Business customers’ online shops: Why the self-service concept with a "shopping cart" is not working for tariffs
Business Online Stores for tariff items do not really work: The online share of tariff products in this segment is lagging significantly behind the share in the retail segment. After the online channel for private customers generated significant channel shares, the hope was to achieve the same in the business customer segment, and by doing so, decrease the high SACs (Sales Acquisition Costs) in this segment by shifting sales to the online channel.
As this hope was not fulfilled, it was followed by the withdrawal of love: Budgets were reduced, technical implementations were often half-hearted, and the proof that the "business cannot sell online" turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But why has this proved to be the case?
A simple copy of the retail e-commerce concept is not the solution for the business segment
Business customers’ online shops are usually copies of their online retail stores. Technically speaking, in many cases, the former are actually only instances of "real" stores. This fact also expresses the internal priority of the two channels conclusively.
Historically this evolution makes sense: First were the shops for private customers, and since they have worked surprisingly well, it was understandable to apply the proven operating principle to the business segment. However, businesses that have tried this approach have misunderstood the business market. The operating principle cannot simply be copied from retail and applied to business sales of tariff products.
It is no coincidence that the symbol of an online store is the shopping-cart. In our minds we have the picture of a self-service store, where the customer passes through and puts products in their cart and then makes a purchase. This picture works very well - in theory and in practice - with simple products that require no complex explanation: For shoes, consumer goods from the Amazon universe, and also for private mobile phone contracts. Private clients primarily choose a phone, and the choice of the tariff is in fact an aspect of how to finance that phone (rate plans). This model is proven to work perfectly in the “self-service store.”
In the business customer segment – in the main involving companies with 5-25 SIM cards - a completely different picture comes to mind. The decision process is much more complex: Customers must select from several tariffs for each individual SIM card, as well as choose from a variety of options such as POOL-tariffs as an alternative to individual contracts, and so on. In this picture it is clear that impulse buyers who would otherwise put products in their cart, will not do so for complex tariff products. A more realistic view is that of a consultative seller, who puts 2 packets on the counter, which both meet their requirements, yet differ in certain details. Assuming the customer can buy the goods in the store, in most cases the customer will follow such a proposal.
Let’s translate the drawn picture back to the e-commerce reality: Business webshops for tariffs operate today more like a self-service supermarket. And just as the picture does not fit well, sales figures are usually very disappointing. In cases where there is some kind of advisory solution; most products cannot actually be bought online. The customer is not taken by the hand interactively, but instead is passed with a link to a traditional sales channel. Omni-channel strategies are almost entirely absent.
Omni-Channel as a model for the actual transaction
Whether the actual transaction is automated online, completed through a POS or whether the (online) product choice is automatically forwarded to the back office, is not decisive. The significant gain in efficiency lies in the automation of product configuration and product selection by the customer. In precisely this respect there is, in most business online shops offering traffic products, considerable room for improvement.