Online Retail Today
online b2b marketplace

Online B2B Marketplaces: Beat Them or Join Them?

Online transactions are on course to make up nearly half of all business buying by 2020; as B2B grows, so does the activity on third-party marketplaces, aka an online b2b marketplaces, geared toward corporate purchasing. Indeed, Gartner predicts that by 2022, some 75% of companies’ “tail spend” will occur on third-party marketplace sites. This is because businesses look to streamline purchasing of non-strategic, increasingly-commoditized products such as office supplies and IT equipment.

Dominant eCommerce brands are already well-positioned to take advantage of this trend. Chinese juggernaut Alibaba offers a B2B marketplace and has partnered with Office Depot to smooth distribution within the U.S. Meantime, Amazon Business now claims $10 billion in annual sales, with 50% of its revenue coming from third-party marketplace transactions.

As B2B marketplaces rise, business suppliers are asking themselves the question that has long dogged B2C sellers: Can we beat them, or must we join them?

While answers will vary, every B2B seller’s online strategy should at least acknowledge the growing role of marketplaces. To develop the right approach:

1. Accurately Gauge Vulnerability for Online B2B

B2B vendors should assess their product lines and their current customers’ purchasing patterns to understand how much exposure they have to competition on marketplaces. Vendors with products that are highly technical, customized, or specialized are likely to be less vulnerable to the self-service, commoditized environment of a marketplace.

2. Set Strict Parameters for Marketplace Selling

Marketplaces can be a double-edged sword: even as they can boost brand visibility with new audiences, they can inhibit loyalty, since ownership of customer data often belongs to the platform, not the seller. The downward pricing pressure common to marketplaces is a concern for B2B vendors accustomed to offering custom catalogs to their customers; A third of B2B sellers fear pricing transparency on the Web could undermine their business, according to B2BeCommerce.

Vendors who do proceed with marketplace selling should restrict activity to set categories unique enough to withstand price pressure, without cutting into core sales. This includes specialty items that have “long tail” appeal within the industry, for example, or hard-to-find accessories or components.

3. Use B2B Marketplace Efficiencies To Test New Markets

B2B vendors looking to reach new audiences abroad or to test prototypes in new categories may find marketplaces advantageous for their quick visibility. This can make marketplaces a more cost-efficient way to launch initiatives than developing comprehensive new eCommerce offerings.

How is your business navigating the B2B marketplace conundrum? Learn more with the help of Kibo.

personal customer service

How to Balance Personal Customer Service and Automation for Maximum Impact

Personal customer service is a crucial brand differentiator, but the growing use of automated tools poses new challenges as well as promising new benefits. Heading into the crucial holiday season, sellers should redouble their efforts to provide customer service that is seamless and authentic.

Good customer service doesn’t just benefit brand reputation; it can have a tangible effect on the bottom line. Consumers are willing to pay a premium of 16% on goods and services enhanced by great customer experiences, according to firm PwC.

As companies boost investment in personalization and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver on these expectations, the arena of personal customer service has seen new tools proliferate. Chat bots, automated SMS messaging, robots patrolling store aisles, and more all promise to enhance live customer service.

The danger is that a patchwork of technologies can deliver an inconsistent series of interactions for shoppers, creating experiences that are memorable for the wrong reasons. And consumers still value live, in-person service; 83% of consumers said interacting with real people will only become more important as technology improves, PwC found.

This preference, combined with the push for greater data privacy and transparency, signals that merchants should roll out automation efforts carefully, and promote the personal touch widely. To do so:

1) Strictly define use cases for automation — and be transparent.

Some 80% of routine information lookups can be handled by AI. But shoppers react negatively to machines masquerading as humans; so AI-driven tools should be explicitly identified as such, which helps set expectations for purely informational interactions. Complex queries should be transferred to live human help, and the handoff should be clearly communicated.

2) Train staff to leverage digital assets.

Whether in-store or online, shoppers equate good customer service with the ability to locate items quickly, a survey from the ICSC found. Staff on the sales floor and in the call center need to be able to tap inventory across the company and access customer profiles to make the most relevant recommendations; then present the most efficient fulfillment options.

3) Offer the human touch as a loyalty perk.

