What is multichannel selling?
Multichannel selling allows customers to shop and purchase through whichever channel they prefer. Traditional multichannel selling used to be limited to in-store experiences, catalogues, or by phone or email. For example, a manufacturer who is selling to a few wholesalers would have sent out a catalogue to them. The wholesalers would then have to call the manufacturer and order over the phone, or via email. This whole process is manual, involves plenty of paperwork, and is prone to mistakes or misunderstandings!
With the rise of digital selling, it has opened many more sales channels such as website, social media, and public marketplaces. The low costs to enter the eCommerce market allows sellers to add eCommerce to their sales channels so they can effectively diversify their sales strategy. For example, a manufacturer might sell through the traditional methods of catalogues. They might also use a public marketplace like Amazon, and sell through their website. This way, their customers can choose which platform suits their needs best to place and track orders.
Businesses can now use digital channels to sell both to their traditional customers more efficiently, and to new business customers via Business-to-Business (B2B) transactions online. They can also create opportunities to sell direct to consumers (B2C). Forward-thinking businesses will have a multichannel selling strategy that combines the best of both worlds.
Omnichannel vs. multichannel selling
Omnichannel and multichannel are two buzzwords that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Omnichannel, meaning “all” channels, refers to a unified strategy that creates a single experience across different channels.
Multichannel, meaning “many” channels, refers to a strategy that has many distribution channels. Each channel offers a separate opportunity to interact with the brand and make purchases. The customer typically chooses their preferred channel.
What is B2B eCommerce?
To understand the B2B eCommerce model, let’s break it down to its components: the business-to-business part, and the eCommerce part.
When businesses are looking to buy from other businesses, the B2B model comes into play. In contrast to B2C transactions, the B2B model covers the raw materials, parts, goods or services which companies sell to other businesses.
For example, a manufacturer can have a complex supply chain. Not only does their job include assembling or producing the final product, but they also have to source all the materials that go towards making the final good, and then sell these through their channels. This means that their business can involve multiple B2B transactions.
The eCommerce aspect simply refers to transactions being made over the internet. eCommerce has grown to include eCommerce sites or even online marketplaces like Amazon.
The B2B Model
The Traditional B2B Process
If your business was selling parts to another company, the B2B sales process would have been relatively linear. You would introduce the potential buyer to the company and product line, then pitch the benefits of your products to the potential buyer. This sales process begins on the assumption that your potential buyer doesn’t know much about your business, and the sales transaction was normally a manual process involving a lot of paperwork and manual input.
The New B2B Process
As eCommerce comes into play, the traditional B2B sales process is becoming obsolete for many businesses. B2B companies have been selling online longer than the eCommerce industry gives them credit for. According to a report by BigCommerce, most have been selling online for at least two to five years, or longer.
The B2B buying process is no longer linear; instead, it is fluid. While the buyer is exploring, they are also evaluating their options. When the salesperson is eventually involved in the process, the B2B buyer will already have an idea of what they want and what they expect from the vendor.
B2C digital shopping behaviour have also translated to the B2B field. Empowered by the Internet, B2B buyers are much more sophisticated and informed. They use digital channels to compare price and quantities, look for the most deal-worthy offer, validate information and transact online.
Gartner research found that 83% of surveyed customers accessed digital channels even in the late purchasing stages. This further stresses the importance of having a digital platform designed for buyers. Of our Unleashed manufacturers, those with a dedicated online channel completed over 3,500 sales transactions a year on average; this is 20% more than those manufacturers without a dedicated online channel.
How is B2B evolving?
The B2B eCommerce industry has been growing over the past two decades; by 2020 it is predicted to grow to $6.7 trillion, making it twice that of the B2C global market.
A shift in the buyer profile
The B2B purchasing process is often much longer and more comprehensive than it is for B2C, largely due to the increased scale of purchases. As such, it is vital that B2B companies are aware of the people who research and make the purchases.
There has been a dramatic shift in the B2B researcher demographic. According to a study conducted by Google and Millward Brown Digital, nearly 50% of B2B researchers were aged 18 to 35.
