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Is it Time to Re-Examine Your E-Commerce Strategy?

Is it Time to Re-Examine Your E-Commerce Strategy?

By Scott Costa
, Publisher,
tED magazine

What is the customer expectation when it comes to your online offerings and are you prepared to do whatever it takes to meet them?

My inspiration for this column came completely by accident. I stumbled on some e-commerce research that I thought was spot-on when it comes to what needs to be accomplished. It came from Oracle as a “survey to help B2B e-commerce professionals benchmark their upcoming plans and strategies against those of their peers at similar organizations.” That alone had me interested.

So I don’t lose anything in translation, here is the complete conclusion of that Oracle whitepaper, unedited, so you can read it for yourself:

“The most-effective B2B e-commerce initiatives will be those that enable organizations to successfully use the right technologies in concert to engage customers and enhance their decision-making abilities across all touch points. Cross-channel customer experience management is on the brink of a new era in B2B. Digital channels have become the dominant medium for influencing decision-making and building a stronger relationship between the brand and the end customer. The sheer numbers of devices that consumers have at their disposal and the types of interactions they expect create a challenging but exciting opportunity for customer experience professionals—from marketers to merchandisers and media moguls—to chart their course for optimizing customer experiences. Delivering a consistent experience across all channels and touch points is the new challenge for B2B e-commerce organizations.”

There’s just one problem.

This is a 2011 study.

And nearly 5 years later, like it or not, we still aren’t where we need to be in the e-commerce world.

I am reminded that we aren’t where we need to be by a conversation I had at last August’s NAED AdVenture Conference. An attendee said e-commerce accounts for about 2 to 3 percent of total sales, and called it “a tipping point”. I don’t. 

Read the Oracle report from 2011 again. “Digital channels have become the dominant medium for influencing decision-making and building a stronger relationship between the brand and the end user.” Two to 3 percent of total sales from e-commerce is not creating a “stronger relationship between the brand and the end user.” As we reported at tedmag.com a few months ago, a growing number of B2B customers are buying via their computers, laptops, tablets, and/or cellphones. As consumers become more and more comfortable shopping online, expect to see an increasing number of your B2B customers following suit.

Another part of this equation is the lack of demand for an e-commerce offering.  Many distributors believe their customers are not yet young enough to need a way to make a majority of purchases online.  But they do admit that when millennials take up a higher percentage of the workforce, there will be a much stronger need for an e-commerce platform.

There are two schools of thought on this. First, if you are only getting 2 to 3 percent of your overall sales online, you don’t want to make a major investment in e-commerce. But, is the problem a lack of demand, or the lack of a strong website compared to the online giants like Amazon or Grainger? “If you’re not going to at least get started with e-commerce, someone else will,” Ian Hobkirk with Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors in Boston told tED magazine. “The electrical contractors and other customers you’re working with may not have reached a tipping point yet, but that time will be here before you know it.”

The other school of thought is this: If you were getting 15 to 20 percent of your total sales through e-commerce, you would probably feel like you didn’t need to invest more in your website, because it was working so well. At 2 to 3 percent, you can’t deny that it’s not providing its potential revenue. “This is not just a side thing that you do,” Justin King, a B2B expert at B2X Partners and founder of the blog ecommerceandB2B.com. “‘Build it and they will come’ is just a lie.  There is a marketing strategy, and communicating internally to your sales team, and an incentive plan through your sales people to build an e-commerce platform.”

Even though it may not appear to be the case for you, King also points out that your customers are actually getting younger, not older. As more millennials enter the work force, you need to stay ahead of the curve before you fall too far behind. “This will shift with you or without you,” King told tED magazine. “This is a transformation that is all about change. The companies that don’t do that will not be around in 5 years.”

King does say that with the right investment and strategy, you can compete with the online giants like Amazon and Grainger, even if it takes some time. “With technology today, it enables you to give your customers the Amazon experience without having to deal with Amazon.”

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