In Online B2B, Crucial Data Goes Missing

A recent study found that some of the more “obvious” parts of the B2B experience – such as pricing and inventory data – are absent from the websites of some of the biggest names in the arena. Here’s what B2B needs to keep top of mind to keep customers clicking and buying.

A new study of B2B online practices shows that when it comes to online shopping among B2B purchase managers and other executives — to paraphrase a line from real estate — one metric stands above all others: “Price, price, price.” Or perhaps that should be “lack of price.”

As found through research titled “XConnect: A B2B Analysis,” conducted jointly by Siteworx, a digital agency, and the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, price remains “the most important attribute” when shopping across the Web.

Yet, in what might be a surprising find, a minority, or 24 percent, of what the study classified as the “nation’s leading B2B manufacturers” actually post pricing information on their own sites.

That data begs the question about payments done online (and possibly why they would be embraced when so many B2B outfits are missing such crucial information).

Then, of course, there’s the second and third most important tranches of information, according to the survey, which include, respectively, shipping/inventory information and site response time.

Across technologies, a few details emerge: Tablet users prize the ability to download documents in their online forays, yet only 11 percent of B2B manufacturers scoured by the study boast that capability. And for other mobile users conducting queries via smartphone, shipping and inventory information is key, but that information is provided solely by roughly a third of respondents — despite the fact that as much as 40 percent of all people doing research across B2B do so using mobile devices.

That trio of attributes that snares buyer attention across B2B — price, inventory and general information — represents the types of data that prove to be the most expensive for manufacturers to put out in terms of time and money.

The overarching theme of the survey: Digital expectations are changing, and B2B must strive to meet those expectations, in effect creating an atmosphere where everything is a service and the experience is a key differentiator in the intentions of buyers to choose, and ultimately stick with, a B2B partner. That could be a bit of a warning sign in a world where 82 percent of the revenues for large B2B enterprises come from only a few key customers.

No surprise that one key factor is the demographic profile of the typical B2B user/researcher. As the study noted, roughly half of all researchers in 2014 were from the 18–34 age group. That’s a jump of 70 percent from two years prior.

Key recommendations from the researchers include those centered on pricing, where, with a nod to pricing complexity, firms must still consider where online pricing fits into an overall strategy. Then there’s the necessity of allowing customers to track shipment of the products they’ve ordered. And a glaring statistic shows that for every one second of page load time delays, customer abandonment rates jump by a corresponding 7 to 10 percent.

Offering more general advice, the study notes that buying should be top of mind for digital design — namely that the process that leads a customer, ultimately, to purchasing an item should be a seamless one, even across disparate devices. The digital process should also fully examine legacy systems to see what works and what does not, and the number of systems a customer touches at any point on the online journey should be streamlined.