This generation, known as the millennial generation, is unlike the previous generations. As frequent online shoppers, they also expect the purchasing ease-of-use in the B2B sales process. Not only are millennials more active in the research process, but they also have greater influence over purchase decisions. In the same study by Google and Millward Brown Digital, although 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions.
Millennials grew up with the Internet and smartphones, and have transformed the way B2B buyers research purchases, qualify vendors and make purchases — the rules of the B2B game have changed for companies. If you’re not already making it convenient and easy for millennial B2B buyers to purchase your products, then consider reevaluating your strategy.
The rise of mobile eCommerce
Mobile has a growing role in the B2B customer journey, from product research through to completing transactions. According to a study by Google and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 50% of B2B search queries are made on smartphones. This figure is expected to grow to 70% by 2020. Not only is the buyer profile changing, but also how they use technology at their disposal to make decisions. Interestingly, mobile increases loyalty – customers that have a positive mobile experience are more likely to repurchase and be loyal. For B2B businesses, this means that it is now more important than ever to have a sales process that is mobile friendly.
The need for personalisation
B2B buyers are researching about companies and making decisions long before they even get in touch with a salesperson. The online sales environment also further emphasises that there are fewer touchpoints between the salesperson and the buyer. Despite that, buyers are still asking for a personalised experience.
As B2B transactions become more commoditised, listening to customers and addressing their needs are what separates the good B2B businesses from the great.
Personalisation is tougher but more necessary than before as 70% of buyers agree that the vendor’s website was the most influential channel in their journey. B2B businesses need to go beyond basic email personalisation and really cater to their customers’ needs.
Here are some ideas on what they can do to personalise their website to the unique buyer:
- Recognise a repeat visitor to the site by including a simple welcome back message
- Display relevant call to actions
- Ask website visitors what their role is to tailor the website content
How does a B2B eCommerce strategy benefit your business?
Investments in B2B eCommerce platforms have not been a top priority for B2B companies, but this is changing. Market leaders are starting to recognise that their competitive advantage does not come from merely having a B2B online portal presence. It comes from having the right platform, and a solution that combines the understanding of business rules, processes, and issues to truly leverage this industry online.
Boost competitive advantage
The new generation of online shoppers grew up with technology and use it daily in their lives. They are comfortable navigating their way on the web, with the clear majority preferring to buy online. According to a recent study by Forrester, nearly 75% of B2B buyers now say that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative.
B2B organisations need to shift their focus to a process that appeals to this generation of B2B buyer. More millennials are moving into roles in which they are involved in B2B purchasing decisions, so the need to revolutionise traditional B2B sales channels to maintain competitive is critical.
A major barrier for B2B eCommerce is the lack of accessible eCommerce solutions. Many B2B companies combine back-office software, accounting systems, inventory management systems, and more. With such a complex set up, B2B companies find it difficult to introduce another component to the mix.
Things are changing, and there are many great solutions for B2B companies who need to introduce eCommerce but may be afraid of the level of complexity their business involves. eCommerce platforms can drive a customer experience online and create opportunities for wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers.
Using an online channel creates bigger opportunities for businesses as it opens up their market to more customers. For example, manufacturers that use Unleashed Software without an online channel have on average just over 200 customers, whereas those that have an online channel boast 1,200 customers on average – five times that of manufacturers without an online presence!
Lower operating costs
There are many benefits to B2B eCommerce, one of which is reduced operating costs. B2B eCommerce automates tasks like order confirmation, give status updates, track shipment and more. This reduces the amount of time salespeople have to spend on low-value activities, such as answering phone calls; instead, they can to focus on more strategic, high-value activities like building relationships with B2B buyers.
Keep customers coming back
As previously mentioned, B2B buyers access digital channels throughout their purchasing journey. Empower your customers by supplying rich product details, order information, and even stock levels. When your customers have transparency over product information, it can significantly lower the number of calls you receive about basic product information enquiries.
Giving them convenience
Your B2B eCommerce store is effectively open 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week. This enables customers in core territories, foreign markets or different time zones to place an order when it suits them. No longer are they limited to placing orders over the phone or via emails – these methods require multiple human touches and are more likely to have data entry errors.