Style consultations and dedicated personal customer service lines that grant easy access to one-on-one experiences are essential. They can be positioned as value-added benefits to loyalty club members and other VIPs.

How is your business combining automated and personal service to meet consumers’ expectations?

1 day delivery

3 Ways to Counter Amazon’s 1 Day Delivery Prime Push

Amazon recently stated its intention to make 1 day delivery the default for Prime members – moving the goal posts for retail brands already straining to match Prime’s long-held two-day standard. With the crucial holiday season already on the horizon, sellers should double down on omnichannel initiatives in order to meet consumer expectations for fast, free fulfillment.

In truth, Amazon’s announcement is old news for the more than 70% of U.S. residents who can already receive Amazon shipments within a day. Competing mass merchants like Target and Walmart responded to the Amazon headline by pointing to competing services already in play or at least in development.

Pressure For 1 Day Delivery

Still, the announcement means smaller merchants are likely to feel even more pressure to shorten their fulfillment timeframes. On the surface “free” still trumps “fast” 1 day delivery. More than half of shoppers say free shipping is of primary importance; compared with 10% or fewer who rank speed in first place, according to measurement firm comScore. But at the same time, 40% of consumers say they’d be less likely to purchase if delivery took more than two days, according to Kibo’s Consumer Trends survey.

Adding urgency is the looming holiday season, when claims of convenience and speed are due to escalate. Time savings comprise three of the top five reasons shoppers buy gifts online, Deloitte found, and merchants catering to harried last-minute shoppers need proven solutions. Among the options:

1) Perfecting in-store fulfillment operations

A network of physical stores can be an advantage for retailers, if they’re able to nimbly optimize inventory for Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS). Two-thirds of shoppers have used BOPIS, Kibo found, with pickup flexibility and time savings ranking high on the list of benefits. Similarly, retailers who can ship local inventory to nearby homes can shorten delivery timelines; this makes integration of in-store, order-management and eCommerce systems a high priority.

2) Offer white-glove service to differentiate

Fulfillment options now come with stepped-up service combined with 1 day delivery; from stylist consultations for items reserved in stores to in-home installation. This gives merchants the opportunity to showcase in-house expertise and stellar customer care and deliver value beyond mere speed.

3) Join the (shipping) club

Thanks to Prime, consumers are used to paying for shipping perks. More than 70% of Millennials and Generation Z say they’re willing to join paid loyalty clubs, according to a survey from CrowdTwist. Merchants should consider adding premium free-shipping tiers to loyalty offerings; in addition, they can reward members of free loyalty clubs with complimentary shipping upgrades, VIP express lanes for BOPIS order pickup, and free gift wrap services.

What is your business doing to counter Amazon Prime’s one-day delivery promise? Learn more with the help of Kibo.

personalization experience

Personalization Experience: Pop the Question(s) to Improve Personalization

Retailers and manufacturers are obsessed with personalization experience, and for good reason:  Four in five consumers are willing to share data in order to receive a better shopping experience, according to Accenture, and 91% say they’re more likely to shop with brands that recognize them and remember their preferences.

In the quest for personalized experiences, most of merchants’ focus has been on harnessing artificial intelligence to provide real-time predictions and recommendations. But there’s another way to learn and deliver on shoppers’ preferences: Just ask them.

By explicitly gathering information about shoppers’ interests and fit requirements, merchants can supplement aggregate algorithmic data used by AI personalization tools. Additionally, they can meet and exceed the requirements of new privacy regulations by confirming they have consent to access each piece of new information. Among the top opportunities:

1) Capture basic preferences by using email or SMS signup forms.

Modal and other pop-up windows often entice shoppers to sign up for email or, increasingly, mobile messaging updates often with a discount offer attached. Thanks to the incentive, shoppers are unlikely to object to answering a few additional questions, and those responses can provide foundational information for sellers about preferences and interests. Apparel shoppers can indicate whether they’re looking for items for men or women; recreational outfitters can ask which activities are of interest.

2) Reward trend-setters and brand loyalists with VIP status.

