Insights from Ecommerce Experts
Insights from Ecommerce Experts

B2B Mobile Commerce Apps are Hot: Here’s Why

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7 minute read

Mobile commerce apps for B2B are increasing, and with good reason — 80% of B2B buyers are using mobile at work, and more than 60% say mobile played a significant role in a recent purchase. With mobile commerce driving or influencing 40% of B2B revenue and 75% of B2B buyers prefer to self-serve than engage with sales reps – the case for dedicated mobile experiences is clear.

For industrial supplier Grainger, 41% of its mobile sales flow through its app. Wholesaler Bulq.com boasts iPhone app revenues up 457% over its desktop experience and a 93% repeat user rate. “Over half our shoppers are mobile at this point…once people use the app they kind of don’t go back to desktop” says Larisa Summers, VP of ecommerce.

How mobile applications support B2B commerce

Leading companies recognize desktop can’t support the entire customer journey. B2B buyers don’t live entirely behind a desk — many are on the job site, in the field, commuting or need offline access to products, account information, order tracking, knowledge bases, manuals and more.

Mobile-first features such as barcode scanning, image search, speech-to-text, location-aware services, gestures, offline access, push notifications, messenger integration, touch login and integration with mobile wallets can all optimize the digital experience, drive revenue and build loyalty.

Beyond the end-consumer, B2B leaders see the opportunity to support sales, channel partners, support and technicians through their own dedicated apps accessible anywhere, anytime. Sales can access accounts, quickly create discount codes or other incentives, configure quotes or place orders on the road, at a sales call or on the tradeshow floor. Support and technicians can order hardware, replacement parts, make account upgrades, apply credits on-site.

Location services

As with the Web, location services enable the app to personalize products, shipping information, promotions and more by a user’s geolocation. As B2B buyers often buy in quantity or need same-day deliveries, access to accurate location-based inventory is key.

Grainger supports “location-based lists” where products are sorted by a user’s location or proximity to a warehouse. Product availability can be sorted by quickest arrival date or closest branch for pickup (the app can also pull turn-by-turn directions to the nearest branch).

Grainger location based lists in mobile b2b app

Image credit: Grainger

Customers can also create and manage geo-based lists and carts for which location automatically becomes the shipping address.

Location awareness can also enhance customer service and CRM. Live chat or click-to-call features can connect customers to the right rep or agent, and relevant chat logs can be pushed to the right territory manager through integrated CRM. Territory reps may be notified through their own dedicated apps of prospects or accounts that could benefit from additional, personal service or offers in real-time.

Camera

Barcode scanning and image recognition can help mobile users quickly locate products without fiddling with search or navigation menus. This is especially helpful for SKUs with complex product numbers that can easily be mistyped or mis-autocorrected in mobile search.

Mobile chat and SMS users can upload photos to get better recommendations from chat agents and sales reps, while image search technology offers similar capabilities within the catalog.

Autozone leverages image recognition for a bespoke feature in its Pro app. Mechanics and dealers looking to buy, fix or sell a vehicle can use theVIN scanner or license plate decoder to bring up vehicle information and track vehicles being serviced.

Autozone Pro mobile b2b app

Build.com uses augmented reality to help both consumers and on-site contractors visualize products in-context. The app has won several awards for its AR capabilities.

Build.com augmented reality app

Image credit: Erin L

Notifications

Push notifications are not just for promotional offers and shipping updates. In B2B, notifications can support and accelerate workflows by alerting users when it’s “their turn” to take an action within an approval chain. Grainger is one company taking advantage of this tactic.

“Our Grainger consulting group performed studies with our customers and found that the average procurement process is comprised of five people, six handoffs, 42 steps and three approvals,” says Geoffrey Robertson, VP of Product and Innovation. “Our mobile capabilities, coupled with our order management workflow system, dramatically reduce this complexity and increase the speed of the approval process with 30% to 40% faster approval rates.”

Notifications can also remind customers when accounts are nearing the end of credit windows, are overdue or are eligible for perks and special offers. These alerts aren’t limited to smartphones, they can also be pushed to wearables and IoT devices where appropriate.