Personalising their experience
B2B buyers want and need a personalised shopping experience – catalogues, pricing and product selection should be curated for their purchases and organised according to their specific needs.
Imagine your business supplies a variety of drinks, from juices and water, to soda and energy drinks. If a healthy drinks distributor was browsing B2B sales website, the last thing they would want to see is your selection of fizzy drinks!
Ensure that you tailor catalogues, pricing and product selection for each customer and organise them according to their specific needs. Another tangible way of delivering personalisation is through customised or dynamic pricing; this takes into account purchase volume, frequency, and relationship value. Customised pricing gives loyal customers a greater incentive to purchase, compared to a buyer that does one-off purchasing.
Reach a wider audience
A B2B eCommerce strategy removes geographical boundaries, allowing businesses to tap into new markets and reach a wider audience. For example, distributors/wholesalers selling winter snow gear in the Northern Hemisphere might sell the most from December to February. With an eCommerce strategy, they can sell their gear to the Southern Hemisphere, where the demand for winter gear is contrastingly high from June to August.
See how the Unleashed B2B eCommerce platform can benefit your business
What is the B2C model?
The B2C model refers to transactions that happen directly between a company and the end-user of its goods or services.
Traditionally, it referred to mall shopping, pay-per-view and infomercials. However, the rise of eCommerce has created a new B2C channel that sells goods and services over the internet.
B2C eCommerce trends
eCommerce growth shows no sign of stopping. According to Statista, retail eCommerce sales amounted to US$2.3 trillion globally; this number is forecasted to grow to US$4.88 trillion in 2021.
With eCommerce evolving at such a rapid pace, businesses need to keep up with the latest trends in order to boost sales and stay ahead of the competition. Here are some of the trends that are set to dominate in the future.
Blurring of the online and offline shopping experience
Customers no longer consider the difference between online and offline shopping, and will often go between them interchangeably. In America, Amazon has been pioneering the integration of traditional and online retail. Early 2017, they opened a corner store called Amazon Go. This revolutionary store does not have any registers; instead, shoppers scan into the store, shop and leave the stores with their items billed to their Amazon account. This move by Amazon is one of many plans to fuse online and in-store customer experiences.
Dynamic order fulfilment
Customers want convenient payment options and flexible product delivery options. In an effort to make sales as frictionless as possible for the customer, businesses are turning towards flexible order fulfilment methods such as:
- Buy online and pick from the store
- Buy online and return in store
- Delivering out of stock products from a warehouse
- Place order in store and get home delivered
eCommerce growth is primarily being driven by customers on their mobile devices. Mobile sales totalled $1.357 trillion, representing 58.9% of digital sales globally; this is a huge leap compared to 40.2% in 2015, while 62% of smartphone users have made an online purchase on their mobile device within the last six months. Furthermore, customers often switch between devices throughout their shopping journey; they might start off on their mobile device and then complete the purchase on desktop.
Mobile commerce is also on the rise because of digital wallets. The likes of Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, Paypal, and Visa Checkout allow for frictionless purchasing that makes buying on the go less cumbersome.
As smartphone users and mobile eCommerce grow in number, mobile technology will enable buyers to seamlessly blend their sales platforms for buying and selling. This highlights the importance of creating an eCommerce site that’s optimised for both desktop and mobile browsing. Optimising your website for mobile commerce means making the mobile payment process just as easy, if not easier than the desktop counterpart. Aside from that, it also includes mobile-optimised search, digital wallets, and product videos.
Social networking sites as new marketplaces
Businesses have always cashed in on impulse purchases. With social media, this effect is magnified. Most platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, allow you to make purchases without even leaving the platform.
As more companies establish social media accounts, audiences have shifted away from having interpersonal communications; people are not just using the platforms to connect with individuals anymore. Many are using the platforms to share opinions and experiences about brands, develop tastes, and even shop.
Social commerce, the convergence of social media and eCommerce, is becoming increasingly important in the multichannel strategy. Most companies have a social media presence, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram. This allows them to build brand awareness and engage with customers.
