B2B eCommerce Components

B2B eCommerce Components

B2B eCommerce Components

When learning about B2B eCommerce, one of the first steps is to understand the B2B eCommerce components that make up the buyers experience.

List of B2B eCommerce Components

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid (“organic”) search results.

Every analyst report out there talks about how B2B purchasers still use Google and other search engines to research their products.  SEO is about maximizing all available and relevant traffic to every piece of content on your site.  Not just every page.  Every single piece and fragment of relevant content on your site.  Organic search is still driving the majority of B2B website traffic.

Your site needs to be Search Engine Optimized, and the majority of time that means moving your catalog from behind the login screen.  You don’t have to give access to pricing and inventory, but make sure the search engines can find your product information, attributes, and specifications.

Consider how you can increase your funnel size or site traffic by using different SEO technologies as well as an SEO agency or internal team

SEO is really about maximizing all of the available traffic to each piece of content that you have available. Every product with rich attributes, every piece of web content and attachment.

(Traffic * Conversion * Average Order Value) is the holy grail formula of eCommerce. Increase traffic by a lot and all you have to do is move the needle a little bit on conversion and average order value to have a significant revenue impact.

What goes into the Google rankings?  Check out this graphic from Moz.com.

Read More: Learn More About SEO from Moz.com

On-Site Search

On-site search has changed from being a small box in the corner of a website, to being placed front and center encouraging customers to type in their queries.  According to most analysts, the majority of customer report using a search box to find what they are looking for. The search box has become a trusted tool, and customers will voice their opinions if your search box does not yield relevant results.

Type-ahead is a relatively new tool used in search to assist the user to get to the right results. As the customer types, a box drops down with matching results. Innovative companies match not just on description or name, but on brand and other attributes including non-product content like how-to documents.

Competitor Cross Reference

Many customers come to a B2B eCommerce site with many different products they are searching for. If doing a takeoff from a CAD file a customer is looking for your products as well as from your competitor. Allowing a customer to search your site using your competitors part numbers, showing your corresponding part numbers enables your customers to only have to go to one destination.

McMaster-Carr does this as well or better than anyone in the market. Engineers are used to doing their entire CAD takeoff on McMaster.com site to get pricing for building their own engineered to order products. This includes McMasters’ own numbers and competitor numbers. If you are a distributor or a manufacturer with many or a major competitor and broad product lines, consider enabling cross-reference numbers in the search experience.

Unit of Measure Search

When customers are searching on a site (or from Google) for products that have a unit of measure associated, there are many variations of units of measure. A foot could be “foot, ft., ft, ‘, feet”. However, if someone is searching for 24 ‘ cable – they should be able to get the same results as 24 ft or 24 foot cable. Consider including complex search queries like UOM into your customer experience.

Read More: Your search sucks, and why you should fix it

Guided Navigation and Faceted Search

76% of customers say the most important factor in a website’s design is “the website makes it easy for me to find what I want” (information via hubspot).  Guided navigation is the ability to navigate a large data set using the attributes of the data set.

According to Earley and Associates, faceted search, or guided navigation, has become the de facto standard for eCommerce and product-related Web sites, from big box stores to product review sites. But eCommerce sites aren’t the only ones that use guided navigation. Other content-heavy sites such as media publishers (e.g. The Financial Times), libraries (such as NCSU Libraries) and even non-profits (Urban Land Institute) are tapping into faceted search to make their often broad range of content more findable. Essentially, faceted search has become so ubiquitous that users are not only getting used to it, they are coming to expect it.

Faceted search lets users refine or navigate a collection of information by using a number of discrete attributes—the so-called facets. A facet represents a specific perspective on content that is typically clearly bounded and mutually exclusive. The values within a facet can be a flat list that allows only one choice (such as a list of possible shoe sizes) or a hierarchical list that allows you to drill down through multiple levels (for example, product types, Computers > Laptops). The combination of all facets and values is often called a faceted taxonomy. Those faceted values can be added directly to content as metadata or extracted automatically using text mining software.