For the best personalization experience, offer shoppers the opportunity to sign up for alerts when new releases arrive from favorite brands or product lines. Also, when up-to-the-minute seasonal products are released, or when upgrades and accessories become available for existing products, reward shoppers for their information with “sneak peek” and limited-time exclusive access.

3) Use interactive buying guides and fit finders to create profiles.

Subscription-based brands such as StitchFix and BlueApron rely on extensive questionnaires to discover the most relevant products for their customers; there’s nothing stopping other merchants from offering the same tools as useful buying guides. Merchants can learn shoppers’ size and style preferences, expertise levels, or budgets, and tailor future content and offers accordingly.

4) Ask loyalty club members to pick a local store.

When shoppers join loyalty clubs, merchants have the opportunity to learn about fulfillment preferences and establish links to local outlets most likely to be used for order pickup. With this information, merchants can not only streamline checkout to foreground local pickup and delivery options, but they can also highlight store events and promotions.

5) Post-purchase, solicit more than a product review.

Post-purchase triggered emails can invite customers to engage with surveys that not only gauge satisfaction, but indicate how they’re using products thereby helping sellers suggest more relevant follow-up offers. Requesting user-submitted content tied to specific occasions or topics can also help merchants predict future preferences.

How are your providing personalization experiences for your customers? Learn more with the help of Kibo.

store experience

Millennials want to visit stores. Really! 5 ways to improve store experience

Millennial stereotypes suggest they do everything on their phones, but in truth they still favor stores as much as other generations – if merchants provide the right store experience.

Some 82% of Millennials prefer shopping in-store, according to data from Accenture. The top reason? Like every generation, Millennials say only stores offer the chance to try items before purchasing them, Deloitte found.

The Millennial difference kicks in once they’ve inspected products in person, when they exercise their options as connected consumers. Some 56% place orders online after a store visit, according to research from Euclid. At the same time, some 48% of Millennials say they’re prone to making impulse purchases without prior research – more than Baby Boomers or Gen X, a survey from Bronto found. To cater to these dual online/offline sensibilities, stores should provide:

1) Product test drive capabilities.

Just seeing and touching items on the shelves isn’t enough. Retailers should do their utmost to deliver immersive “test drive” experiences that empower shoppers to put gear and electronics through their paces and to move around in apparel and footwear, not just appraise looks in an unflattering mirror.

2) Pop-up shops.

Temporary stores within stores that showcase a particular brand or even a seasonal theme are popular with Millennials, with two-thirds saying they’re likely to visit a pop-up store, Euclid found. Pop-ups fulfill Millennial expectations for novel store experiences, and 30% say associated discount offers are a draw as well.

3) Fast, free in-store wifi as the basis for mobile enhancements.

More than two-thirds of Millennials expect retailers to assist their in-store research habits with support for mobile technology, Bronto found, so merchants should offer a strong wifi signal. That connection can form the basis for innovative store experiences such as augmented-reality store navigation to personalized picks, smart shelf labels that connect to online resources, and quick mobile checkout.

4) Knowledgeable store associates.

More than a quarter of Millennials say they’re likely to enjoy interacting with store associates, and 11% say interactions with store staff strongly influence buying decisions. This is more than double the percentage of Gen X buyers who feel the same way, Euclid found. Shoppers should be able to summon store staff via their phones, and associates should be empowered to consult online resources and order histories.

5) Flawless BOPIS execution.

Millennials are more likely than their older counterparts to use Buy Online, Pickup In-Store, aka BOPIS; 47% say they use the service more than 40% of the time, according to Euclid. Merchants need to support seamless and efficient BOPIS shopping, starting with accurate inventory visibility online, which 89% of Millennials said influences store visits, Accenture found. Once in stores, the pickup process should be as efficient as possible; solutions include merchants vetting signage and adequate staff pickup and return counters.

How are you providing an immersive store experience for your customers? Learn more with Kibo.

Buy Online Pickup In Store

Buy Online Pickup In Store: BOPIS Growth Requires a New Metrics Mindset

What is BOPIS?

Thanks to its popularity with shoppers, Buy Online, Pickup In Store, aka BOPIS, is now a must for retailers. Implementing the service successfully not only requires overhauls to online and store offerings, but a fresh approach to performance metrics to reflect the new omnichannel reality.

