In the world of tech and commerce, everybody wants to be like Amazon. However, while B2C brands have been copy-catting the online behemoth’s website experience strategy for many years already, B2B players have been a little slower on the uptake. Believing that B2B buyers are more traditional than everyday consumers – not researching or buying online, but instead relying on phone, fax, and email ordering for their business purchases – many B2B brands have yet to make significant strides into ecommerce.
But here’s the thing. B2B buyers are consumers, too, and their everyday online shopping habits are beginning to spill into their professional lives when making purchases for a company. They even expect the same seamless, Amazon-like experiences when doing so.
This means that they want things fast and efficient. New generations of B2B buyers in particular dislike thumbing through print catalogs or speaking to sales reps on the phone just to place an order. Instead, they want the same buying options they get as consumers in their personal life. They want to start their journey on a website with a powerful search function. They want to be able to browse and compare a complete and continuously-updated list of offerings. And they expect to not only be able to purchase directly online but schedule their deliveries and check their order status online as well.
The stats don’t lie. According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report last year, 82% of business buyers want the same experience when making purchases for their company as when they’re buying for themselves. In fact, 69% explicitly stated that they expect Amazon-like buying experiences, and 67% have even switched vendors for a more consumer-like experience. The table below shows how these percentages break down by generation.
(Image source: salesforce.com)
GE Healthcare is one B2B company that’s paying attention to customer demands. In June 2019, it upgraded its online GE Healthcare Service Shop to meet the growing trend among healthcare professionals to purchase supplies online.
GE Healthcare Service Shop
GE Healthcare – a leading manufacturer and distributor of equipment used in medical imaging and monitoring, bio-manufacturing, and cell and gene therapy technologies – first launched its GE Healthcare Service Shop four years ago as a log-in portal for hospitals and other healthcare providers to order spare and replacement parts.
Now, the company has upgraded its Service Shop to include more product inventory – including its inventory of multi-vendor parts – and has revamped website features to include advanced site search and faster online parts reordering. According to Tim Erickson, GE Healthcare’s General Manager for Asset Recovery and Ecommerce, the updates are all part of an ongoing effort to bring more ecommerce technology into healthcare purchasing and to make the buying experience more “Amazon-like”.
“Our customers want an OEM who can supply multi-vendor support,” said Erickson. “They are looking for a long-term relationship with a company whose processes they already trust and rely on. The increased inventory of multi-vendor parts available through Service Shop is another step in helping meet that need.”
By 2022, hospitals in North America will be purchasing as much as 14.5% of all services, parts, and devices online, according to the Frost & Sullivan Healthcare Ecommerce Market in North America, Forecast to 2022 report. Erickson says that GE Healthcare’s ramp-up for more ecommerce is happening now to meet this growing demand – which is being driven in part by new generations of tech-savvy buyers moving into decision-making roles. “[The aim is to] bring a more business-to-consumer experience to business-to-business buying,” he said.
GE Healthcare Service Shop currently carries an online inventory valued at $1.5 billion, representing 489,000 parts numbers, the company says. Hospitals and other customers can now purchase from 18 different categories, ranging from X-rays and patient monitoring to anesthesia and MRI. The updated site search tool allows customers to search by part number, type of equipment, or keyword. Further new and upgraded advanced ecommerce tools also allow online buyers to view daily deals, check parts availability instantly, and track delivery status. The site has also been improved to better integrate with a hospital’s supply chain and ERP systems. This enables faster reordering, which allows customers to operate with leaner inventory levels as they can quickly reorder supplies as and when they need them. “We think more of things as being just in time,” said Erickson.
The results are impressive. GE says that the Service Shop ships out roughly 6,000 products daily with a 96% on-time delivery rate – in some cases, delivery is completed just eight hours after a customer places an order.
As B2B buyers have come to expect a higher level of customer experience – driven by interactions with consumer retail sites like Amazon – healthcare manufacturers and distributors need to keep pace. GE Healthcare’s efforts to bring more ecommerce technology into healthcare purchasing seem to be hitting the mark. Ordering parts online instead of over the phone has saved customers 300,000 minutes, the company says, and the upgrades have improved the overall user experience – something that is particularly important for the new generation of millennial buyers.
As the authors of the Frost & Sullivan report put it: “Digitization of products, services, and commerce models is democratizing current healthcare systems and unlocking new previously inaccessible segments. The fundamental convergence of healthcare with IT and retail industry continues to shift ecommerce from simple search portals for buying products to the digital marketplace that provides personalized experience and informed purchase decision making. This is manifesting into a new era of healthcare consumerism; today hospital buyers and patients are equally expecting a retail-like buying experience. Furthermore, as tech-savvy millennials are expected to overtake boomers, in terms of population, in 2019, eCommerce models with personalized UX/UI will be the preferred marketing channels for medical products and services.”