The power of faceted search lies in the ability of users to create their own custom navigation by combining various perspectives rather than forcing them through a specific path. Think of a cookbook: Authors have to organize the recipes in one way only—by course or by main ingredient, etc.—and users have to work with whatever choice of organizing principle that has been made, regardless of how it fits their particular style of searching. An online recipe site using faceted search can allow users to decide how they’d like to navigate to a specific recipe, offering multiple entry points and successive refinements.

Guided Navigation in B2B eCommerce

Guided navigation is even more critical in most B2B eCommerce sites.  B2B products are complex and technical with lots of attributes, multiple descriptions, attachments and specifications.  Some of you have hundreds of thousands or even millions of products that you sell.  Guided navigation combined with search enables a customer to find what they are looking for the way they want to find it.  MultiChannel Merchant said this about B2B

When asked to cite the top features or functions they would most like from suppliers in the selling process, most business buyers chose enhanced search functionality on their website (60%).

Read More: Your taxonomy sucks, and why you should fix it

Custom Catalog and Contracts

The custom catalog is a close cousin to Search and Guided Navigation. B2B contracts are negotiated between you and your buyer to include:

  • products that are allowed to be purchased
  • price at which they are purchased
  • terms and conditions.

Contracts are part of what make B2B eCommerce difficult to execute. When a customer logs in, they need to be presented with only what their contract ensures them. Search, Navigation, and the Product Detail page should be in synch with the contract to limit the products they are allowed to purchase. The pricing that is displayed on the Product Detail page should be the contracted price per that product (including volume), even if the price is lower on the “unauthenticated” site (subject to the contracts terms).

What makes this more complex is that a single organization may have multiple contracts applied to different business units or cost centers in their organization. If all of this applies to your business, then you will need a platform that can manage complex organizations.

Because most customer contracts are behind the login, one of the best examples is CDWG.com where the contract is easy to see by the public. There is a drop down of Federal contracts, that when selected,  the entire customer experience is in context of that contract – products available to purchase and pricing. When you search, you only get products available to that contract. When you navigate and refine, you only have facets or refinements that exist in that contract.  All pricing is shown via the terms of the contract.

Product Detail Page

While search and navigation may be the one biggest feature your customers want, the Product detail page is your bread and butter. It is the group of pages that you are driving most of your traffic to.

Product detail pages should include most of the following:

  • Rich description
  • Part no(s) – item #, mfr #, cross ref #,
  • Inventory
  • Images with zoom
  • Technical specs
  • Materials used
  • Attributes
  • Attachments (ie MSDS)
  • Compliance and Regulatory information
  • Alternate products
  • Related products
  • Accessories

Read More: The Importance of Your Product Detail Page 


Like everything else, we have to look at personalization in a different light in B2B.  When you hear personalization, I want you to replace that word with segmentation.  We have a significant advantage in B2B when it comes to personalization, because our users have no problem logging in.  When they log in, you probably know a lot about them.  Maybe not individually, but certainly about their organization.  At the most basic level, you probably know their industry segment, contract, and order history.  That is a lot of information that you can use to personalize content and products to that customer.

Example:  Medline.com

Medline is the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of healthcare supplies in the United States, providing more than 350,000 products that serve the entire continuum of care.

When you visit Medline.com for the first time they ask you “Select your area of interest” or in other words self-segment yourself by your industry

If you are a logged in user, they automatically know your segment, and pull that information in automatically.  Your segment affects the type of information and experience that you have.

For example, if I am segmented as a nursing home, the home page and content on the home page changes with content relevant to nursing home care.  When I search for “drapes” you get what you and I would expect are typical drapes or curtains – see below.

However, when I change my segment to a Surgery center and search for drapes, I get completely different search results – drapes meant for surgical work. Below

Personalization for the sake of personalization is not effective.  Segmentation and personalization should be used enable you to serve your customers more relevant and timely content.

Quick Order

B2B buyers many times know exactly what they want down to the Product or SKU code and quantity. Quick order gives buyers the ability to directly enter the code and qty. Some refer to this as 10 key entry after using the number pad (0 – 9 = 10 keys).

