Web usability design firm Usablenet reviewed 14 B2B mobile sites; B&H Photo, Godiva and Grainger were tops.
When it comes to making it easy for customers to buy via mobile devices, business-to-business companies are about where they were in 2006 in making their websites easy to shop, which is to say that most have mobile work to do.
That’s the conclusion mobile design firm Usablenet came to after analyzing the mobile sites of B2B companies. Usablenet chief marketing officer Carin Van Vuuren says many B2B mobile sites today have the same kind of problems a 2006 study found in B2B e-commerce sites: sites often describe products in technical jargon not necessarily familiar to buyers, and they often lack features designed to make it easy to fill out forms.
To conduct its mobile study, Usablenet started out with that 2006 study by research firm Nielsen Norman Group of 179 websites operated by B2B companies. Nielsen used 10 criteria—including the use of common terms likely to be familiar to buyers, rather than obscure technical terms, and error-correction features that automatically alert users when they enter incorrect information into an online form—to rate the B2B sites’ usability. Its study found many sites underperforming. “Many business-to-business sites are stuck in the 1990’s in their attitude toward the user experience,” Nielsen noted in its study.
Nine years later, Usablenet looked at a segment of the same companies in the Nielsen study and found many of them still lagging—but this time in their mobile site designs.
“Our overall impression is that B2B is as far behind in usability of mobile sites today as B2B e-commerce sites were in 2006,” Van Vuuren says. “I think the reason is that B2B brands think about designing systems from the inside out to users, instead of starting with the user and finding out what the user wants to do.”
Van Vuuren adds that, while more B2B companies are starting to pay attention to how mobile sites are designed with customers in mind, “they’re not always doing it right from the beginning.”
But some of them are, and setting a good example. “It’s a fundamental shift,” she says. “You have to design for the ideal customer experience. And we see some B2B brands starting to make this shift for B2B mobile.”
To identify companies with strong mobile designs and those without, Usablenet culled a list of 12 companies from the 179 in the Nielsen study. Among the 150 still in business, it identified 83 with a mobile site, including 21 with mobile commerce. Then it picked three m-commerce sites from each of three industry groups: manufacturers, distributors, service providers and retailers. To provide a performance benchmark, it also reviewed two companies not in the original Nielsen study but recognized as current leaders in B2B m-commerce as well as overall e-commerce: business and industrial products distributors W.W. Grainger Inc. and MSC Industrial Supply Co. Grainger received top honors for a B2B e-commerce company in the inaugural IR Excellence Awards earlier this year.
It then rated all 14 companies on four criteria—error management, ease of use, navigation and design—and found six companies in addition to Grainger and MSC Industrial Supply to have good usability on their mobile sites. The other six were B&H Photo, Godiva, Uline, Dell, Epson and Humana. Of the 14, only Uline is a client of Usablenet.
The study identified the leading site for each of its four criteria:
● Uline, a distributor of shipping and packing supplies, for error management, which includes features like auto-correct to help customers quickly enter accurate data when filling out checkout forms and other data windows. The study noted, for example, that Uline’s mobile site, m.Uline.com, displays clear and brief yet prominent messaging to explain how customers need to correct information entered into checkout forms.
● Grainger for ease of use—including such features as tools for quickly finding several components needed for a single purchase, and quick-order windows for re-ordering products previously purchased. It noted that Grainger features a “MotorMatch Selection Guide” that helps customers quickly find parts of an electric motor based on such criteria as voltage, horsepower and overall size.
● B&H Photo for navigation—including an easy-to-use search and navigation system that provides a simple and quick way to find and buy products, consistent terminology and prominent and easy-to-read calls to action. It noted that B&H provides a camera product page that clearly marks the price and the Add to Cart button for quick ordering.
● Godiva for design—including consistent and legible type fonts, and order forms that are short and easy to fill out. The study noted that chocolatier Godiva’s business customers can search among gifts for employees or corporate customers, with volume pricing discounts, on uncluttered pages that display prominent and enticing images of its boxes of chocolates.
Good B2B mobile design, Van Vuuren says, focuses largely on keeping product pages uncluttered but with prominent product images and Buy buttons, and with useful tools for finding the right combination of items a customer needs to purchase. “It’s making sure you embrace simple principles of clean and clear design, and resisting making things so small with so much content that it makes a mobile site confusing and leaves a customer not knowing where to go,” Van Vuuren says.
Read the article on B2B E-commerce World