Native shopping experience
Social media sites are already being used by millions worldwide and are great visual platforms – why not make the process seamless by allowing users to purchase directly through the platform?
Pinterest released a feature early in 2017, called Shop the Look. These Pins allow users to click on each element to find out more about it; users only leave Pinterest when they are ready to purchase and are directed straight to the retailer’s site.
Augmented and virtual reality
In 2022, the augmented and virtual reality market is expected to be worth US$ 209.2 billion. No longer are they unattainable futuristic concepts. Instead, retailers can leverage this technology to improve their shoppers’ experience.
IKEA offers an AR app that allows you to display true-to-scale 3D products in your home. With this, users can see whether the product will fit and how it will match the rest of the room.
Not only will we see AR and VR become part of the shopping experience, but also part of the packaging experience. For example, QR codes on the packaging can enhance the experience of the product, or the packaging can even be repurposed as a disposable AR device. AR and VR are only just getting started in the eCommerce world.
As voice assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and other voice-activated devices grow in popularity, voice search will soon become the preferred method of search.
Before businesses rush in to incorporate voice search on their website, they need to optimise their eCommerce store for this. This involves taking the time to understand their key customers, finding out how they interact on the social media platforms, and learning how to mirror their language.
Improving the customer experience
Great businesses are devoted to delivering great customer experience. This can involve providing great service, fast or free shipping, offering competitive prices and a user-friendly website. But as this becomes the status quo for eCommerce retailers, businesses that offer personalisation and localisation will stand out from their competition.
Personalisation usually refers to personalised merchandising. Businesses can use a variety of factors to serve contextually relevant content and products for each customer:
- Recommend products based on past search queries
- Recommend products based on purchase history
- Recommend products based on what’s currently in their shopping cart
- Recommend products based on their local climate or region
Localisation is a form of personalisation in which the customer’s IP address alters the site content in order to provide a contextual shopping experience. For example, a business could gather personal data like the customer’s gender or location and tailor their onsite popups and welcome messages.
How does a B2C eCommerce strategy benefit your business?
The internet is changing the way customers learn about products, select and purchase products. In fact, 56% of in-store purchases are influenced by digital commerce. If businesses don’t offer an eCommerce option, they could be losing half of their potential revenue. Here are some ways a business can benefit from having an excellent eCommerce strategy.
Access the global market
Without the confines of a physical store, an eCommerce strategy gives businesses the opportunity to expand their reach. This can be especially valuable for a growing SMEs as they can achieve this without a hefty price tag.
Customers now research products online and compare them across a wide range of vendors. While physical retailers rely on brand image and customer relationships to bring in foot traffic to their store, online retail has an additional benefit of driving traffic from search engines like Google, or even Amazon. Businesses that effectively improve their search engine optimisation (SEO) will see a boost in traffic to their store.
Lower operational costs
Because of its online nature, B2C eCommerce sales channels often have lower operational costs; there are less staff to pay and no physical store to pay rent for! Businesses can leverage an eCommerce strategy to increase their efficiency while also reducing their operating costs.
eCommerce is not strictly limited to retailers. Manufacturers can also open their own B2C eCommerce sales channel to service the end-customers; this additional sales channel can be very profitable. For instance, of our Unleashed manufacturers, those without an online sales channel have 217 customers on average and have a 48% sales margin. In comparison, Unleashed manufacturers with an online retail channel have over 1,200 customers and have a 53% sales margin.
With a dedicated inventory management software to manage manufacturing inventory, manufacturers that have an online retail channel don’t have to rely on channel partners or retail partners to sell their goods to the end-consumer. This opens the business up to many more customers to increase the bottom line.
Integrated software across the entire process
The entire eCommerce supply chain can be easily integrated to seamlessly manage the entire business process. For example, retailers can manage their inventory using an online inventory solution. They can efficiently manage their inventory, monitor stock levels at a glance, and place orders before they run out of stock, making procurement more efficient. They can also integrate accounting software to track their finances and more. Smart online retailers will have their software stack integrated so that data flows seamlessly across various business functions.