Want to improve customer loyalty? Start with inventory visibility
Although much has been made about how Amazon—and ecommerce in general—is reshaping the world of retail, this seismic shift has far wider consequences on both B2C and B2B vendors. Customer expectations have evolved and, in many cases, surpassed what merchants can deliver.
According to Forrester Research, “Consumerization is driving the B2B ecommerce experience. All B2B customers are also B2C consumers. And like it or not, they’re comparing their B2B ecommerce experiences with gold standard B2C shopping experiences. And like B2C consumers these days, B2B customers demand products faster, less expensively, and more conveniently than ever before.”
Faster. Cheaper. More convenient. It is what customers expect, whether you’re a B2C retailer or B2B merchant.
However, if you want to shape an ideal shopping experience, regardless of who the customer is, you have to start long before the buyer hits the “checkout” button. The search and browsing experiences need to follow industry standards, but more importantly, both B2C and B2B companies need to focus on the basics, starting with stock availability.
When you buy, the first step is to figure out what you want, and who has it in stock. In the B2C world, 50% of research starts with a search engine, 40% on Amazon. B2B is a little different. 45% of shoppers start their search on a supplier’s site, and 42% use a search engine. But all too often you search for a product, then go to the product page only to find:
- No stock indicator: Given that all the top tier merchants, and many mid-tier merchants, provide an ‘in stock’ or ‘out of stock’ indicator, if you don’t, it makes buyers doubt you. Do you really have the item on-hand? Do you even know where it’s located?
- Out of stock: But is it really? How accurate is your inventory? Did you show an item as out of stock online when you really had it on-hand? Did you lose a sale because your legacy systems can’t keep your inventory in sync?
- Selling out before checkout: Not only does the customer’s view of your inventory have to be accurate, it needs to be accurate down to the nanosecond. Few experiences are more frustrating than adding items to your cart only to discover it sold out while you were browsing. A purpose-built order management system (OMS) can ensure that you maintain sufficient inventory by design, so no one gets left holding the bag.
- No backorder information or option: If an item is out of stock, do you let customers know when it will be back in stock? Can they place an order for backordered item? If it’s a loyal customer, he or she may be ok with the wait. But if you provide no information on when an item will be back in stock, it will erode their trust.
All of the situations above bring up issues of trust and transparency. If you can’t tell me what you have in stock and when, why should I trust you with my business? Buyers are much less likely to complain about an item being out of stock, provided that they are given fair warning and aren’t surprised to learn it late in the shopping journey. But to provide the level of stock transparency that builds trust you need a single view of inventory.
How else have B2C customer expectations influenced B2B buyers and their expectations?
In-Store Pickup Availability
Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS) has gained an enormous amount of traction in the B2C world in recent years. In fact, two out of three consumers have used it. It all boils down to convenience for the customer. How do you get the product to them as quickly and easily as possible if not mailed directly to their home? With in-store pickup it’s easy.
But if you’re going to offer in-store pickup, it’s important to show customers how quickly their order will be available. Want to maximize conversions? Display it on the product detail page (PDP). Will it be minutes? Hours? Days? With an enterprise OMS, you can set accurate expectations, so customers can place an order with confidence. And while not all B2B sellers have stores or pickup locations, it’s still important to let customers know when they can expect their order to arrive.
No one likes to wait, especially millennials. In fact, according to the UPS “Pulse of the Online Shopper” survey, they’re the generation that is most likely to pay for expedited shipping. While it’s true that a lot of people will trade a longer delivery time in exchange for free shipping, business waits for no one, so you’ll need to offer expedited delivery options if you want to remain competitive.
When moving product, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, particularly where shipping and delivery are concerned. Mistakes, or unexpected delays are going to happen from time to time. That’s why it’s essential that your customer service reps are armed with the latest, most accurate information.
Unfortunately, at many organizations the status of an order is not easy to see. A customer service agent may need to log into multiple systems to get accurate status, or detailed status may not be tracked at all.
Once again, a purpose-built OMS will provide perfect insight into where your inventory is at all times and when they will be delivered. If your systems don’t deliver results like these, then you are going to lose against the competition.
The buyer/seller relationship is built on trust -- whether it is individual consumers buying a single item or businesses purchasing large volumes of supplies. If your customers trust you, they’ll buy from you. Not just once, but often. What’s more, they’ll tell their friends/colleagues about you. To provide the most accurate product information in real time is a key differentiator in today's competitive markets.