One-to-one personalization

A personal mobile device offers a walled garden of data that in-office desktops and browsers that anonymize sessions or clear cookies can’t offer. Buyers who download and use the app are likely to be existing account holders, this segment is also the most attractive to target personalized content, offers and service to.

When integrated with CRM, personalization and predictive analytics, B2B apps can push one-to-one targeting based on the user’s company, role, engagement and purchase history.
Because B2B buying cycles are more complex than B2C and may involve account reps and other support, event-based triggers such as a proactive chat invitation, click-to-call prompt or special offer can enhance the experience, increase likelihood to buy and even increase order value. Or, certain user actions within the app may trigger a text or phone call from a human, or a proactive perk such as free samples or promotional offer.

Utility applications

Not all B2B “commerce” apps need to be transactional. Caterpillar offers over 20 Android and iOS applications to support dealers and end-customers on-the-job. These utilities reinforce the brand relationship, positioning Cat as a digital partner to their customers.

“There is still a tremendous opportunity for competitive differentiation in years to come [by] just bringing new digital capabilities that you’re seeing in many other industries … to our construction and mining and energy and transportation businesses, and then make sure we use them to develop our business,” De Lange told attendees.

For example, Cat’s eRoutes app leverages IP acquired from Minds, Inc. built for the asphalt and construction industry. Consistent delivery of concrete to job sites is critical for proper paving — truck delays and technical difficulties can interrupt paving, compromising the end-result. eRoutes provides on-site visibility into the trucking cycle through the app and push notifications, including when and where a truck mixes concrete, truck location and estimated delivery times. If a truck is delayed, paving can be paced to prevent full stoppage.

Caterpillar eRoutes B2B mobile app

Image credit: ForConstructionPros

Tracking data can also help a company optimize costs and compensation models across their network of staff and contract drivers, and identify driver safety and efficiency.

Connecting the dots

It’s easy to put a wrapper around an e-store and call it an “app.” But to truly serve customers in context and deliver value to B2B customers, applications should be tailored to mobile use cases and leverage the native properties of mobile devices. For some B2B orgs, multiple apps to serve various user groups such as sales, support and channel partners are part of mobile strategy.

To satisfy these requirements, headless commerce and API-driven architecture is essential. Rather than building apps as siloed point solutions (and recreating complex features from the commerce platform), developers can reuse existing back end services, tailoring data and business logic to each “head” through APIs.

Headless commerce allows B2B orgs to serve both practical and transactional use cases in one app. For example, utility apps such as Autozone Pro’s VIN and license plate decoder could connect with its product catalog, pricing, inventory and transactional capabilities. Currently, Pro users must use the shopping app or Web to actually purchase compatible products (and may resort to a competitor or Amazon).

Supporting user adoption

Building commerce apps is (relatively) easy — getting customers to adopt and use them is the true challenge. To deliver on your objectives and achieve ROI, end users must be aware of your apps, be convinced to try them and find enough utility to keep using them.

B2B apps that support multi-user actions such as workflows and approvals depend even more on adoption.

Make app adoption a KPI across your enterprise. Your Web team, marketing, sales and support should all incorporate awareness, calls to action and onboarding into their copy, campaigns, calls and scripts. Overcommunicate the existence and value proposition of your apps. Make sure customers know why the app experience is worth the download.

Consider adding QR codes to emails, print materials, packing slips and display ads. Train sales and support to onboard customers to the app, and build tutorials for your website.

grainger mobile app onboarding

Finally, make sure you’re not launching apps too soon. Many customers are influenced by app store ratings, and a few early, poor reviews can cripple all future adoption. Beta test with actual customers, and have a dedicated app team in-house that can respond to issues quickly. Many organizations outsource app development, and by the time real user feedback and issues come in, can’t access resources quickly enough — or at all, as developers leave the agency or move on to other project teams. If you’re serious about B2B apps, invest in internal resources for iteration and management.

Linda Bustos
Linda Bustoshttp://www.getelastic.com
Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.
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