue to shop online for everything from clothing to groceries. Forty-three percent of American adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2017 reported they shop online weekly or monthly.
You probably won’t be surprised to read that eCommerce in the wholesaler and B2B (business to business) markets are doing pretty well, too. This makes a lot of sense: businesses have long been used to shopping from afar, phoning or mailing their wholesale orders. Placing orders via the Internet made this task easier, particularly for purchasers with little time for busy signals or worse, being placed on hold.
WooCommerce Delivers a User-Friendly Platform for B2B eCommerce
WooCommerce powers more eCommerce businesses than any other platform out there. It’s made quite a name for itself for B2C online businesses and is more than ready to make its mark on B2B businesses as well.
Actually, WooCommerce already has a pretty solid presence in the B2B world. That’s because B2B sites started adopting a lot of the attractive looks and usability seen in B2C sites a few years ago. And that’s because many people doing business purchasing have grown up with the Internet, according to a 2014 study by Google and Millward Brown Digital. They expect the same ease from a B2B site that they get when they order furniture, kids’ clothes, or meals.
In fact, nearly half of the research conducted for B2Bs since 2012 has been done by Millennials according to a summary of Google-Millward Brown study. Ninety percent of them use search to identify suppliers according to this summary, rather than asking around for recommendations. Researching on the Internet is natural for them. They’re also using mobile search more than any other generation in the workforce, just as they do when they’re looking for a new car or training wheels for their toddlers.
As this chart from SalesForce notes, today’s B2B customers want an Amazon experience: easy navigation, great search, and personalization capabilities, and (putting aside this year’s Amazon Day site crash), reliability.
Amazon’s influence on online buying across the generations is pretty amazing. It’s conditioned so many of us to expect a retail approach even if we’re buying factory equipment or office products for a large corporate office.
- The Millennials’ older Gen X siblings working in the B2B world aren’t too far behind them when it comes to expecting Amazon-like experiences. They are also more than willing to switch to vendors with a more consumer-oriented approach.
- Even more, than half of the Baby Boomers still in the workplace use the Internet for business purchasing.
WooCommerce has already created a great, user-friendly platform for eCommerce, buoyed by a loyal network of developers creating extensions (or customizing off-the-shelf ones) to handle specific tasks like dynamic pricing and shipping. And as more B2B eCommerce sites adjust to performing like a retail site, more developers are turning their attention to the B2B world.
WooCommerce Content Solutions for B2B eCommerce
In early 2018, the digital commerce and marketing consultants at Avionos surveyed 160 B2B purchasing officers. (You can request a copy of this brief but insightful report.) I was more than a little shocked to read that their #1 complaint was lack of accurate content.
As you probably know, WooCommerce is actually a WordPress plugin that creates a whole new ecosystem on the WordPress platform. Its developers made a conscientious decision to preserve WordPress’ content development and blogging features; these are literally in the WooCommerce DNA. The primary pain point those 160 respondents reported is easily solved with WooCommerce; to paraphrase Nike, just write it!
Content, as the report points out, gives buyers more confidence in your product. Here are a few examples of different types of content that can help your products stand out:
- Robust product descriptions
- Photos and/or video
- Case studies
- Customer testimonials
There’s no need to learn a new blogging or content tool; WordPress’ writer-friendly screens guide you or your writer(s) along the way, and can even incorporate useful extensions like Yoast for WooCommerce that optimizes the content of your product descriptions. This way, those purchasing officers are more likely to come across your solutions. You can even use the free WordPress plugin to try it out first.
The other pain points are about a poor user experience on the website. This might be where some of the “accurate content” complaints originate. In addition to providing details like product specs, be honest about whether an item is out of stock and when it will be available.
This is one of Amazon’s greatest strengths: its customers can ask to be notified about when an out of stock item is available. They can build wish lists for items they want to purchase in the future and be notified if there’s a sale. Amazon understands that making a customer go through the ordering process only to learn an item is out of stock is a waste of their time. We should all be this transparent!
Of course, most eCommerce businesses, B2C and B2B alike, can’t match each Amazon capability. Many have adopted “just in time” stocking solutions to save warehousing costs and won’t have every product on hand for same-day shipping. (In fact, WooCommerce has excellent inventory tools.)
But they can borrow from practices that resonate with customers, because right now, Avionos says, almost 80% of searches begin on Google or Amazon, and 65% of B2B sales are made on Amazon. Give them some competition!
WooCommerce Tools for B2B Agility
Here are some existing WooCommerce tools that make a B2B eCommerce site as agile as B2C sites that have been out there for several years.
Display MSRP and Assign Pricing Discounts
- MSRP Pricing. Let B2B purchasers compare the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price to the price listed on your website. Car dealers have been doing this for years, so why not you? Another plus: it works with bulk imports so you don’t have to painstakingly enter each MSRP.