Despite the growing popularity and availability of BOPIS, most omnichannel retailers don’t know how it impacts the bottom line. Seven in 10 merchants say they’re unsure whether their BOPIS operation is profitable, according to Incisiv; technology researcher Forrester found just 14% of retailers completely agree that they have the right metrics in place to measure BOPIS omnichannel efforts.

The lack of insight into BOPIS performance may stem from the continuing dominance of the “last-click” mentality concerning retail analytics. Merchants who use last-click attribution credit revenue to the most recent touchpoint shoppers used before ordering. The model is a poor fit for the come-and-go, research-intensive, channel-hopping reality of shopping today,; interestingly, eMarketer found that more than 40% of merchants still assign credit to a single touchpoint.

BOPIS Retail Strategy

For example, retailers could credit the eCommerce site as the driver of BOPIS orders, while assigning purchases of additional items on order pickup to stores — splitting what should be a holistic picture. Siloed data prevents merchants from tracking the efficiency of the BOPIS process from end to end and pinpointing where improvements are needed.

To get an accurate picture of BOPIS’ impact, merchants need to rethink their metrics along with their operations. They should:

1) Obsess Over Time to Delivery — whether in-store, curbside, or at home

BOPIS can meet consumers’ escalating need for swift order fulfillment — but only if retailers deliver on its promise of fast, convenient pickup. Inefficiencies are still rampant; Chain Store Age reports that 77% of retailers primarily ship orders from a central eCommerce distribution center rather than from nearby stores, which could be less costly as well as quicker.

2) Capture and Track Store Associates’ BOPIS-related Activities

Logging staff hours spent on the order pickup desk isn’t enough; merchants should also track who picks how many orders and when, as well as which store zones contain goods most frequently bought via BOPIS orders, and adjust associate assignments accordingly.

3) Survey BOPIS Customers

Merchants should proactively seek customer experience feedback by tapping Buy Online Pickup In Store customers for surveys that specifically address the online/offline experience; this includes online inventory accuracy, navigating the store to the pickup counter, and what other aisles customers shopped on their visit.

How do you measure BOPIS retail success?

GDPR requirements

GDPR Requirements: Why Merchants Should Stay Ahead with Privacy Practices

Last year marked the start of a new wave of digital privacy regulation that has now reached U.S. shores. To successfully navigate the changing tides, merchants should embrace both the spirit and the letter of new GDPR requirements and institute transparent privacy controls across touchpoints.

As of last May, Europe’s GDPR requires companies to request consumer consent prior to collecting data; in addition, they must provide the tools for severing the agreement at any time. The year prior, Canadian anti-spam legislation went into effect, impacting not just email but social media and SMS practices.

In the U.S., the start of 2019 marked implementation of a Vermont law regulating online data brokers;next year California will enact what is set to become the strictest data privacy law in the country. Several other states have passed new data collection rules, leaving merchants who are increasingly reliant on consumer data for personalization wondering how they can navigate the choppy legislative waters.

Happily, regulatory compliance can also satisfy consumers’ dual desire for control and relevance. Deloitte found that 73% of consumers are willing to share data if they have control. Furthermore, 6 in 10 consumers say they’d like to receive individualized discounts or promotions. To strike the right privacy balance, merchants should:

Explain GDPR Requirement Practices Plainly, Early and Often

Merchants should parse the legalese in their privacy policies into plain English for GDPR requirements; this succinct version then can be used in a pop-up box or even on-page to quickly summarize their company’s data collection practices and obtain consent.

Implement Best Practices for Email

Email firm Litmus found that the majority of GDPR-compliant brands saw their list size decrease by 10% or less. Nonetheless, merchants should carefully vet their signup and sending protocols, and apply double opt-in routines as well as prominent opt-out language.

Offer a Comprehensive Preference Center

Savvy merchants have long offered email subscribers “preference centers” for throttling messaging cadence and content. Now they can use the same concept to offer easy access to a broad set of data preferences: from email to SMS to stored size and color picks. To make these controls prominent, merchants should take a page from StitchFix and other popular subscription services; requiring shoppers to build — and maintain — a “style profile” ensures relevance.

