Content & Commerce: Which B2B eCommerce sites are getting it right?

Last month I wrote a blog on: “Content Driven Commerce: What can we learn from leading brands about using content marketing to drive eCommerce growth?” … Taking a look at some leading brands including MR PORTER, Marks & Spencer and The Wine Society, I picked out 3 key ways that these brands are combining content and commerce. As many examples were B2C, I thought I would find some good examples of B2B eCommerce websites that successfully combine content and commerce within their overall marketing mix…

Whilst there are plenty of B2B sites that focus on lead generation, it’s much harder to find outstanding examples of B2B sites that get the balance of both great functionality and design. Those that get it right within the B2B market are the ones that adopt the fundamentals of great design: appealing layout, logical navigation and user-friendly site search are all essential. However, the goals for a B2B customer versus a B2C consumer differ - order values are often greater and the number of orders per customer is often larger which leads to different functional and user experience needs.

The type of clients that B2B eCommerce companies deal with are often complex and span from large complex organisations through to sole traders and the casual consumer. So there’s a level of complexity that their eCommerce functionality should suit. Smaller professionals will value a “B2C-like” transactional experience which also offers an efficient B2B relationship, account management, repeat purchases and flexible financial options. For larger clients, eCommerce will simply supplement the relationship. Therefore the customer experience should “lock them into” a level of dependency.

Many of the B2B eCommerce sites below, are selling a huge number and range of products, and so focus more on functionality and user experience over the design aesthetics.

Blake Envelopes

It has to be said that envelopes aren't the most exciting product in the world. However, Blake Envelopes do a great job of making them desirable. Given that Blake’s product range is vast, they’ve done a great job at presenting their products in a logical way. Their filtered navigation and site search are well thought-out - You can search by the obvious: colour, range, and style. But they also have a unique search options including: square sizes, imperial sizes, pack sizes, type, sealings, windows, opaques, features and a long list of uses (below). This long list of options makes it easier for their business customers to search in whichever way they choose.

Blake present their products very much as a B2C website would, and have an excellent mix of great design and “B2C-like” functionality.

Gallery Stock

Gallery Stock is a nice site for businesses and individuals to find stock imagery. Clean design, simple and straightforward navigation and strong call-to-actions….

 

Rather than a traditional blog which focuses on company news - Gallery Stock uses this space to draw attention to their photographers’ portfolios and showcases their products in a rather nifty slideshow:

 

 

Their content features read rather like press releases from a high-end gallery, and provide both context and gravitas their stock imagery. At the end of each article they usually point visitors to exhibitions showcasing their work and link back to their artist’s collections. Gallery Stock manage to provide a friction-free customer experience that links their content and commerce seamlessly.

What’s more is that they have created RED DOT magazine which also highlights the photographers represented by Gallery Stock.The magazine presents a unique view of seasonal and topical images compiled into a single collection, displaying the diversity of the Gallery Stock brand and the work available for licensing for their customers. This is great for brand awareness and the editorial feel fits their brand and target market.

 

FireRock

Fire Rock provides classic, timeless building materials including fireplaces, wooden flooring and paving for builders and tradesmen. Whilst their site isn’t an eCommerce site, they do make great use of photography to showcase their products online – their blog and Pinterest are excellent.

FireRock’s Pinterest profile, highlights their own products and draws attention to interior projects that have an affinity with their brand; including porches, patios, bathroom spaces and sunrooms, all of which all have a “timeless”, high-end feel.

 

 

Whilst it’s great to see a B2B company using Pinterest well, Fire Rock only manage 9 boards. Personally, I think they could do more simply by expanding the range of boards and possibly take a leaf out of B&Q’s book. B&Q have spread out a similar number of pins (1,142 pins) across 59 boards but have a much larger following. This may be due to a few simple tactics - Whilst B&Q showcase their collections, they have creative boards that highlight the latest trends (“Colour of the month”), craft ideas and annual events e.g. back to school, “national shed week” and more.

FireRock have some great, creative ideas on their blog which could be adapted for Pinterest. For example articles like “Top 4 housing trends of 2013” and “5 common mistakes to avoid when planning an outdoor fireplace” would make great pins to drive traffic to their blog

 

Apple Business Store

Up until a few years ago, being a business customer wouldn’t get you any kind of special treatment within Apple’s stores. If you needed to book an appointment with a support engineer you’d have to make an appointment at a nearby Apple Store’s Genius bar, along with individual consumers. You could call your business representative but you would struggle to get an appointment the same day.