Another variation of Quick Order is to allow the B2B buyer to upload an excel file with the codes. In both cases, the Quick Order program would validate the product codes and quantities upon entry or upload.

The quick order has become a little more sophisticated recently – from making smart excel docs that call out to APIs to validate the information and post directly to putting type ahead on the product codes for faster entry.

Check it out: JJ Food Services uses Machine Learning to automatically pre-fill the quick order and shopping cart.

Product Selectors and Wizards

Product selectors and configurators are often thought of in the same light. A product selector is really just a different kind of guided navigation where you walk the customer through the selection process step by step instead of giving them all the choices at once.

Product selectors or wizards are extremely effective in specific categories. For example – Grainger has product selectors in specific product categories like motors. You can continue to use search and navigation to refine down to your product, or you can use the “Motormatch Guide” which is essentially a wizard that walks the customer through a step by step guide to deliver the right motor for the customer based on application or specifications. You can see an example here.

Product selectors are most of the time built within the search and navigation platform as it is a form of guided navigation.

Product Configurators

Configurators like quotes, are typically used for more than just eCommerce. If your customers place a phone call or talk to a salesperson, they often need to be able to purchase configured products through all of your channels. Therefore, this is an area that is important for B2B companies to think through. Most eCommerce platforms do not have anything more than a light configurator. Most of the time, the eCommerce platform integrates with your existing configurator in order to have a consistent experience regardless of channel.

All that said, there are a number of companies out there that provide full configurators as a third party. Because a configuration is typically quoted, these companies have built quoting and configuration into their software.

Quotes and RFQ

The Add to Quote button is considered a standard best practice for most B2B eCommerce sites. Quoting can be used for a non-logged in user instead of an Add to Cart button, or can be used to request quote on configured to order items, or high quantity, or some unusual order requests.

The best practice for quotes is like the configurator. If you have an existing quoting engine, integrate your eCommerce platform with it to keep consistent rules, pricing, and ways your customer service people will respond.

IBMs documentation on Request for Quotes is extremely detailed. I removed some product mentions, but here is the link.

A buyer can create a Request for Quote (RFQ)for unique variations of goods and services that are offered in a catalog. If buyers cannot find a product or category matching their needs within a catalog, they can select attributes from the personalized dictionary to precisely define the product specifications. A buyer can also create an RFQ using the contents in their shopping cart, or add a shopping cart to an existing RFQ.

A requisition list is used by buyers to add products to RFQs. Buyers can include multiple products in one RFQ, and define unique specifications for each product. They can include attachments on the RFQ or product specification level. They can also specify the terms and conditions for the transaction. When the buyer submits an RFQ request, it is placed into a “future” or “active” state. By using the WebSphere Commerce Accelerator, a seller can view the RFQ and submit a response when the request is in an “active” state. A buyer can also change or cancel an RFQ.

When sellers respond to an RFQ, they have the option of responding to each attachment, terms and conditions, product, category, as well as to each product specification or comment. Sellers and buyers negotiate aspects of RFQs (for example, price adjustments at the percentage or fixed price levels are a common point of negotiation). Sellers have the option of specifying a fulfillment center, or substituting a product, if the buyer has provided that option in the request. A seller can also modify or cancel a response.

Once sellers have responded to the RFQ, the buyer closes the RFQ and evaluates the responses to choose a winner, or multiple winners. When the RFQ response is accepted by the buyer and the seller is notified, the RFQ transaction is completed by using one of the following processes:

  • The buyer places an order that already contains the RFQ information.
  • A contract already containing the RFQ information is created.
  • The RFQ can go to the next round.

Split Shipping

A single cart and even a single line should be able to be sent to multiple shipping addresses. A line in the cart that has more than a quantity of one should be able to split and send certain quantities to one address, and others to another address.

The ability for a single line to be sent to multiple locations typically depends on the eCommerce platforms ability to support line item independence. Line item independence describes how all of the lines of a cart remain both connected and independent of themselves and the order.

To prevent fraud, shipping addresses are typically read only and can only be changed by an administrator at the company.