GDPR requirements

Prepare to communicate proactively about data breaches.

In the event of a data breach, the fallout in lost sales and reputation damage can be significant. Sellers should have a response plan at the ready that spells out at least the nature and extent of the breach. Additionally, the response plan should show what steps the brand is planning to take to repair security in the future, and what services will be offered to data theft victims.

What steps are you taking to prepare for privacy regulatory compliance?

Learn how Kibo approaches GDPR requirements for the businesses and consumers.

o2o online to offline

How to Promote O2O Beyond the Product Page

Today’s path to purchase criss-crosses the online/offline divide multiple times en route to order completion. In order to showcase their options to serve shoppers, merchants should promote o2o- offline services in a variety of ways online; namely, not just with a store pickup option on the product page.

What is o2o Commerce?

By now the evidence is overwhelming that shoppers prefer to use online tools to research offline purchases; more than half of all retail sales are influenced by online interactions, according to technology researcher Forrester. In stores, shoppers remain connected to the wealth of product information available online via their phones; some 71% of shoppers pull out their mobile devices while in the aisles, according to Mobile Marketer.

Merchants have adapted to this changing behavior by placing a greater focus on flexible fulfillment services; some popular options include universal inventory visibility and Buy Online, Pickup In-Store. To ensure shoppers know about those services – as well as other tactile “see and try” store experiences – sellers must thoroughly integrate online-to-offline (O2O) messaging in online promotions. Among the tactics to try:

1. Think O2O(2O) with consultative sales promotions

Merchants should encourage online shoppers to make store visits to evaluate goods prior to purchase; additionally, they should equip store associates with the online tools to source exactly the right items from across the retailer’s entire inventory selection. Nordstrom heavily promotes several flavors of in-store stylist services throughout its eCommerce site, from “gift scout” helpers for finding presents to personal shopping assistants. Seasonal promotions such as this spring makeup consultation event are highlighted on the home page.

2. Convince cart abandoners to complete orders … anywhere they want to

Triggered emails intended to convince shopping cart abandoners to complete online purchases may seem an odd location for offline promotion. But retailers that have eliminated internal barriers to innovation recognize that winning the sale, wherever it occurs, is what matters; consequently, giving hesitant online shoppers multiple avenues for completing their purchase boosts the odds that they’ll find the right fulfillment fit.

3. Mind the offline online marketing opportunities

“Offline” or “off-page” SEO refers to activities on properties other than the flagship eCommerce site that affect search engine ranking – and the concept is just as valid for O2O marketing. Merchants should not only monitor social media mentions, but listings on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google Reviews. Prompt and thoughtful replies to criticism and amplification of positive feedback (with permission) via other marketing channels heighten perceptions that shoppers’ voices matter; it shows retailers are willing to adapt their offline offerings in response to online feedback. Paid placements on social media and review platforms offering discounts or VIP experiences to store visitors can reach shoppers as they weigh where to go.

How are you promoting online-to-offline opportunities and services? Learn how with Kibo.

website personalization b2b

3 Ways Website Personalization Helps Highlight B2B’s Unique Strengths Online

In recent years, B2B companies have been advised to adopt tactics like website personalization from the world of B2C retail if they want to thrive in the era of omnichannel commerce. But given corporate buyers’ preference for experiences tailored to their company needs, B2B companies would do well to emphasize — not eliminate — the unique characteristics of their business if they want to stand out from the crowd.

It’s true that B2B buyers increasingly desire convenience and accessibility. More than two thirds of corporate purchasing agents prefer self-service product research over working with a sales rep; this is a jump of  23% from 2015, according to technology researcher Forrester.  Amazon is making strides in B2B ecommerce with a business version of its dominant eCommerce site; from which these reviews, recommendations, and Prime shipping service shape consumers’ online expectations for product content, convenience and savings.

But as they strive to emulate Amazon’s features, B2B companies risk losing out on what makes them unique. The current push to provide generic B2C-like experiences runs contrary to B2B business’ long tradition of customized customer relationships, from tailored catalogs to unique payment terms.

Corporate buyers seek out B2B sellers that can adopt this one-to-one approach online. More than three quarters of B2B purchasing agents want to see content specific to their company; additionally two-thirds expect information specific to their industry, according to Demand Gen.