- Dynamic Pricing. Purchasers expect bulk discounts, and this extension lets you do that according to your own rules, whether it’s a percent of retail price or a markup from the manufacturer’s cost, something a lot of wholesalers prefer. You can also provide rebates to high-volume shoppers and set different customer types if you find you sell to individuals as well as businesses.
Create Categories and Restrictions for Different Customer Types
- Restricted Categories. If you have a sizable retail customer base, you can even separate retail and wholesale customers by restricting retail access from the larger inventory and pricing you provide to wholesalers. Wholesalers are directed to a “Wholesaler Login” portal open only to those who have passed your credit check.
- Restrict Catalog Visibility. If you aren’t openly looking for retail customers but don’t want to overlook this potential, you can turn off the eCommerce function for those who can’t log in as a wholesaler. Give them the option to contact you via phone or email about pricing. If you find a lot of interest in some products, you may just be able to open a retail arm.
- Role-Based Payment and Shipping Methods. This feature lets you customize different user roles to payment and shipment methods, another useful way to restrict wholesale benefits from one-off retail customers. You can assign invoices to all or certain wholesalers based on your credit office’s recommendations, offer 1% net 30 terms for prompt payment, or store credit card information.
Track Sales By Salesperson
Salesperson management is one of the stickiest problems for eCommerce sites. WooCommerce’s Cost of Goods extension created to break down and display profits and cost of goods per customer can be used for this purpose without reinventing the wheel.
Using the Customers tab, simply create a field that assigns a dedicated salesperson and applies restrictions as to who can see what customers. This can be easily achieved with one of WordPress’ user role plugins like the User Role Editor, which allows you to create different types of users in a standard drop-down menu.
If you wonder why a salesforce is needed when there’s a website ready to take orders around the clock, try to imagine not having people on staff who really know customers. One important role salespeople perform is troubleshooting for customers. Imagine if they were alerted when a customer places an order for a product that’s currently out of stock. We can create a solution that would ping the salesperson’s email so they know to contact the customer and offer solutions: partial delivery, possible substitute items, and so on. eCommerce can be yet another tool to help salespeople to excel in providing a full range of services to their customers.
We can do this because we’ve been working closely with WooCommerce practically since its inception. We’ve stuck with it because we love the user-friendly design on the front and back ends; its pleases our customers, and just as important, their customers. We’re certain that WooCommerce’s open source, which gives us a lot more leeway in developing customized solutions, makes us work better and smarter than if we were mired in a “closed shop” environment.
WooCommerce’s Open Source Allows Developers to Create Solutions
A basic WooCommerce site without extensions is an insufficient one for a B2B seller. Several essential extensions are free, low-cost, or available in packages based on site scaling needs. They are definitely worth checking out.
Unlike a lot of other eCommerce software, WooCommerce is an open source product, meaning the tools to build extensions are free to anyone. Developers can create extensions that solve specific issues that haven’t been addressed by current extensions or customize existing extensions they purchase.
We create customized solutions for our customers, including those that sell in both the B2B and B2C markets. One was a franchise that had been focussing on franchise services, obviously a B2B. Then they discovered that a lot of retail customers wanted their swag; a great find since this is about the best way in the world to advertise!
We created a solution that let franchise owners and customers define themselves and go to websites that serve their needs. Retail customers get what they want at a fun WooCommerce site where they can buy t-shirts, caps, bags and other items. Franchise owners have access to these items, too—with bulk discounts—at an entirely private eCommerce site where they can place orders around the clock, and the franchise HQ can track buying patterns and create reports for individual stores. It’s not quite an enterprise solution but it comes close to one.
WordPress and Security
I want to address something that’s becoming a white elephant: WordPress security. If you search for topics like “WordPress security” you’ll likely come up with a lot of security services and articles attacking WordPress for being highly prone to infection. This is nonsense.
WordPress is no more vulnerable than any other websites. Yes, WordPress sites get hacked but not because its developers are lazy, stupid, or don’t care as some writers have suggested. WordPress registers more hacks because:
- It’s popular and is a larger target
- Plugins require regular and constant updating
There are basic preventive moves you can take to keep your site secure:
- Make sure the software and plugins are regularly updated.
- If you don’t have time to check for updates, hire a website maintenance service.
- Make sure your site is protected with a security socket layer (SSL); in addition to delivering a higher level of security, it’s essential for SEO.
- Require that everyone who has access to the site have strong passwords that are regularly changed. WordPress and WooCommerce both have functions you can set to require regular changing.
WooCommerce is the World’s Number One eCommerce Platform
There’s a reason why WooCommerce is the #1 eCommerce platform in the world: it works well for so many different types of businesses. Its closest competitors, Shopify, doesn’t really have a substantial B2B presence and is a “closed shop” where development is concerned. Magento, now part of Adobe, has always targeted large eCommerce. WooCommerce can be scaled to any size.
If you’re a B2B looking to change your eCommerce platform, give us a call. We think you’ll find there’s a lot more B2B offerings in WooCommerce than people realize.