In the ‘Turbocharge your ecommerce growth’ discussion I hosted recently with senior professionals from Klarna, Groupon and OKdo, a recurring theme was the need for Business to Business (B2B) retailers to innovate in response to the new challenges and opportunities brought about by the pandemic. Our panellists highlighted how many B2B retailers are pivoting to the Direct to Consumer (D2C) space to expand their reach and revenue by opening up their offering to new audiences, as well as brand new markets and geographic regions.
Making the move to D2C requires that these organisations rapidly review and evolve their strategy to reflect the specific needs, contexts and expectations of this new audience, and deliver an online shopping experience that stands up against leaders in what is undoubtedly a highly competitive space. It’s also crucial that B2B organisations looking to shift towards D2C assess whether the technology platforms they have in place are optimised to support them in their aims and – importantly – whether they work together as a holistic, integrated ecommerce ecosystem.
We’ve written previously about the differences (and similarities) between B2B and D2C markets, and it is indeed vital to review every aspect of your setup to ensure you’re addressing the diverse needs of your audience.
Your ecommerce platform itself may benefit from additional capabilities such as recommendations and personalisation to support browsing and discoverability, while guest checkouts (not a common feature for B2B sites) can be valuable in streamlining the payment process and helping increase conversions. Think too about whether you’ve taken a mobile-first approach to development, and can cater for the wide range of devices customers may be using to shop with you.
It’s also important to review the supporting tools, services and integrations that make up your wider ecommerce ecosystem, as these may not be focused on the needs of a D2C audience. For example, can your customers purchase your products and services using their preferred payment methods – and do you need to be accessible through social marketplaces and other platforms? There are numerous pre-built plugins that can be configured to provide this functionality (and if you want to learn more about the top plugins for the leading ecommerce provider WooCommerce, we have a new blog post looking at exactly that).
Of course, a successful D2C strategy is about more than the technology you have in place, and shifting your strategy will have a significant impact on your wider business infrastructure. From finance departments getting to grips with a greater variety of tax rules and regulations to operations potentially dealing with greater numbers of smaller orders, you’ll need to ensure your business processes are agile enough to react to change, and that these changes are clearly communicated to your teams.
Your customer service, account management, and sales and marketing teams will also need to be armed with the information they need to serve your customers effectively – whether this is details of new returns policies or a revised value proposition – and will also need to be able to meet customers where they are, for example on social platforms, online forums or live chat. Taking a test and learn approach can further help you in refining your activity, so make sure you’re collecting relevant data to support effective analysis and experimentation.
And, while I said that there is more to a successful D2C strategy than technology, it can play a useful role in supporting these new processes and policies, and deliver rapid, ‘quick win’ improvements across your operations. Integrating your ecommerce platform with powerful tax engines, email service providers and third-party logistics (3PL) services, for example, can help streamline and consolidate activity.
Strategic partnerships can also be extremely beneficial in helping manage your move into new D2C markets. Our ecommerce discussion featured senior professionals from global online marketplace Groupon and financial services provider Klarna, who echoed the benefits of starting small then iterating based on what works best for you, recommending that organisations begin with a series of partners they trust before investing more heavily once they’ve built up an understanding of their new audience.
You should additionally plan for how you’ll communicate changes to your existing partners, to maintain a consistent brand position and avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Whether you already have an ecommerce platform in place, are starting from scratch, or want to set up a new separate system for your D2C offering, it’s likely that some element of development work will be required to support you in your shift. When looking at your options, the question of whether to use off-the-shelf software or take a bespoke software development approach is key, and each of these options comes with its own benefits and challenges.
Off-the-shelf software can certainly help you get your offering to market quickly and cost-effectively, and there are many dedicated solution providers offering a range of ecommerce features as standard. At Box UK we’re experienced in working with the leader in the space – WooCommerce, an ecommerce platform built on the WordPress framework – and have helped numerous organisations rapidly launch fully-featured online stores targeting multiple languages, currencies and territories.
However, the more complex aspects of an ecommerce ecosystem such as your integrations will likely benefit from bespoke development, and even where existing off-the-shelf solutions exist they may require varying levels of configuration to enable the smooth transfer of data and support seamless customer journeys. As we’ve written about previously too, when specific high-value functionality is required a bespoke development approach will ensure that it delivers against your requirements and goals, avoiding the potential compromises of off-the-shelf software.
Faced with these challenges then, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a growing number of businesses combine off-the-shelf and bespoke elements to create their ecommerce ecosystems, with many using an off-the-shelf platform as their foundation to accelerate development, and integrating additional functionality through plugins and extensions, custom integrations, and bespoke middleware solutions. This was the approach we took with OKdo, creating a tailored solution architecture based upon a multi-site WordPress and WooCommerce installation that integrates sophisticated functionality through a robust API layer, to support the end-to-end ecommerce lifecycle.
This approach can also be applied to the front-end elements of your ecommerce platform, with headless CMS solutions proving increasingly popular, to provide similar levels of flexibility over how your content is delivered and consumed (take a look at this article if you want to learn more about the details of a headless setup).
Expanding into D2C provides a valuable opportunity to review how well your existing technology is serving you – indeed, there is an imperative to ensure these systems are optimised to provide you with a solid foundation for growth. Disparate systems should be consolidated where possible, and existing plugins and third-party solutions validated, while legacy systems should be assessed for technical debt and other underlying code issues that may hinder your long-term plans.
Hybrid solutions like those outlined above can help reduce the effort required here too, supporting the delivery of crucial functionality as a priority while enabling legacy issues to be addressed and brought into your new platform over time (an approach known as the ‘strangler pattern’), to maintain delivery momentum and safeguard development quality.
As specialists in complex ecommerce implementations, at Box UK we understand that making the move to D2C space touches on many more aspects than just your website, and it’s important to create a plan that addresses the various elements of your strategy while minimising risk and maximising the rate at which you’ll see returns from your investment.
As I’ve explored in this post, there are many options available to support you in taking your first steps in this area. If you’re looking for a more detailed discussion of these please take a look at the recording of our recent event which is now available to watch on demand, and if you want to find out more about any of the issues discussed, or learn how Box UK can help you on your ecommerce journey, you can also get in touch with a member of our team directly.