B2B merchants who prioritize website personalization can use it to deliver:

1.) Products and content attuned to the phase of the B2B purchase cycle.

Based on prior interactions and predictive intelligence, personalization can pinpoint whether site visitors are in research mode or ready to buy; this aspect is imperative to present them not only with relevant content, but with live sales or support connections. Post-purchase, timely replenishment reminders and upgrade offers can spur re-engagement.

2.) A custom B2B catalog experience

Personalization tools can combine business rules with behavioral insights to present products and recommendations within pre-set parameters, along with custom pricing and bundling options. Predictive personalization capabilities can also flag potential new product categories of interest — helping B2B suppliers capitalize on cross-divisional sales opportunities.

3.) Tailor the purchase process to individual corporate customers

B2B merchants can customize the online checkout process to accommodate customer-specific needs such as P.O. generation and purchase approval routines, while personalization software tools in  tandem with saved account data can enable quick access to tailored re-ordering options.

How is your B2B business harnessing website personalization to serve corporate customers? Kibo personalization can help you soar higher. Learn more here

online to offline O2O shopping

O2O: 4 Easy Ways To Drive Online to Offline Store Visits Via Social Media

As online mobile shopping grows, omnichannel retailers should take advantage of social media’s dominance to promote the benefits of online to offline commerce.

Mobile devices play a role in a third of all retail transactions at some point on the path to purchase, with mobile purchases making up 40% of all online sales, Adweek reported. Many of those transactions take place offline, as shoppers browse products online and purchase offline. Four in five consumers who want an item immediately prefer to purchase in a store, and 61% prefer shopping with a brand with physical outlets as well as an online presence, Google found.

To reach mobile O2O consumers, retail brands have optimized their mobile sites and launched shopping apps. But mobile also strengthens marketers’ arguments for investment in social media.

The hunt for direct ROI on social investments has long bedeviled merchants but on mobile, there’s no doubt that social media dominates. Three-quarters of the minutes U.S. adults spend interacting with social media occur on mobile devices, according to Nielsen. Facebook and Facebook Messenger are the top two mobile apps; ranking slightly below, Instagram and Snapchat make the top 10, comScore found, while the only retail app to make the top 20 is Amazon’s.

That means social platforms give retail brands an unmatched opportunity for visibility, especially among new audiences who might not otherwise navigate to a brand’s mobile Web site or app. Consequently, because mobile device content can be context-aware, promoting unique store experiences is a natural fit. To do so:

Increase Foot Traffic: Offer store-specific coupons, scannable direct from the smartphone.

Sprout Social found that special discounts or coupons are what consumers want most from brands on social media; incidentally, merchants should give followers access to store-exclusive discounts to encourage foot traffic.

Personalized Interactions: Localize social messaging for customer service.

Two in three consumers say they use social media to contact brands, according to Social Media Today. Built-in messaging tools such as Facebook Messenger can help merchants meet high expectations for swift response times. Messenger aids with routing inquiries to local staff which not only addresses questions more meaningfully than a call center response, but connects shoppers with local names and faces in the process.

Some leading brands are even localizing social messaging chatbots to schedule in-store services such as repairs, stylist appointments, and classes, as Sephora does with its Facebook Messenger chatbot.

Drive Conversions: Promote store events using Stories.

Viewership for Instagram Stories, which link images and videos in a short sequence, may soon beat the News Feed as the top social media viewing mode. Merchants should use Stories to spotlight store activities like:

  1. In-store events
  2. How-to videos showcasing local staff expertise
  3. Interactive polls gathering input on store displays
  4. Local specials

Grow Store Revenue: Consider localized social media ad plays.

As organic reach declines due to stiffening competition and algorithm changes, merchants are increasing ad spend to guarantee visibility. Retailers can keep costs in check and deliver ultra-relevant messaging by availing themselves of increasingly-refined tools, such as Facebook’s location-based ad options. This helps reach shoppers with offers mapped to store locations.

Whatever your goals are for online to offline revenue, Kibo’s unified commerce software can enable you to achieve results where you are now experiencing pain points. Learn more here: