The past few years in the retail space have seen online shopping (eCommerce) establish itself firmly as the shopping channel of choice for large swathes of the population. This is particularly true for the B2B eCommerce space; the global market for which is set to be worth as much as £5.46 trillion as early as next year.

The rise of eCommerce was reflected firmly in our own research, which found that up to 93% of B2B customers now prefer to shop directly from vendors online. While the rise of digital channels, and the convenience and flexibility they bring, is positive news for suppliers and customers alike, the shift towards online shopping is naturally changing customer expectations of what to expect from their retailers.

Therefore, for those that rely on B2B trade, it’s now more important than ever to ensure they’re offering the best eCommerce experience possible in order to avoid being left behind by their more digitally-savvy counterparts.

Particularly given the ongoing digital transformation of the pharmaceutical and wider primary care sectors, as well as the digital success of B2B pharmaceutical brands such as AAH, there’s never been a better time for pharma wholesalers to look at how they can go about optimising their eCommerce offering. But how best to go about this?

Product information is key
Traditionally, eCommerce pages aimed at businesses need to be more detailed and informative than their B2C equivalents, due to business customers’ need to ensure that what they’re purchasing is exactly right for their company – especially if they’re responsible for high-volume orders.

Particularly in the pharmacy sector, wherein many of the products sold could be hazardous – sometimes even lethal – if described incorrectly, it’s crucial to ensure that all of the relevant information (such as dosages) is included on the product page along with descriptions of the product’s recommended usage and any side-effects.

It’s also important to ensure that product information is as clear, accurate and as close to the manufacturer’s original description of the product as possible. Product titles – on both category and individual product pages – should be easy to understand and keyword-laden, making it as easy as possible for customers to find and select the right product at the first time of asking.

Personalisation is key
No matter what their sector or relative audience – whether B2B or B2C – retailers are always selling to people and, almost universally, people prefer the personal touch.

Data capture, naturally, is key to being able to offer a more personalised service. Enabling customers to make an account, including relevant information such as their job title, location and even favoured products, means that customers can be offered tailored product recommendations and offers according to their preferences and order history.

Taking this further, some more technologically-savvy retailers are even beginning to offer customers the opportunity to build their own bespoke product catalogues through their accounts, in line with their budget and changing requirements. This also makes it far easier for customers to make repeat orders – a staple of B2B eCommerce.

On the theme of personalisation, it’s also crucial to remember the power of personal connections with customers. Site browsers should always be presented with options – such as email or live chatbots – to get in touch with the business through either a helpline, or even a dedicated account manager that can offer truly personalised customer service.

Ensure shipping options are clearly displayed
Given that many online pharmacy wholesalers ship orders out to pharmacies, hospitals and stores across the country and beyond, minimising shipping and delivery-related issues where possible is imperative. Simply enough, if customers have to work too hard to find certain information or costs, or have these costs added to their order at the last minute, they’re likely to get frustrated and click away in favour of a competitor, resulting in missed sales opportunities.

Indeed, many of the most prevalent reasons B2B customers abandon online purchases have to do with shipping. These reasons include unexpected delivery charges, a lack of delivery options (e.g. no next-day fulfillment, or free delivery for bulk orders), or an unnecessarily drawn-out checkout processes due to complex shipping arrangements.

However, these issues can be minimised – and often even avoided altogether – with a few easily-actionable steps. Firstly, delivery costs should be clearly displayed on all product pages where possible, ideally alongside the product price. On more complicated orders, where the delivery costs cannot be displayed concisely, a clear link to a page displaying shipping and delivery options should be included on both individual product pages and the customer’s online shopping cart.

Implement real-time inventory updates
From niche community pharmacies to huge hospital trusts, pharmaceutical wholesalers service organisations of all shapes and sizes; all of which will in turn have different order requirements. Given this, the capacity for real-time inventory management is an extremely useful tool to have in any pharmaceutical supplier’s arsenal in order to ensure certain product lines don’t unexpectedly run out of stock.

Another benefit of being able to analyse inventory and stock levels in real-time is that businesses can easily see specific periods within a year (months, weeks, or even specific days) where demand for certain products is particularly high and plan ahead of time. Not only does this reduce the risk of working capital being tied up in excess stock, it also minimises the chance of the business running out of stock at key periods – something which, in the pharmacy sector, could have far-reaching consequences for suppliers and customers alike.

A pertinent example of this happened recently when several pharmaceutical wholesaling giants, such as Alliance Healthcare, suffered severe HRT shortages, potentially affecting as many as 200,000 menopausal women across the country.

In order to ensure inventories can be updated as and when orders come in, it’s crucial for online pharmacy wholesalers to ensure that their eCommerce platform of choice is able to integrate properly with distributors’ back-end software, such as inventory feeds.

Focus on incremental improvement
There are so many different ways for businesses to go about improving their eCommerce offering, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

For this reason, it’s sensible to identify one or two areas for development initially and work from there. For example, if delivery options are currently more limited than they could be,  consider how they could be expanded. Alternatively, if the site’s content perhaps isn’t quite up to standard (e.g. inadequate information displayed on product pages throughout the site), then that could be a suitable place to begin.

From there, it’s best to take an iterative approach, constantly reviewing what works and what doesn’t on an ongoing basis and responding accordingly. Website analytics data is often a useful benchmark here, helping to quickly identify areas where improvements could be made and indicating where businesses should focus their efforts.

Overall, the pharmaceutical sector as a whole is increasingly becoming digital-first, and wholesalers must in turn move with this step-change. Particularly as eCommerce also continues to take on an ever-greater importance in the B2B space, continual improvement will be key to staying ahead of the competition and surviving in an increasingly congested marketplace.

Sam Rutley is managing director at eCommerce agency PushOn