Apple’s Joint Venture Program, is a business focused service that has been set up to serve solely corporate customers as well as individuals within their retail stores. It’s a service that aims to streamline the process of getting a laptop in for a service / training and support.

Whilst their eCommerce site is simple, it has the same model for B2B as for B2C and the same functionality. It’s clear that when you arrive at the site as a business customer the content focuses on messages around the relationship, professional support and flexible pricing – all important aspects for the business consumer, translated beautifully online.

Aldridge Security

Unlike Apple, Aldridge Security have a vast range of products and brands with over 18,000 different products in stock from over 290 brands. They provide a wide range of products including Access Control, Ironmongery, Hardware, Key Cutting, Locksmithing Tools & Accessories.

This site is used by thousands in the trade, and it has to be reliable and easy to use, while stocking a wide range of products. This means site search has to work well, which it does, key information is clearly presented on product pages, the ability to refine your search by category, brand, feature, finish and size are essential.

Their site is easy to navigate and provides a fast and efficient service. In addition, features like same day despatch are crucial when tradesmen have urgent projects on the go. It’s more important that the customer can find the right part or tool across all devices quickly and easily. So features including - “Quick Order” (lists products by code and description) with live stock levels, the ability to create fast, repeat orders, and access to flexible, trade prices are excellent.

Masters Golf

Masters Golf is another example of a B2B eCommerce site with the right balance between good design and B2B functionality. Masters Golf supplies the golf trade in the UK and Europe – including pro shops, distributors and retail stores – with everything from packets of tees to full sets of high-end clubs and trolleys. B2B functionality that isn’t visible via the B2C (consumer) view of the site include a “Quick order” page which lists live stock levels by product code and description, a “notify me when back in stock” button, a data feed so their 3rd party eCommerce sites can use their content and “My Account” where business customers can see outstanding orders, invoices, and recreate orders easily.  

What’s great is that whilst Masters Golf don’t sell to the general consumer directly, there are clear call-to-actions for visitors to find their “nearest retailer” – helping to drive valued customers to 3rd party retailers.  

 

 

 

Masters Golf have also done the basics well with functionality that any casual consumer would be familiar with: filtered navigation, high quality product photography and videos.

Dulux Paint Trade Expert

With over 4,000 colours across a number of brands the Dulux Trade site does a great job of making it easy to find the right product by either choosing what you’re trying to do or the surface you’re trying to paint e.g. Priming, Painting, Staining & varnishing, Preparing & Repairing. Or interior walls, exterior walls, interior wood, exterior wood, garden and metal.

Products are easy to find and refine the colour by hue, colour collection and armstead trade (professional paint brands).

 

 

Being a keen interior design enthusiast I was excited to see some fantastic content on their site. Dulux Trade have brought together some inspiring collections based on the latest trend-inspired palettes, historical shades and ways to make the most of wooden architecture.  

Instead of focusing solely on commerce, Dulux use content to inform and inspire. On the Colour Collections page they have picked out 5 key trends and seamlessly linked the concept images back to their Dulux collection. Rather than the traditional, “click left to read and right to buy” the colour collection combines content and commerce to create a friction-free customer experience.

 

Off this page, I visited www.colourfutures.com – a website that promotes their annual trends and colour forecasting report (see right). It’s a site that focuses on emerging design trends in the year ahead. The site has some fabulous imagery and articles. As you’ll see from my example here (right) – The page has a wonderfully curated feel with large lifestyle imagery and tone of voice that you’d find in any high-end interiors magazine, at the end of the page they reference the colours needed to achieve the same look. Brilliant!

Whilst this is clearly great content that combines content and commerce well, there seems to be a distinct separation from their main Dulux trade site. I think they’ve missed a trick here, and could introduce these as articles within an on-site blog.

Dulux Trade Paint Expert Colour Futures Site

In summary

Though there are some excellent B2B sites which focus on lead generation, it’s much harder to find innovative B2B eCommerce websites. Especially those that combine content and commerce to drive revenue. It’s clear that getting the balance between good design and excellent functionality is key – In the B2B world, if the site isn’t the prettiest thing in the world it’s OK. If the works well - this is what really matters when you stock a large volume of products.

I'm sure there are other great examples that we've missed, so please get in touch to share your thoughts... 

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